Although a growing number of high school dropouts are taking the GED exam, most who pass it discover that it doesn’t help them much in finding better economic opportunities or completing postsecondary education, an analysis concludes. In fact, the study suggests that the widespread availability and low cost of the GED may even induce some students to drop out of school.
In 2008, nearly half a million dropouts earned a General Educational Development credential, amounting to 12 percent of all high school credentials issued that year, according to the study. It was published this month as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“The GED is not harmless,” the authors write. “Treating it as equivalent to a high school degree distorts social statistics and gives false signals that America is making progress when it is not.”
The study involved an extensive review of scholarly research on the GED credential. It was co-written by three researchers from the University of Chicago: Nobel Prize-winner James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, and Nicholas S. Mader.
The researchers say a core disadvantage facing many individuals who earn the credential is a tendency to have “noncognitive deficits.”
We show that noncognitive deficits such as lack of persistence, low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and high propensity for risky behavior explain the lack of success for many GED recipients, the report says. Deficits of what are sometimes called soft skills are often not taken into account in public-policy discussions involving economic opportunity.
A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 2010 edition of Education Week as Equivalency Exam