A new battery of GED tests will be introduced Jan. 1 – the first change since 2002, which will come with a substantially higher cost.

The immediate concerns are the financial increase and accompanying procedural changes, said Dr. David Stout, the adult education director at the State Department of Education. Currently, the GED costs adult students $80, but will increase to $150 in 2014. For those who don’t finish the current series of content-based tests, they must start over with their preparation classes. If they don’t pass next year, they will be charged another $150 to repeat the effort.

Other states do cover a large portion or even all the costs, Stout said. Adult education students will receive a modest grant, but only through March 31.

“The cost is a concern,” Stout said. “The people we serve tend to be the most in need.”

Nearly 70 people who passed the GED in Aiken County were eligible to march at an Adult Education ceremony in May. The new tests are expected to be initially challenging for new students after Jan. 1. For the first time, students will take the exams on computers, replacing pencil and paper.

The tests also will adhere to the new, multi-state Common Core standards that K-12 schools are introducing. Ironically, adult education students will participate in formal testing under the new system a year earlier than the K-12 students. Stout acknowledges that the changes will have an impact on the adults’ testing performance, but expects scores to improve over time, as would any standardized test.

He strongly recommends that adults without a high school diploma should pursue the GED, whether it is this year or beyond.

The program often generates criticism, as some say that it’s not the equivalent of a high school diploma. Yet the GED actually is considered equal to four years of traditional high school study, Stout said. It’s likely to surprise most people, but about 40 percent of high school students would not pass the GED on their first try.

He doesn’t encourage high school students to drop out and enroll in GED classes. Stout emphasizes, however, that adults should regard the program as a life-changing experience.

“This credential could impact and benefit someone for the next 30 to 40 years,” he said.