Last updated: August 24. 2013 2:56PM - 129 Views

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LIMA — When Connie Baker dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, she was able to find a job to help her family.

And when she applied for a job at Pandora Manufacturing 12 years ago, again the lack of a diploma didn’t matter. She would have stayed there until retiring, but the plant closed last year. Suddenly, the diploma matters for the 51-year-old wife and mother.

“Nobody is hiring anymore unless you have a GED (general equivalency diploma),” she said. “I wanted to find a good job. I’m still looking, but I have more hope now with my GED.

Baker, of rural Bluffton, was one of 410 students to go through Apollo Career Center’s Adult Basic and Literacy Education (ABLE) program this past school year.

She’s one of 50,000 students enrolled in such programs around the state, according to a recently released Ohio Board of Regents’ report. The number puts Ohio 11th in the country in enrollment. The top spot belongs to California, with Pennsylvania rounding out the top 10.

“For thousands of students each year, an ABLE program is their gateway to a new credential and a better job,” said Chancellor Eric Fingerhut.

There are 118 ABLE programs around the state, including Apollo and Lima schools/West Central Ohio ABLE. The program in Allen, Auglaize, Mercer, Van Wert and Paulding counties were combined under Lima schools this year. There is also a program through the Putnam County Educational Service Center.

The West Central Ohio program has added sites, aides and testing times to accommodate the demand, coordinator Laura Ball said. It served close to 900 last school year. Ninety people showed up one night at the Vantage Career Center. A site in Paulding County had standing room only at one time. These are all signs of the economy, Ball said.

“Basically, whenever the economy goes bad, our numbers go up,” she said. “This year has been astronomical. The economy has not bounced back. We are a huge barometer with that.”

The greatest numbers of people in the program are over 50, Ball said. Many have lost jobs at places that didn’t require a diploma. Even temporary job placement agencies want people with at least a GED, she said.

“Before, maybe they did not need a diploma, but now they are finding that they are totally behind the eight-ball and they have to come back,” Ball said.

 The report shows Ohio’s ABLE program helped 11,611 unemployed adults find employment and achieved an 88 percent success rate for students working toward a GED or secondary school diploma.

The news of the Pandora plant closing was a blow to Baker, who was making close to $15 an hour.

“I was really upset, more scared, because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “After 11 years and at my age, it is kind of hard to go and find another job.”

Baker enrolled in Apollo’s program, where she received “amazing” help. She earned her GED last month and is considering going back to school, possibly to learn cosmetology or how to be an X-ray technician. It’s exactly what Apollo officials want to hear.

“Our new push within our program is post secondary,” said Joyce Tracy, who heads Apollo’s program “We want to help students get their GEDs and then our next push is to help get them to that next stage.”

Ohio ranks second in the number of students completing their GED and in those gaining employment. It ranks fourth in employment retention and third in placement in post-secondary education or training.

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