The GED

Mickey Muldoon

James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, and Nicholas S. Mader, University of Chicago
National Bureau of Economic Research
June 2010

“GED” actually stands for “General Education Development,” not “General Equivalency Degree” as is often thought. And for good reason: It is not the equivalent of a high school diploma, explain the authors, even though 12 percent of all high school credentials issued are GEDs. Indeed, students who drop out of high school but later earn a GED "are equivalent to uncredentialed dropouts in terms of their labor market outcomes and their general performance in society." Because of this, the GED actually distorts social science research by over-counting secondary education finishers. For example, if GED holders were actually categorized as dropouts instead of high school graduates, then the black male high school graduation rate would have remained the same from 1960 to the present. Instead, the extensive use of the GED at prisons and juvenile facilities makes the high school attainment rate appear to have risen among black males. That the GED is not tied to workplace success has another cause, however: GED-takers tend to be deficient in “noncognitive skills” such as persistence, motivation, and reliability. And making the GED so readily available and low cost actually serves as an incentive for dropping out, particularly amongst the population that can least afford to take this short cut. “None of this would matter if the GED were harmless, like wearing a broken watch and knowing that it is broken,” conclude the authors. “But the GED is not harmless.” Get the full depressing picture (for a small fee) here.

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