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On April 20, 2017, Iowa’s then-Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 473 into law. This legislation expands pathways to achieving a high school equivalency diploma beyond the traditional assessment tests. In particular, it empowers the state board of education to develop rules for competency-based assessment of individuals’ skills.
The legislation was developed by the High School Equivalency Diploma Task Force (HSED Task Force), which had been assembled by the Iowa Department of Education in 2016 to advance policy in this area and was co-chaired by United Way of Central Iowa. United Way of Central Iowa and several other state partners were involved in this successful legislative effort.
An impetus for the legislation was the recognition that many Iowans lack the skills and credentials that will enable them to meet the state’s demand for middle-skilled workers. By 2025, 68 percent of all jobs in Iowa will require some postsecondary training or education. Despite this, more than 200,000 Iowans over age 18 currently do not have a high school diploma or equivalency.
Prior to the passage of House File 473, the only way for Iowans to achieve high school equivalency was by taking High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) classes and passing the HiSET assessment of five core competency areas. (HiSET is one of three tests used nationally to assess high school equivalency; the others are known as the GED Test and the TASC. Some states allow the use of all three tests, while other states restrict eligibility to only one or two tests.)
The HSED Task Force successfully argued that providing additional competency-based options will expand access to an equivalency diploma for a diverse population of Iowans.
Now that House File 473 has been signed into law, students can gain their high school equivalency through programs like the adult diploma at Iowa community colleges. These programs bundle prior high school coursework with secondary or postsecondary education courses. According to the Iowa Department of Education, 40 percent of Iowans who have dropped out of high school are less than one course away from attaining their high school diploma. This new law creates opportunities for students to receive credit for their prior coursework and focus on the competencies in which they are deficient, all while starting on a pathway to postsecondary training. Such pathways are especially helpful for students who need to enter the workforce as soon as possible, or who are balancing their education with other commitments such as work and supporting a family.
United Way of Central Iowa’s Bridges to Success initiative is working to help 10,000 central Iowans earn their high school equivalency diploma by the year 2020. This partnership with Des Moines Area Community College offers free classes, books, testing, and career coaching to adult students. With the passage of House File 473, Bridges to Success will be expanding in the coming years to include more options for students to earn their equivalency diploma.
National Skills Coalition is a strong proponent of policies that help to expand equitable access to middle-skill credentials and careers, including for the millions of Americans who lack a high school diploma or its equivalent. Establishing multiple pathways to attaining a high school diploma or equivalent, such as those allowed by Iowa House File 473, are one tool that states can use to help people with limited skills earn a secondary degree and continue on a path to a middle-skill credential.
Such programs also benefit employers who are seeking skilled workers. Like many states, Iowa faces a middle-skill gap. Middle-skill jobs account for 56 percent of Iowa’s labor market, but only 50 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle skill level. By providing workers with limited skills better access to education and training, states like Iowa can close the gap.
This blogpost was co-authored by National Skills Coalition and United Way of Central Iowa. Since 1917, United Way of Central Iowa (UWCI) has brought together individuals, employers, and organizations from throughout central Iowa to create and implement initiatives focused on making lasting impact in the areas of education, income, and health. UWCI is a "Collective Impact" organization, bringing together nonprofits, businesses, government, and community leaders to collaborate and implement solutions to tackle our community's most critical issues. Learn more at www.unitedwaydm.org.