The GED at 60

The battery of five exams known as the General Educational Development Tests – or GED – was introduced in 1942 to give veterans an opportunity to finish high school. Sixty years later, the American Council on Education reports that in 2001 the number of test-takers surpassed 1 million for the first time.

This surge was partly due to the prospect of an updated version of the exams to debut this year. However, heavy use of the GED also reflects a growing awareness of educational attainment as key to progressing in life. This is heartening. While second-best compared with a high school diploma, the GED offers a second chance.

But the GED story is not wholly rosy. Research suggests that its promise is often not realized. Historically, GED recipients have fared little better than those without a high-school diploma in terms of average yearly earning potential, pegged by the Census Bureau at below $19,000.

Though the GED clearly has merit, it just as clearly needs to be made more meaningful to recipients. Many who take it may lack the personal discipline that completing high school demands. Ways to counsel such people are needed, to help them onto a purposeful path to a career or higher education, versus just a job. Clearly, they know when the test will be revised and the need to complete it, but have they really thought about what passing the tests can mean?

Remaining in a traditional educational program should be paramount. If this fails, students need to be guided toward making the GED their starting block for improved lives.

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