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  • Heckman, James J.


    (University of Chicago)

  • Humphries, John Eric


    (University of Chicago)

  • Mader, Nicholas S.


    (University of Chicago)

The General Educational Development (GED) credential is issued on the basis of an eight hour subject-based test. The test claims to establish equivalence between dropouts and traditional high school graduates, opening the door to college and positions in the labor market. In 2008 alone, almost 500,000 dropouts passed the test, amounting to 12% of all high school credentials issued in that year. This chapter reviews the academic literature on the GED, which finds minimal value of the certificate in terms of labor market outcomes and that only a few individuals successfully use it as a path to obtain post-secondary credentials. Although the GED establishes cognitive equivalence on one measure of scholastic aptitude, recipients still face limited opportunity due to deficits in noncognitive skills such as persistence, motivation and reliability. The literature finds that the GED testing program distorts social statistics on high school completion rates, minority graduation gaps, and sources of wage growth. Recent work demonstrates that, through its availability and low cost, the GED also induces some students to drop out of school. The GED program is unique to the United States and Canada, but provides policy insight relevant to any nation's educational context.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 4975.

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Length: 68 pages
Date of creation: May 2010
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: E.A. Hanushek, S. Machin and S. Woessman (eds.), Handbook of the Economics of Education, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2011, Chapter 9, 423-483
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4975
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  1. Clark, Melissa A. & Jaeger, David A., 2002. "Natives, the Foreign-Born and High School Equivalents: New Evidence on the Returns to the GED," IZA Discussion Papers 477, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Guido Imbens & Thomas Lemieux, 2007. "Regression Discontinuity Designs: A Guide to Practice," NBER Working Papers 13039, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. James J. Heckman & Paul A. LaFontaine & Pedro L. Rodriguez, 2008. "Taking the Easy Way Out: How the GED Testing Program Induces Students to Drop Out," Working Papers 200829, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  4. Hansen, Karsten T. & Heckman, James J. & Mullen, K.J.Kathleen J., 2004. "The effect of schooling and ability on achievement test scores," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 39-98.
  5. James J. Heckman & Paul A. LaFontaine, 2010. "The American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(2), pages 244-262, May.
  6. Yona Rubinstein & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 145-149, May.
  7. John H. Tyler & Jeffrey R. Kling, 2006. "Prison-Based Education and Re-Entry into the Mainstream Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 12114, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Tyler, John H. & Murnane, Richard J. & Willett, John B., 2003. "Who benefits from a GED? Evidence for females from High School and Beyond," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 237-247, June.
  9. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & John H. Tyler, 1999. "Who Benefits from Obtaining a GED? Evidence from High School and Beyond," NBER Working Papers 7172, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James & Masterov, Dimitriy, 2004. "Labor market discrimination and racial differences in premarket factors," Working Paper Series 2005:3, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
  11. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Kathryn Parker Boudett, 1999. "Do Male Dropouts Benefit from Obtaining a GED, Postsecondary Education, and Training?," Evaluation Review, SAGE Publishing, vol. 23(5), pages 475-503, October.
  12. James J. Heckman & Paul A. LaFontaine, 2006. "Bias-Corrected Estimates of GED Returns," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 661-700, July.
  13. Michael Spence, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-374.
  14. Li, Jingyuan, 2009. "Comparative higher-degree Ross risk aversion," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 333-336, December.
  15. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1991. "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents," NBER Working Papers 3804, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
  17. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Kathryn Parker Boudett, 1997. "Does Acquisition of a GED Lead to More Training, Post-Secondary Education, and Military Service for School Dropouts?," NBER Working Papers 5992, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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