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The GED

  • James J. Heckman
  • John Eric Humphries
  • Nicholas S. Mader

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 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16064.

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Date of creation: Jun 2010
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Publication status: published as “The GED,” (with J. E. Humphries and N. S. Mader). In, E. A. Hanushek, S. Machin, and L. W ̈ oßmann (eds.) Handbook of the Economics Of Education, Volume 3 . Amsterdam: North-Holland. pp. 423-484. (2011).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16064
Note: CH ED LS PE
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  1. Hansen, Karsten T & Heckman, James J & Mullen, Kathleen J, 2003. "The effect of schooling and ability on achievement test scores," Working Paper Series 2003:13, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
  2. Heckman, James J. & Humphries, John Eric & LaFontaine, Paul A. & Rodríguez, Pedro L., 2008. "Taking the Easy Way Out: How the GED Testing Program Induces Students to Drop Out," IZA Discussion Papers 3495, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. James J. Heckman & Paul A. LaFontaine, 2007. "The American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels," NBER Working Papers 13670, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. John H. Tyler & Jeffrey R. Kling, 2004. "Prison-Based Education And Re-Entry Into The Mainstream Labor Market," Working Papers 2004-10, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  7. 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.
  8. Li, Jingyuan, 2009. "Comparative higher-degree Ross risk aversion," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 333-336, December.
  9. Melissa Clark & David Jaeger, 2006. "Natives, the foreign-born and high school equivalents: new evidence on the returns to the GED," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 19(4), pages 769-793, October.
  10. 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.
  11. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & John H. Tyler, 2000. "Who Benefits from Obtaining a GED? Evidence from High School and Beyond," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(1), pages 23-37, February.
  12. 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.
  13. Imbens, Guido W. & Lemieux, Thomas, 2008. "Regression discontinuity designs: A guide to practice," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 615-635, February.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1991. "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents," NBER Working Papers 3804, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Michael Spence, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-374.
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