GED certificate programs

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 science (Tyler 2005). GED programs are sometimes combined with counseling and social services (MDRC-Bos 2002).

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 education (NBER-Heckman 2010Tyler 2005). GED receipt through correctional education programs reduces recidivism and may increase employment for individuals who have been incarcerated (RAND-Davis 2013). Other recipients, such as youth transitioning out of foster care (Okpych 2014*), are less likely to realize earnings or employment benefits (NBER-Heckman 2010Tyler 2005). 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 modest (Tyler 2005NBER-Heckman 2010). Few GED recipients advance to postsecondary education, but those who do substantially increase their earnings (Tyler 2005NBER-Heckman 2010MDRC-Bos 2002). On average, GED recipients earn more than peers who do not complete high school and less than high school graduates (Tyler 2005); health outcomes for GED recipients are generally similar to individuals who do not complete high school, and significantly worse than outcomes for high school graduates (Zajacova 2014).

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 programs (MDRC-Martin 2013). 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 training (MDRC-Rutschow 2014).

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 processes (Tyler 2005MDRC-Bos 2002, MDRC-Rutschow 2014). Research also suggests GED classes can increase receipt of GEDs regardless of participants’ initial level of motivation (MDRC-Bos 2002).

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 GEDs (NBER-Heckman 2010).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

GED programs are available in all states, as well as online (Learning Path). As of 2012, approximately 1.62 million non-institutionalized, civilian 18-24 year olds had earned a GED (NCES-Stark 2015). As of 2010, only 16.8% of GED holders 18-29 years old enrolled in college (Sum 2012).

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 York (LAGCC-GED bridge) and at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC-GED bridge).

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 states (YouthBuild). 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. (MDRC-Project Rise).

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.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Learning Path - GED info by state.

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.

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.

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

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

YouthBuild - YouthBuild USA. About YouthBuild.

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

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