Looking forward

Sixty-eight inmates graduated with GEDs from Iowa Central Community College at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in a ceremony Wednesday.

“The 68 graduates join a list of over 2,000 other individuals who have achieved their GED while spending time in our facilities since its opening in 1998,” Abby Underberg, education coordinator, said.

The group was also the last to graduate from the program, Underberg said.

“This is a unique year because this is the final GED graduate class we are offering here,” she said. “Our state has chosen to work with a HiSET, which is a high school equivalency test.”

In addition to the 68 graduates, nine completed Iowa Central’s vocational welding program.

“Iowa Central Community College has partnered with the Department of Corrections for more than 30 years at the Rockwell City and Fort Dodge facilities in providing educational programming that is included in addition to GED,” Underberg said. “Literacy, Title 1, special education and the life skills program, along with our vocational programming.”

She added, “Each of these programs is a piece contributing to successful re-entry back into our community.”

To be awarded a GED, Underberg said the student must master five areas of study: writing, social studies, science, literature and mathematics.

“In terms of difficulty, consider that the average high schooler, only 60 percent of those can pass the GED test,” she said. “Without a high school diploma, the average income is about $18,000 per year. With one, it jumps to nearly $26,000. And if you finish college, average income leaps to about $44,000. Based off those figures alone, a diploma is necessary in today’s world.”

Thomas Phillips, of the Iowa Board of Parole, applauded the students’ efforts.

“What an honor,” Phillips said. “When we interview offenders for release and we see a GED graduation, that scores a lot of points because it says an awful lot. It says determination. It says commitment. It says a whole host of things.”

Phillips offered a parable, saying to the students they had been given an apple. The most selfish thing you can do with the gift is eat it, he said. He encouraged the students to use the apple of their GED to plant seeds.

“You have the opportunity to be an eater, a sharer and a planter,” he said. “I encourage you, as of this day, become a planter. Keep in mind, to whom much is given, much is required. Keep in mind the parable, the story, where you have your talents and you must use them, multiply them, not to hide them, not to horde them, not to get them taken away from you. Use them, don’t lose them.”

Dan Kinney, Iowa Central president, said the program offered at the correctional facility is a great one.

“This helps them when it comes time for parole, the ability to get some skills,” Kinney said. “To be able to get them back into the workforce, not only through the GED program, but through the welding program we do, that gives them a skill. So when they come out of incarceration they can go out, they can get back into society easier.”