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Deb Peterson

GED Holders "Often Blow the Opportunity" — James J. Heckman

By May 7, 2010

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"Looking at a random sample of 1,000 GED holders five years removed from gaining their certificates, (Nobel Prize-winning economist James J.) Heckman found that recipients have easier entrée into colleges than dropouts, but they often blow the opportunity. Only 31 percent actually enroll, with the large majority of certificate holders going to two-year colleges. Seventy-seven percent last no longer than one semester."

That's a paragraph out of James Warren's May 6 commentary for Bloomberg's Businessweek. Yowie. Heckman has released a new study showing that GEDs are not anywhere near as valuable as a high-school diploma.

He may have data to show, but more importantly, "he also has a cause," Warren writes.

Heckman believes our society should invest more in early childhood learning that encourages kids to stay in school. He has a point. I don't argue that. But I believe the GED gives people a second chance that many really do take advantage of.

And by the way, what's wrong with two-year colleges?

I know there's some discrimination out there. People rise above it in many, many cases. Are you one? Don't let anybody tell you you can't achieve your GED and go forward to do whatever your heart desires. Go for it. Prove the naysayers wrong.

GED Help


May 9, 2010 at 1:03 am
(1) Kelly says:

Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, and any self-respecting Nobel prize-winning economist knows it. There are several obvious explanations why a GED holder might not obtain a college degree. The value of the GED itself is quite low on that list.

May 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm
(2) Meagen says:

Actually, a logitudinal study of several thousand GED graduates over 7 years showed that 2/3 enroll in at least 2 semesters of post secondary (which, yes, includes 2 year colleges) which has been shown to be an economic marker for increased lifetime earnings. Many studies have shown GED earners make at least $1 million more over their lifetimes than those without a HS diploma. Not exactly apples to apples, but the numbers look positive or negative here purely based on your angle…

Are we trying to help families break the cycle of poverty, or are we willing to just abandon “drop-outs” for the sake of their children. I’d choose the former, because it’s the parent that sets the example. Oh, and don’t forget that the greatest indicator of academic success in children is still tied to the educational achievement level of their mothers, not external interventions. Why not compromise with family literacy, which ties adult education, early childhood education, AND parenting?

March 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm
(3) Chris Zerges says:

In reading Prof. Heckman’s further works it is clear that he has studied the impacts of focussing on “cognative” skills by our society. The “non-cognative” or “nurture part of the equation is left out, so to speak, when testing our developing learners. There is little doubt that the GED fulfills the cognative portion of this learning process but “by definition” shows that the student was lacking certain necessary socio-emotional skills for the completion of the task of “graduating highschool”. (I am not speaking of that occassional student who has a catastrophic encounter that makes this task impossible but rather the average GED student who, even with reasonable adversity, cannot succesfully nvaigate the waters of high school). There is plenty of grounds to say that it is an uphill battle for this student to THEN succeed at the post secondary level. It does not mean that it is impossible or a journey the learner should not take. It simply means that Heckman’s findings ARE valid and that the succesful GED student, who finds him or herself with a degree and promising career opportunities has overcome much more than the GED results would tell you.

March 23, 2011 at 3:18 pm
(4) Deb says:

And is, therefore, very likely to be a valuable employee. So why the discrimination?

April 6, 2011 at 11:42 am
(5) Chris says:

Deb, I believe that the very statement “is likely to be a valuable employee” is the problem. He is NOT likely or unlikely by the aquisition of the GED to be a valuable employee. It does not give us this information. It only tells us that the person has “content” or cognative information. On the other hand, high school graduates have the added information that, along with the cognative skills, they succeeded at 1.) working with others to complete the project of high school 2.) they overcame the adversitites that occurred duing that period to succeed at high school 3.) they considered the task of completing high school important enough to follow through to the end. (and many more skill sets that would be too much to stretch this list out). Again, it doesn’t mean that a GED recipient is not qualified but it means that they may or may not have interpersonal skills necessary for your job. They may or may not complete tasks. They may or may not deal with authority in a project well. To get through high school you at least had to navigate around the authorities even if you didn’t like them, and that says something.

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