Amid Job Losses, GED Gains?

By Sean Cavanagh — February 23, 2009 1 min read
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Difficult economic conditions are having an impact on students’ pursuit of GEDs, recent reports suggest.

The number of people seeking out the credentials, officially known as the General Educational Development test and diploma, has risen in California, according to this AP story. The article notes that in that state, where unemployment is the highest in 15 years (at 9.3 percent), the number of people taking the GED test has increased from 46,184 in 2005 to 59,416 in 2008. Just last year, the number of people taking the exam rose 15 percent in the state, according to a state official.

A good portion of GED-chasers appear to be adults, who’ve been told they need the credential, or at least believe an employer will demand they have one in the future.

But a good share of them are most likely recent dropouts. Thousands of teenagers in North Carolina are saying that they have dropped out of high school to pursue a GED, in the hope of getting a job relatively quickly, according to this interesting piece in the Asheville Citizen-Times. It’s difficult to know the extent to which students are actually following through and taking the steps necessary for a GED, because much of the information about them is self-reported, the story says. Even so, the story has some surprising insights. Districts are required to report why students drop out. “Across the state, the top reason for dropping out has been too many absences to graduate. For the past four years, the No. 2 reason has been earning a GED,” the article says.

Many of those students ultimately find themselves disappointed by the surprisingly tough demands of the GED test, North Carolina school officials report. Relatively few of them go on to obtain professional certification or a community college degree, they say.

GEDs have long been a prime option for high school dropouts and others lacking a traditional diploma. The value of the GED has long been questioned in some quarters. In 2007, more than 728,000 adults worldwide took some combination of the GED’s battery of five tests; 451,000 earned passing scores on the five tests, according to the American Council on Education. Participants must be at least 16 years old to pursue the GED credential.

(Thanks to the Association for Career and Technical Education for alerting me to the issue.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.