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“CHARACTERISTICS OF GED RECIPIENTS IN HIGH SCHOOL: 2002–06”: GED Recipients Do Not Fare as Well as High School Graduates in College, Report Finds

“Overall, GED credential holders differed more from graduates than from dropouts on measures of school participation and academic achievement.”

Although the General Educational Development (GED) credential is often considered to be the equivalent of a high school diploma for students who do not graduate from high school, individuals with GEDs do not fare as well as high school graduates in postsecondary education, according to “Characteristics of GED Recipients in High School: 2002–06,” a new issue brief from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The brief finds that a GED credential can expand opportunities within postsecondary education, but notes that GED recipients do not enroll in postsecondary institutions as frequently as high school graduates do. Specifically, more than 64 percent of students who graduated from high school in 2003 were enrolled in a two- or four-year institution of higher education in that same year, while only 31 percent of GED recipients were enrolled in a postsecondary institution within five years of receiving their GED. Of the GED recipients who did enroll in postsecondary education, a majority enrolled for only one semester.

The brief also finds that GED recipients differed more from graduates than from dropouts in their choice of high school course study. For example, the majority of high school graduates (53 percent) participated in a college preparatory course of study, while 51 percent of GED recipients and 52 percent of dropouts participated in a general education high school program. Interestingly, when asked their opinion on the importance of education, more GED recipients (36.6 percent) than high school dropouts (26.7 percent) said that education was “not important.”

“Overall, GED credential holders differed more from graduates than from dropouts on measures of school participation and academic achievement,” the brief reads. “However, patterns of GPA percentages suggest that GED recipients began high school with characteristics distinct from those of dropouts but became similar to dropouts over time.”

The issue brief uses data from the base-year study and first and second follow-ups of the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002. It contains data from a national representative sample of public and private school students who were in tenth grade in the spring of 2002. By 2006, about 4 percent of these 2002 high school tenth graders had obtained a GED, compared to 88 percent who had earned a high school diploma, 5 percent who had dropped out, and 3 percent who did not fall into any of these categories. The brief points out that students who dropped out of school prior to reaching the tenth grade were not captured in the longitudinal study.

char. of GED pic

As shown in the box to the right, the brief also includes educational outcomes broken down by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, parental education, and several other characteristics. Compared to high school graduates, the brief finds that higher percentages of GED recipients and dropouts were male (48 vs. 59 and 60 percent, respectively), from the lowest quarter based on socioeconomic status (22 vs. 35 and 55 percent, respectively), and from single-parent families (21 vs. 32 and 31 percent, respectively).

The data also includes reasons for why students chose to drop out and pursue a GED. The four most cited school-related reasons for leaving given by GED recipients were that they thought it would be easier to get a GED (48 percent), they did not like school (44 percent), they were getting poor grades or failing school (39 percent), and/or they had missed too many school days (39 percent). Generally, dropouts gave similar responses except that higher percentages of dropouts than GED recipients reported that they could not complete the courses or pass the tests needed to graduate (33 vs. 22 percent).

Although GED recipients do not fare as well as high school graduates, the brief finds that individuals with GEDs fare better than high school dropouts who do not obtain the credential in future earnings, life satisfaction, levels of depression, and substance abuse.

“Characteristics of GED Recipients in High School: 2002–06” is available at

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