Columbus resident Rita Hayden is enrolled in East Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education program to earn her high school equivalency diploma in hopes of providing her better career opportunities.

February 6, 2024

Caledonia resident Julian Thompson was among 29 students enrolled in East Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education Launch Pad who participated in a graduation ceremony last December on the college’s Golden Triangle campus.

The graduates had successfully passed the exam for either the GED or the High School Equivalency Test, or HISET.

“It was like a big weight off my shoulders,” Thompson said. “A lot of doors opened up after I got my GED.”

On a recent day, Thompson, 22, was at the Launch Pad East in Columbus studying for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, a federal aptitude test that helps predict future academic and occupational success in the military.

His goal is to enroll in the U.S. Space Force, which was established in 2019 as the nation’s first new branch of the armed services since 1947 and is “focused solely on pursuing superiority in the space domain,” according to the USSF’s website.

While advanced degrees are required for some career tracks within Space Force, hands-on job training and college credits are available to enlisted members.

“I would really like to work for Space Force in the field of computer programming after going through their training program,” Thompson said. “I would not be able to get into Space Force without a GED.” Caledonia resident Julian Thompson wants to join the U.S. Space Force but needed to earn his high school equivalency diploma before he could apply. With help from East Mississippi Community College’s Adult Education Launch Pad, he was able graduate with a high school diploma last December.

EMCC’s Launch Pad offers free preparatory classes for the GED and HISET out of four locations. In addition to the Columbus site, the Launchpad offers services at EMCC’s Golden Triangle, Scooba and West Point campuses.

The Launch Pad also prepares students for the ASVAB, as well as the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate. Smart Start training is also available, which helps students with work-readiness skills such as developing good work habits and effective communication skills.

In the six-month period from July of 2023 to January 20 of this year, the Launch Pad assisted 339 students. Of those, 189 students had completed 12 or more hours in the program, which is the minimum number of hours needed to meet federal reporting requirements for measurable skill gains.

Of those 189 students, roughly half were male and half female. About 30 percent of the students were 16-18 years of age, with the remaining 70 percent 19 and older. A little more than 66 percent were black and about 29 percent were white. The largest group of students (89) reside in Lowndes County, followed by Clay County (38), Oktibbeha County (25), and Kemper County (22). The remaining 15 students reside in five other nearby counties.

Almost 94 percent of the 189 students were studying to take the HISET or GED test.

“Many of the people we see want to earn their high school equivalency or GED to provide them with better career options,” Adult Education Director Tshurah Dismuke said. “Others regret dropping out of high school and want that sense of accomplishment earning a diploma can bring. Some want to enroll in a workforce, career technical or academic program at EMCC and need to complete their high school requirement to make that happen. Regardless of the reason, we are here to help them succeed.”

Columbus resident Rita Hayden, 51, enrolled in EMCC’s Adult Education program last November. She was nervous at first since most of her classmates were younger than she is but she is growing more confident in her ability to earn a high school equivalency diploma.

“It’s a good feeling,” Hayden said.

An early pregnancy prompted Hayden to drop out of the former Joe Cook Junior High School in Columbus at the age of 16. She’s thought about going back to school many times since, but life and the realities of working while raising children got in the way. She feels as if the lack of a high school diploma has held her back.

“Without a GED it’s hard to get a job and if you do get one it might not be a good job,” she said.

Hayden said she had to relearn some things taught in school that she had since forgotten, but except for a bumpy start with algebra, her studies have gone better than she expected.

“It’s been great, and I am enjoying it,” Hayden said. “I haven’t missed a day since I started. I came here to get my GED and I am determined that I’m going to do it.”

More information about EMCC’s Adult Education programs, including contact information, is available here: https://bit.ly/30ez7fp