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The pill and the placebo: What everyone needs to know about diplomas and GEDs

  • Joanna
  • June 27, 2019

Let’s say there were two different pills before you.

People who take the first pill are less likely to suffer from heart disease, heart attack, cancer and diabetes. Taking it is associated with a 50 percent reduction in the rates of emphysema and liver disease. It has even been shown that people on this pill have fewer migraines, less back pain, and improved vision.

The second pill? Well, it doesn’t do any of those things. There is some evidence that it helps in some ways, but it has negative health impacts in other ways, such that it is probably only marginally effective without other health interventions.

Now, what if a doctor told you that taking the second pill was just like taking the first? If you found out the truth, would you be mad?

Well, be mad. Furious, even. Because that is exactly what we have been doing when it comes to the GED and high school diplomas.

And no, we are not using health as a metaphor here. There are measurable, significant and peer-reviewed health differences between people who earn a high school diploma and people who earn a GED, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

None of this means the GED is worthless. It is like taking a pill that makes other medications more effective — a booster, if you will. Along with job training, social-emotional skills development, and other interventions, it can absolutely improve lives.

But we need to stop called a GED a “high school equivalency diploma.” That’s not just wrong. It’s unhealthy.


Do you want to help more students in your community earn a high school diploma? You can learn more about Graduation Alliance’s dropout prevention and recovery partnerships here.