When Donald Prince, 38, lost his job with Cox Communications after 11 years, his little white lie caught up with him.
“I'd told them I graduated from high school,” Prince admits.
“Really, this day and age you have to have it now. Without a GED or high school diploma, it's like a brick wall.”
Prince said he was afraid to apply for management positions or to try to advance his career because they might find out he never finished school.
Today he is one of thousands of Oklahoma adults using a free state resource to earn his high school equivalency diploma. He plans to enroll in college courses to further increase his earning capacity.
Adults in many communities are on waiting lists to take courses, and the wait likely will grow longer.
All state funding for adult education was eliminated from the fiscal year 2012 budget, a $2.3 million loss.
‘Caught off guard'
Adult education teachers from across the state — Bartlesville, Chickasha, Duncan, Enid, Lawton, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Union — held an emergency phone conference last week to discuss the funding loss.
“We were totally caught off guard,” said Ann Allen, executive director of adult and community education for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “In our directors' meeting, we were told it might be 4 or 8 percent.”
Now many programs are struggling to remain open. The loss of state dollars also threaten federal funding — about $6 million statewide — that requires local matching funds.
Allen said the loss of state funding was a 25 percent reduction in her overall budget.
Allen said this school year they will be down 12 teachers and will probably serve 600 fewer students.
Some of the rural communities are facing much greater losses.
In Caddo County, Lisa Gragg, had to close two satellite offices, lay off the only full-time teacher and eliminate all evening and all English-language classes.
She optimistically hopes to serve 50 students this school year, down from 150 last school year.
“We are their last stop,” Gragg said. “By the time they get to us, they are just so downtrodden and desperate. And they know the work situation out there. And they know to get a job, not a better job, but a job, they need this GED.”
Most adult education centers offer courses to prepare students for the GED exam, which if they pass will earn them an Oklahoma high school diploma. They also offer English-language classes, job interview training and many other resources.
Gragg said several job sites have closed in recent years in Caddo County, where the unemployment and dropout rates are always high.
“Our people are going to have even more of a disadvantage,” she said.
Prince said he originally enrolled for a $300 online course until he learned his degree wouldn't be accepted by colleges. He was able to get his money back and enroll in the free summer courses at the Oklahoma City Adult Education Center.
On Thursday night, students were packed in the downstairs room at 1320 N Classen Drive.
Several expressed concern that funding reductions could prevent others from having the same door-opening opportunity adult education has provided them.
Aaron Lyles, 31, has been working in construction since he was 14, but he can't advance — can't even join the union — without his high school diploma.
“I'm achieving something I've always wanted to achieve,” Lyles said. “You feel like a loser, a lot, for not finishing school. I dropped out my senior year.”
Janquice Walker, 27, is a dental assistant who hopes to become a licensed practical nurse.
“It makes you feel bad, because you know you work just as hard and are just as smart as everyone,” Walker said.
Meanwhile, upstairs, a smaller group of students is learning English.
The classes are critical to Phuc Huynh, 19, who came here from Vietnam three months ago.
He wants to communicate better with the people in his new community.