Thursday, June 19, 2014

It Pays to Go to School

Stephanie Whitfield, Ezra Borquez and Melissa Mejia attend
HSE classes at Rio Salado Southern in Tempe.
According to an Arizona Department of Education report, a person with a high school diploma or equivalency earns approximately $8,500 more than someone without a diploma, which works out to nearly $350,000 in a person’s lifetime.

The pay increases significantly with higher learning. A Pew Research Center study published in February 2014 shows 25-32 year-old college graduates make about $17,500 more than individuals who only have a high school diploma.

Chandler resident Melissa Mejia is realizing what that could mean for her and her family. Mejia, one of approximately 750,000 Arizona residents who do not have a high school diploma, worked as a server for nearly seven years making minimum wage. “There was no chance for advancement especially without an education and it was just a dead end job.”

As a working, single mom, Mejia found it difficult to pursue an education. She tried for years to attain her high school equivalency (HSE) but time and circumstances kept getting in the way—until January, when she enrolled in Rio Salado College’s HSE prep program, which provides in-person and online classes and other services for students preparing for the GED® test.

A key draw for Mejia was flexibility and access. “I can come in the morning, the afternoon or the evening. I can choose to do four days a week or two-- or take classes online.”

Mejia chooses in-person classes because the engagement has become of great importance. “I like a lot of the one on one… it not only helps me attain my education but it’s also helping me with my people skills. I’m a little more closed in and shy. Here I’m doing more things, there’s a lot more interaction. I made friends right away.”

Mejia was trying to complete all four of her GED® tests in time to take part in the May 13, 2014 HSE Graduation. “I was hoping to graduate by now, but of course life happens. I'm not letting it get to me; however, it just means I'll get to walk with my friends and fellow classmates next year.” The goal now is to complete her GED® tests this summer and look into an educational and professional career in early childhood and development.

Mejia attends classes at the Rio Salado Southern location in Tempe, one of several Rio Salado sites offering HSE program services throughout the Valley.

The HSE prep program is part of Rio Salado’s College Bridge Pathways initiatives, designed to help adult learners transition back into the classroom, strengthen academic skills, build confidence and begin a college career. Services include personalized advisement; start-up scholarships; assistance with financial aid registration as well as orientation to college life and online learning.

HSE Students pay a registration fee in the range of $25-70 per trimester, based on a sliding scale, which is determined by a student’s household income and the number of family members in the household.

Rio Salado College is one of the largest providers of adult basic education in Arizona. Nearly 600 students have already completed Rio’s HSE prep program and passed their GED® tests during the 2013-14 academic year.

For more details about Rio Salado’s HSE prep program, GED® testing services and other college bridge pathway programs and services, visit or call 480-517-8110.

This story can also be found in the June 7 edition of the Tempe Republic. By Annette Flores, manager of Rio Salado College media relations.