AT THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR: Changes to GED Could Make High School Credentials Less Attainable

November 20, 2013

Beginning in 2014, substantial changes to the content, cost, and administration of the General Educational Development (GED) test will pose significant obstacles for test takers, particularly those who are low income or live in economically-disadvantaged areas.

The GED is the most widely accepted high school credential, representing an important bridge to further skills training and education for thousands of adults across the state.  For the past 70 years, the GED has been administered by the non-profit American Council on Education.  But on January 1st, the test will become a project of a public-private partnership with private testing giant Pearson VUE.  A recently released brief by Sabine Schoenbach of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project explains the pending changes to the GED, potential impacts for low-income adult learners, and the importance of possessing a high school credential in North Carolina.

Why the GED Matters to Families

North Carolina ranks just 38th in the nation in terms of the number of working-age adults who possess a high school credential, with higher percentages found in low-income communities and amongst African-American and Hispanic adults. This level of education is considered necessary to access the further education and skills training needed to obtain middle-class earnings. People who lack a high school credential face an uphill climb toward achieving economic security, as there is a clear relationship between education levels and earnings. Almost 40% of working families living below the federal poverty level have at least one parent without a high school credential, and more than half of such families have no family members who have accessed any post-secondary education.

Changes to GED Could Create Barriers for Test Takers Beginning on January 1st

  • Costs will increase – The current fee is $35 for the full battery of tests needed to obtain a GED, but the testing fee for the 2014 test is $120.  There are concerns about future cost increases do to the shift from non-profit to for-profit management of the tests.
  • There will be fewer testing locations – There are currently 72 testing centers in North Carolina, but in 2014 only the state’s 58 community colleges will be able to offer the test.
  • All tests will be computerized – Full computerization of the test is likely to restrict access for some demographic groups in the state, as access to technology and the ability to gain proficiency with computers remains scarce in many areas.
  • Current test takers will have to start over – The current format of the GED involves passing a section of the test on each of five different subjects.  For those who are able to demonstrate proficiency on some parts of the test but not others, they only need to retake and pass the sections they have not passed in order to attain a GED.  Students who have passed some but not all sections of the current GED will now have to start from scratch if they are unable to pass all five sections of the test by the end of the year.  In addition to making the test harder to pass, this change will also make the test more expensive for students who were close to obtaining their GED.

Schoenbach’s brief points out that while the challenges caused by changes to the GED test are serious, they also represent an opportunity for the state to reflect on ways to better meet the needs of adult learners seeking a high school credential and access to postsecondary education.  Adult learning options like the GED must become more rather than less accessible in order for these families to have a real opportunity at achieving economic security.

More Information on the GED

North Carolina Justice Center Workers’ Rights Project Brief

General Information the Administration of the GED

Location of Community Colleges/GED Testing Sites

GED en Español