Are High School Diplomas Worth It?

by TBS Staff

Updated May 23, 2023 • 1 min read is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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The acronym GED stands for General Educational Development, not general equivalency diploma, for which it is often mistaken. Beyond the name, there is no mistaking the lack of equivalency between holders of the GED and holders of a high school diploma. Many indicators soundly show that holders of the GED fall behind their diploma-holding counterparts. The following are a few examples concerning future outcome differences:

The stigma connected with GED holders is not present for diploma holders, and that is the stigma of being a dropout, of lacking persistence, or of taking short cuts. This accounts partly for the large difference in wages between the two groups. Plus, many institutions view the robust education gained by years spent full-time in school cannot be garnered by the taking of a day-long test, nor indicated by it. “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.” (Cameron & Heckman, National Bureau of Economic Research Paper No.3804, "The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents”).

Learn about The 50 Best Online High School Diploma Programs.

Many studies for the National Bureau of Economic Research lamented the fact that the number of students choosing to leave school and get a GED was rising because the students weren't aware of how devastating that decision could be. As of 2008, 12% (500,000 dropouts) of high school credentials issued that year were for those passing the GED (Heckman, Humphies, & Mader, NBER Working Paper No. 16064, "The GED”). The same study stated that while it had been demonstrated through much research that GED holders and graduates had equivalent abilities to learn--scholastic aptitude--those with the GED were found to be deficient in noncognitive skills, such as persistence, motivation, and reliability. Employers are afraid that whatever traits lead them to drop out of high school will lead them to other irresponsible behaviors in the work place.

However, for all the wage, labor market, and higher education differences there are between GED holders and diploma holders, there are just as stark differences in all areas between GED holders and high school dropouts who did not attain a GED. Hence, the difference between a high school graduate and a non-credentialed high school dropout is enormous.

If you have dropped out of high school and are trying to figure out what to do, these remarkable differences that stay consistent throughout life (National Bureau of Economic Research), should clearly point you in the direction of pursuing a high school diploma.

Maybe the traditional school model didn't work for you. Good news! You now have the choice to get a high school diploma online. Discover The 50 Best Online High School Diploma Programs.

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