GED certificate programs

Evidence Rating  
Some Evidence
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers

The General Education Development (GED) certificate is the primary educational credential for individuals who have dropped out of school or have arrived in the US without a credential equivalent to a high school diploma. Attendance at any particular course or training program is not required to obtain a GED. Instead, an individual must pass a series of tests. Passing the GED test certifies certain levels of general knowledge in mathematics, writing, reading, social studies, and science1. GED programs are sometimes combined with counseling and social services2.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased earnings

  • Reduced recidivism

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased GED certificate completion

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that GED certificates increase earnings for individuals with low cognitive skills and adults who use their GEDs to obtain postsecondary education31. GED receipt through correctional education programs reduces recidivism and may increase employment for individuals who have been incarcerated4. Other recipients, such as youth transitioning out of foster care5, are less likely to realize earnings or employment benefits31. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

It often takes several years of post-GED work experience for recipients’ incomes to increase, and gains are typically modest13. Few GED recipients advance to postsecondary education, but those who do substantially increase their earnings132. On average, GED recipients earn more than peers who do not complete high school and less than high school graduates1; health outcomes for GED recipients are generally similar to individuals who do not complete high school, and significantly worse than outcomes for high school graduates6.

In some instances, bridge programs that use career-focused GED curricula to support the pathway from GED to college can increase GED receipt as well as college enrollment more than traditional GED programs7. GED programs that use more rigorous college and career readiness curricula may also be more likely to encourage GED recipients to continue with postsecondary education and training8.

Researchers recommend that GED programs help students manage adult responsibilities that can make program completion difficult, link to postsecondary programs, stress the necessity of further education, and help students navigate the postsecondary admissions and financial aid processes12, 8. Research also suggests GED classes can increase receipt of GEDs regardless of participants’ initial level of motivation2.

In some cases, GED access can induce potential high school graduates to drop out. Factors that decrease GED desirability such as high minimum dropout ages, more rigorous GED standards, or parental consent requirements are associated with higher rates of school completion. High school exit exams, conversely, may increase attempts to earn GEDs3.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

GED programs are available in all states, as well as online9. As of 2012, approximately 1.62 million non-institutionalized, civilian 18-24 year olds had earned a GED10. As of 2010, only 16.8% of GED holders 18-29 years old enrolled in college11.

GED bridge to college and careers programs that support pathways for GED recipients to continue with postsecondary education and training are also becoming more available, for example, at LaGuardia Community College in New York12 and at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College13.

YouthBuild programs combine academic preparation for the GED or other high school equivalency tests with hands-on job training to prepare students for postsecondary education or employment. As of 2016, there are 260 urban and rural YouthBuild programs available in 46 states14. Project Rise, which links GED preparation classes with case management and part-time, paid internships, operates in New York City; Newark, New Jersey; and Kansas City, Missouri.15.

Implementation Resources

Learning Path - GED info by state.

WI DPI-GED requirements - Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Wisconsin’s GED/HSED program requirements.

MDRC-Rutschow 2014 - Rutschow EZ, Crary-Ross S. Beyond the GED: Promising models for moving high school dropouts to college. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC); 2014.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 Tyler 2005 - Tyler JH. The General Educational Development (GED) credential: History, current research, and directions for policy and practice. In: Review of Adult Learning and Literacy. Boston: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy; 2005:45-84.

2 MDRC-Bos 2002 - Bos JM, Scrivener S, Snipes J, et al. Improving basic skills: The effects of adult education in welfare-to-work programs. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC); 2002.

3 NBER-Heckman 2010 - Heckman JJ, Humphries JE, Mader NS. The GED. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2010: Working Paper 16064.

4 RAND-Davis 2013 - Davis LM, Bozick R, Steele JL, et al. Evaluating the effectiveness of correctional education: A meta-analysis of programs that provide education to incarcerated adults. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2013.

5 Okpych 2014* - Okpych NJ, Courtney ME. Does education pay for youth formerly in foster care? Comparison of employment outcomes with a national sample. Children and Youth Services Review. 2014;43:18-28.

6 Zajacova 2014 - Zajacova A, Everett BG. The nonequivalent health of high school equivalents. Social Science Quarterly. 2014;95(1):221-238.

7 MDRC-Martin 2013 - Martin V, Broadus J. Enhancing GED instruction to prepare students for college and careers: Early success in LaGuardia Community College's Bridge to Health and Business program. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC); 2013.

8 MDRC-Rutschow 2014 - Rutschow EZ, Crary-Ross S. Beyond the GED: Promising models for moving high school dropouts to college. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC); 2014.

9 Learning Path - GED info by state.

10 NCES-Stark 2015 - Stark P, Noel AM, McFarland J. Trends in high school dropout and completion rates in the United States: 1972–2012. Washington, DC: US Department of Education (US ED), National Center for Education Statistics (NCES); 2015.

11 Sum 2012 - Sum A, Khatiwada I, Trubskyy M, Palma S, McHugh W. The college enrollment behavior of young adult high school dropouts, GED holders, and high school graduates with regular diplomas in the United States: 2000-2010. Washington, DC: US Department of Education (US ED); 2012.

12 LAGCC-GED bridge - LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC). Bridge to College and Careers Program.

13 NWTC-GED bridge - Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC). GED Bridge to College and Career program.

14 YouthBuild - YouthBuild USA. About YouthBuild.

15 MDRC-Project Rise - Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). Project Rise.

Date Last Updated