Caldwell County's adult education specialist knows the impact offering a free GED can have on a community.

Early this year, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that Kentucky would start waiving the $120 testing fees for people wanting to obtain a GED diploma in order to help thousands of adults improve their career opportunities. That's good news for all Kentuckians wanting to complete their high school education, but nothing new in Caldwell County.

Hopkinsville Community College has been able to offer the GED at no cost to students for about three years, according to HCC Adult Education Specialist Dorothy Cates. That's thanks to the Austin Peay State University Educational Opportunity Center, which has helped pay the cost for more than a dozen people in Caldwell County each of the last few years as well as dozens of others in Trigg, Christian and Todd counties served by the community college's adult education program.

But that is not something Cates was able to publicize. With the governor's initiative, though, the floodgates have opened.

"We've had an increase in interest since the governor made that announcement," Cates said. "It's like it rattled the tree. Now, the governor has let everybody know its free. It's a big deal."

In Kentucky, more than 335,000 adults lack a high school or GED diploma. The fee waiver applies to first-time test takers. The funding could help about 5,000 Kentuckians secure GED diplomas this year, Beshear said. Many people lacking a high school or general education diploma are "stuck in a cycle where they can't get the job to have the dollars to pay the fees for the GED they need to get a better job," he added.

Last year, Caldwell County Adult Education helped 14 people receive their GED, ranking it among the top 10 most effective programs in the state. In fact, it has been in the top 20 each of the last few years.

"We've reached every goal," Cates said. "We are really proud of last year."

Cates took over the program for Caldwell County five years ago. When she arrived, adult educational opportunities in the county were operating pretty much off the radar, known to few people in the community.

"When I came, it was in bad shape; the program was not doing well. So many people didn't now where we were," she said. "Word of mouth has really helped. When one person sees what you've done for somebody, that's how we've built it up."

And the Caldwell County program goes beyond a high school education. While earning a diploma equivalent, students can also work toward college program certifications. Work Ready Kentucky Scholarships help cover those costs, too.

"They're doing it at the same time, a certificate in conjunction with the GED," Cates explained. "It opens so many more doors for people. Not just for college, but so many more jobs."

The adult education center in Princeton is open Tuesday and Thursday. To inquire about enrolling in the GED program, contact Cates at 270-365-2322. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Cates can be reached in Hopkinsville at 270-707-3925.