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Tennessee is set to offer an alternative to the GED, a decades-old high school equivalency diploma, because the nonprofit group that owned the test is hiking prices under a commercial deal with computer testing giant Pearson VUE, a state official said.

The price hike announced for January 2014 will be paired with a second change that also caused worry. The GED will be available only as a computer test and will no longer be offered on paper.

"That caused some alarm," said Marva Doremus, adult education administrator for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. She and education officials from other states worried that older students would be discouraged from taking a computer test and many would be unable to pay the new price of $120.

Price is obstacle

In Tennessee, the fee is currently about $75 and some people still need assistance to pay it.

Officials know price is a stumbling block because the number seeking the GED surged in 2007 when the state agreed to pay the costs for one year. Participation rose from just more than 10,000 in 2006 to nearly 15,000 in 2007, Doremus said.

A price increase is "a barrier we can't stand," Doremus said. "It's not good for us." A high school equivalency diploma is essential for jobs paying better than minimum wage, and Tennesseans need a basic portal to thateducation, she added. "It's about jobs."

Nationally, people with a high school credential of any kind earn $181 more per week than those without, according to labor statistics. Those with a high school credential have an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, compared with 12.4 percent for those who do not.

Just more than 10,000 people earned GEDdiplomas in Tennessee last year, but the state still has more than 930,000 adults without a high school degree or its equivalent, according to state statistics.

About 95 percent of the Tennesseans seeking a high school equivalency are looking for better jobs, Doremus said. "Without it, their employment opportunities are limited."

New York was the first state to offer a program other than the GED, formerly named General Education Development test.

Tennessee followed shortly and now nine states will offer the "HiSET," or High School Equivalency Test, which was created by a well-known nonprofit company, Educational Testing Services, Doremus said.

Both tests will be offered in Tennessee and officials will track the popularity of each choice during the year, Doremus said.

Those who complete either program will be issued state high school equivalency diplomas that are recognized by all other states, she added.

Like the GED, the HiSET exam will measure a student's knowledge and skills in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies and will be aligned to Common Core state standards.

"We're trying to get GED out of our vernacular," Doremus said. "We're just talking about high school equivalency."

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