A local education provider and workforce development organization are working together to help community residents boost their chances at better careers through free education.

McDowell Education Center in Columbus and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) are offering multiple programs to area students.

Students can obtain a high school diploma by taking the Indiana High School Equivalency (HSE), and multiple nationally recognized certifications through McDowell and DWD programs such as WorkIndiana, said Nickie Nolting, McDowell adult education coordinator.

Certifications include certified production technician offered through the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, and the Computing Technology Industry Association A+ for personal computer service technicians. Other certifications such as welding, certified nursing assistant and commercial driver’s license are available through WorkIndiana, Nolting said.

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“The local folks (at DWD and McDowell) work with local employers in order to find out what sort of certifications are in demand,” said Al Ensley, DWD spokesman. “Therefore, they don’t push students through a certification program that isn’t going to land them a job in their community.”

All these certifications and the HSE are grant funded, meaning they are available at no cost to students — who must meet certain requirements to be eligible. In some cases, that is a savings of $4,000, Nolting said. The only fee is for the exam itself, but McDowell provides assistance with that as well, Nolting said.

The HSE is not to be mistaken for the General Education Diploma (GED), which is a trademark and can be taken in most states, but is not considered the same as a high school diploma to the military and many employers, Ensley said. The HSE is accepted by the military for its high school diploma waivers and can also be administered in a paper-and-pencil format in the Department of Correction, Ensley said.

“Most people think of adult ed(ucation) as where people go when they drop out of school — kind of as a second chance,” Nolting said. “But we are really – since we came under the umbrella of DWD – more of a training ground and a re-training ground.”

McDowell and DWD joined forces between four and six years ago, Nolting and Ensley said. Before that, the school was under the Indiana Department of Education, but switched with the entire state of Indiana to DWD in what Nolting calls a natural partnership with the goal to help students transition to workforce training and jobs.

The school’s main demographic is between the ages of 16 and 30, Nolting estimated. But the age doesn’t matter as long as the person has exited high school – although they try to discourage young students from dropping out of high school.

“We would really rather not see the 16-year-olds, but we can take them if they are not going to graduate. And then we have students who come to us who have graduated from high school and they just don’t really have a plan,” Nolting said.

McDowell also frequently sees people who have lost their job in their current field and are looking to change careers, Nolting said. Upon graduation, McDowell helps students find jobs through resume assistance and by connecting students with employers.

For those students who are unsure of their next step, transition coaches can help with resume writing, academic placement test preparation, career guidance and more. For others who have not graduated high school, getting that high school diploma can open up opportunities for higher paying jobs. Such was the case for Ricardo Gamboa, a former McDowell student who obtained his HSE in 2015. Getting that diploma made such a difference in his life that it is hard to put into words, he said.

“You have no idea. (Once I got my diploma) I was able to get a much better job than I was able to without the HSE,” said Gamboa, who is currently a recruiting manager at a staffing agency.

Gamboa, who tried to get his GED at another school prior to finding McDowell, said the staff at McDowell made the difference between graduating and not graduating.

“Back then I went to get my GED and I was just another student,” Gamboa said. “But not at McDowell. They gave me all the opportunities. They did just about everything they could to make sure I got my HSE.”

Requirements for Attending Classes

The requirements for enrolling in adult education classes at McDowell are:

  • 16 years old or older
  • officially withdrawn from school
  • students under 18 must have completed an exit interview with their previous high school or home school
  • complete a free orientation

For WorkIndiana certifications, individuals must be co-enrolled in WorkOne and adult education.

To sign up for an orientation and for more information on adult education, visit mcdowelledu/org.

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Kaitlyn Evener is an editorial assistant for The Republic. She can be reached at kevener@therepublic.com or 812-379-5633.