Research Allies for Lifelong Learning

The More the Merrier: The Relationship of Total Number of Semesters to GED® Passer Characteristics and Graduation
In our analysis of 2004 GED® testing data, we learned that the number of semesters in which a GED passer enrolls is positively related to the graduation rate and selected demographic and background characteristics. The table below shows results for four categories of GED passers’ semester enrollment: a single semester, two semesters, four semesters, or 8 to 14 semesters total.

A higher percentage of females tended to enroll for 8 to 14 semesters (57%) than for only a single semester (41%). These percentages suggest that women passing the GED test tend to stay in college programs longer than men who pass.

Data on reasons adults gave for taking the GED test were also available. Adults could select from among many reasons, including intent to enter a 2-year or a 4-year college. As total time enrolled increases, a higher percentage of GED passers in each category occurs. For GED passers intending to enter 2-year college, the percentages increased as the number of semesters increased (from 28% of those enrolling for a single semester to 35% of those enrolling a total of 8 to 14 semesters). For adults indicating they took the GED test to enter a 4-year college, the increase across categories was even stronger; approximately 21% of those enrolling for only a single semester and 39% of those enrolling 8 to 14 semesters had this intent when testing. From these differences we infer that GED passers who stayed in college longer tended to report their 2-year or 4-year college intent at higher rates when testing, perhaps in contrast to other GED passers who did not test specifically to enter college but decided to do so later.

Total number of college semesters was also positively associated with higher grade levels completed while still in high school. The proportion of those enrolled in a single semester vs. 8 to 14 semesters increased from 40% to 49% when the GED passer completed 11th or 12th grade, yet decreased from 42% to 33% when the GED passer completed 9th or 10th grade. These data suggest that long-term college enrollees who pass the GED test may include more high school students who are close to graduation and leave school, or who complete high school (e.g., immigrants, adults with disabilities, or home schoolers who take the GED test for credentialing purposes). Conversely, short-term enrollees may include a higher proportion of GED passers who began high school and left before 11th grade.

Experiencing unemployment when testing was negatively associated with total semesters enrolled. A higher percentage of single-semester enrollees were unemployed in 2004 (31%) than of GED passers enrolling for 8 to 14 semesters (22%). This decrease contrasts with figures for GED passers who were employed full time when testing; these percentages were relatively consistent across enrollment categories.

Finally, graduation rates were much higher for GED passers enrolling for 8 to 14 semesters than for enrollees in all other categories of semester length. Nearly half of those enrolling for most of the time period we re-analyzed graduated, while less than 3% of GED passers in the single-semester enrollee category graduated from college. These data imply that persistence matters to graduation. It is especially intriguing that proportions in the first three categories were close to (or lower than) the population graduation rate of 12%, yet of those enrolling 8 to 14 semesters, 46% graduated. This category of at least 8 semesters may serve as a tipping point for persistence to graduation.