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Oct. 15, 2019

MSU helps migrant workers earn high school diplomas

Due to the unique demands of their work lives, many children of migrant workers can’t attend traditional schools. A $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to Michigan State University’s Migrant Student Services will make it easier for the roughly 6,000 migrant students in Michigan to obtain their GED, or general educational development, the equivalent to a high school diploma.

With the grant, MSU’s Migrant Student Services will reignite the High School Equivalency Program, or HEP, which was developed to give migrant workers a chance to earn their GED in a way that is sensitive to the unique demands of their lives. MSU’s efforts have been hindered because the closest HEP facility was in Madison, Wisconsin, but the grant will change that.

MSU will coordinate with partners that work with migrant and seasonal farmworkers populations to enroll students. MSU also will provide placement referral services that focus on post-secondary education or training programs, upgraded employment or the military.  

“This is really a hybrid program because HEP students are not like other students,” said Luis Garcia, director of Migrant Student Services at MSU. “Most migrant students want to finish their education, but because of family constraints, many tend to drop out.”

Students work during the day then have HEP instruction from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., focusing on core subjects – math, language, social studies and science. Programs are taught remotely by MSU instructors, facilitated by someone onsite in local rural venues, like schools. The program was a success before and Garcia said the new federal grant will help restore HEP service to its former communities, as well as new sites across Michigan. 

“If you’re a migrant farmer sitting on a picnic table at lunchtime on a blueberry farm it can be hard to see yourself as an engineer or a teacher someday,” Garcia said. “We work constantly to reach migrants where they live and create a safe space for them to express their hopes, doubts and dreams.”

MSU HEP was initially funded in 2002 to serve the agricultural and migrant farmworker communities of Michigan and surrounding areas. The GED instruction is provided in Spanish and English for these communities. 

Michigan ranks fifth in the nation for registered migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Overall, more than 840,000 immigrant students are in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and many migrant students are a subset of this group. 

By: Kim Ward

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