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.