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Benefits of G.E.D. 'Significant,' Study Concludes

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WASHINGTON-- Iowans who earned General Educational Development certificates in the 1980's experienced substantial gains in employment, earnings and benefits, job skills, and job satisfaction, according to one of the first longitudinal studies of those who passed the G.E.D. test.

"There is value in taking the G.E.D.; it is unequivocal," John Hartwig, the Iowa G.E.D. administrator, said in releasing the study here last week. "The accrued benefits of taking the G.E.D. are significant, positive, and lasting over time."

According to its authors, Mr. Hartwig and Hal Beder, a researcher at Rutgers University, the study is one of the first to determine the value of the G.E.D. program, which is administered by the American Council on Education and state departments of education.

Value Questioned

That value has been of keen concern among educators specializing in adult and continuing education.

Two University of Chicago economists recently concluded that people who passed the G.E.D. test did not earn higher wages than those who did not pass the test but who had attained the same educational level. (See Education Week, Jan. 22, 1992.)

Mr. Beder said his and Mr. Hartwig's study is more comprehensive than the other because theirs considers the long-term effects of taking the test.

"We are comfortable in saying the evidence is powerful, the evidence is strong," Mr. Beder said. "We would say the G.E.D. is a sound personal benefit and a sound social benefit."

The study of nearly 1,600 Iowans who earned the G.E.D. certificate in 1980, 1985, and 1988 sought to examine its impact on their careers and their quality of life from the time they earned it to 1990.

The study found that 19 percent of the respondents were out of work before they earned the G.E.D. certificate, but that only 9 percent were unemployed in 1990. It also noted that, while 54 percent were employed for pay before earning the G.E.D., 71 percent were employed for pay in 1990.

G.E.D. earners also reported that their job-skill level increased after passing the exam. On a five-point scale, those surveyed with jobs prior to earning the G.E.D. said their skill level increased from 2.8 to 3.5 in 1990.

In addition, on the same scale, respondents' job satisfaction increased from 2.0 to 2.4, the study found.

The income of respondents also increased. Sixty-nine percent reported an income lower than $20,000 before earning the G.E.D., while 47 percent said so after, the study found. Twenty-nine percent had incomes of between $20,000 and $40,000 before passing the test, compared with 45 percent after, the study said.

Mean personal income increased from $22,404 to $17,764, an increase of 43 percent, the researchers said.

Welfare dependency also decreased. Of the 192 respondents who reported receiving such payments before passing the G.E.D. test, 135 had dropped from the rolls by 1990. Sixty-five of those who did not receive welfare prior to passing the test received payments in 1990, the study said.

Mr. Beder and Mr. Hartwig acknowledged shortcomings in their study, such as a lack of comparison to non-G.E.D. earners or to highschool graduates; the inconclusivity of knowing whether job skill, employment, or economic gains resulted from earning the certificate or other factors; and the possibility that some respondents lied.

"We have to be careful about generalizing the Iowa results to the nation as a whole," Mr. Beder said. "The country's performance doesn't necessarily relate back to any given state."

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