Academic and Economic Valuation of Credential Attainment: The Consequences of Disparate Perceptions Between High School and GED Students

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Studies and Research

First Advisor

John R. Rachal

Advisor Department

Educational Studies and Research


In 2001, the estimated high school dropout rate was 30% (ETS, 2005) and in 2004, 16 to 19 year olds accounted for 46.2% of the General Educational Development (GED) credentials awarded (GEDTS, 2006) These statistics indicated a loss in the quantity and quality of human capital developed through public education. Chaplin (1999) posited the earnings maximization model (EMM) as a framework for understanding the youth decision to drop out. This conceptual framework described the student assessment of costs (academic effort), benefits (academic, economic, and social value), and constraints (policies) which may lead to credential attainment decisions. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the utility of the EMM and to identify whether significant differences existed between high school and GED student perceptions of credential value. A sequential mixed methods investigation was conducted with the qualitative data used to support quantitative results. A multivariate analysis of the variance (MANOVA) employing stratified quota sampling identified a sample (n = 158) consisting of 67 White Americans, 55 African Americans, and 36 Hispanic Americans distributed between high school and GED student groups. An exploratory factor analysis (n = 326) on a 17-item questionnaire extracted four factors with adequate (.74) instrument reliability. There were significant differences (p < .05) by student status for the academic and economic dimensions of value for the diploma. There was also a significant difference by ethnicity for the social value of the GED. The qualitative data (n = 24) gathered through structured interviews supported quantitative results regarding the diploma. Overall, participants ascribed higher value toward the credential being pursued, but the magnitude of these disparate perceptions and explained variances were small (η 2 < .10), which indicated that perhaps credential constraints (e.g. No Child Left Behind legislation) rather than costs or benefits held greater influence in credential attainment decision making. The EMM provided a useful framework for understanding student decision-making. In addition, the GED group held misperceptions regarding the academic and economic value of the high school diploma, which may have led to faulty decision-making. Recommendations included high school and GED administrative utilization of the EMM to guide institutional discourse (teacher and student dialogues) that encourage informed decision-making. Further, GED administrators should monitor the adult attrition rate for the impact of youth presence, which may usher in pedagogical teaching techniques. Increasing adult attrition in GED programs may indicate the need for age appropriate classrooms to address this concern. Finally, policy makers should ensure that GED programs have adequate funding to serve youth and adult groups so that the GED may be preserved as a second chance adult education credential.