The GED is An Epic Fail, But Not For the Reason You Think


As young Americans marched off to fight the Nazi’s in World War II, millions traded their diploma for a draft card. It soon became clear that if a warrior was smart enough to liberate Europe, he was smart enough to graduate from high school.

The GED was developed to give warriors and veterans an opportunity to test out of courses as an alternative to returning from war and taking your seat, for example, in eleventh grade civics class. So the military commissioned the American Council on Education to develop a battery of tests covering including English, math, science and social studies. Within five years, many states had began administering the GED test to other non-traditional students including disabled students and students who needed to get into the workforce faster for personal economical reasons.

It was during this moment in time that the American Council on Education (ACE) lost control of the reputation of their product. The GED has moved from a validation of the knowledge gained by military service to a special certification for the incapable, lazy, or the somehow less than.

That reputation has persisted over the last 70 plus years, even though 18 million people have taken the GED. Nearly 500,000 earn a GED diploma, annually putting them on par with well marketed numbers like the 500,000 Americans who die from smoking every year, the 500,000 Americans attempt suicide annually, the 500,000 guns are reported stolen, and the 500,000 teenagers get pregnant every year. So why the shame and silence? Because the ACE thinks their customer is the test taker when in fact, the test taker is their product. As a result, they have spent little, if any, resources telling colleges and employers what sets their diploma holder apart from other diploma holders. 

In 1999, the GED was re-normed to the seventh percentile, which the test is written at a level higher than seven percent of high school seniors tested. As a result, about 30% of test takers fail. Beginning in January 2014, in a partnership with London based Pearson, the GED will be re-normed to today’s educational standards and will only be offered on-line and will come at a cost. The impending modernization of the test has done little to improve its reputation. Since the announcement, educators have started investigating their options. 

With an honorable start, 18 million alumni, challenging test questions and billions invested, why then do employers, colleges, and even the military have such little regard for the GED? The only nationally recognized alternative to a high school diploma has no brand value. This is an epic failure of marketing, and those who pass the test every year are the casualties.

ACE, a not-for-profit 501c3, has a $60 million budget and more than eleven people on their staff earning in excess of $200,000. Of the sixteen job vacancies currently listed; none are open to GED holders. Pearson, a publicly traded company with a startling lack of diversity at its highest levels, is home to such well known brands as Penguin Publishing and the Financial Times. Perhaps, the two educational giants will be able to come together to build a brand that is recognized as reserved for people who have overcome unimaginable odds using their own determination and discipline. Also known as skills coveted by colleges, employers, and the military.

Still think the GED is for people looking for the easy way out?

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Heather Beaven is the CEO of the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates, where she and her team scour the state looking for buried treasure who need a little help uncovering their fullest potential.