Back to School

Chad Phelps dreams of turning the thing he adores into a job that pays. Phelps is 26 and lives with his grandparents in the countryside near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s spent the last decade drifting from one relative’s house to another, composing hip hop music on his computer and designing album covers for musician friends while working at fast food joints to earn a living. He wants to trade the drudge jobs for a gig in a recording studio.

“Since I was 15 years old, I loved doing music,” Phelps says. “I could sit here and spend ten to 16 hours straight, every day. It’s something I love doing.”

It doesn’t necessarily take a college diploma to make it in the entertainment industry, though Phelps thinks it would help. He wants to study audio engineering at the local community college. But he dropped out of school in ninth grade.

“He had a lot of troubles growing up in school,” says his mom, Cheryl Phelps. “Fighting a lot. He just said I’m not doing it anymore.”

Phelps says he was just being young and dumb when he quit school. “At that age, I didn’t think it was really that important,” he says.

Ten years working at Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and similar jobs changed his mind. In the summer of 2012, Phelps began preparing to take the GED test. If he passes, he’ll get a high school credential. There are an estimated 39 million American adults who don’t have a high school diploma. In 2012 more than 700,000 of them took the GED test. Like Phelps, most of them hope that a GED will help them get a better job or more education.