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The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents

  • Stephen V. Cameron
  • James J. Heckman

This paper analyzes the causes and consequences of the growing proportion of high-school-certified persons who achieve that status by exam certification rather than through high school graduation. Exam-certified high school equivalents are statistically indistinguishable from high school dropouts. Both dropouts and exam-certified equivalents have comparably poor wages, earnings, hours of work, unemployment experiences and job tenure. This is so whether or not ability measures are used to control for differences. Whatever differences are found among exam-certified equivalents, high school dropouts and high school graduates are accounted for by their years of schooling completed. There is no cheap substitute for schooling. The only payoff to exam certification arises from its value in opening post-secondary schooling and training opportunities. However, exam-certified equivalents receive lower returns to most forms of post-secondary education and training. We also discuss the political economy of the recent rapid growth of exam certification. There has been growth in direct government subsidies to adult basic education programs that feature exam certification as an output. In addition, there has been growth in government subsidies to post-secondary schooling programs that require certification in order to qualify for benefits. These sources account for the rapid growth in the use of exam certification in the face of the low economic returns to it.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w3804.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3804.

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Date of creation: Aug 1991
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 11, no. 1 (January 1993): 1-47.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3804
Note: LS
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  1. Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1991. "Changes in the Structure of Wages in the Public and Private Sectors," NBER Working Papers 3667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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