ISU professor’s GED study recognized nationally

Anna Bellegante

An ISU research and evaluation scientist was awarded one of the highest honors at the Council for the Study of Community Colleges conference in April.

Andrew Ryder, program coordinator for Iowa State’s Research Institute for Studies in Education, received the prestigious Dissertation of the Year Award.

Ryder’s dissertation analyzed Iowa GED candidates from fiscal years 2004 to 2009 to identify factors that predicted student’s success, from earning their GED to enrolling in an Iowa community college and completing a postsecondary credential.

Summary of dissertation

Ryder became interested in tracking the progress of GED earners for two reasons. One is that his brother, Chris, received his GED and is now a successful electrician in Ohio. Another is President Barack Obama’s goal of the United States having a majority of the population holding a college degree or some form of college training by the year 2020. The question that sparked Ryder’s research was: “Where are these people going to come from?”

Working with the Iowa Department of Education, Ryder analyzed records of GED candidates who enrolled in the GED preparation program. In Iowa, community colleges are responsible for preparing and testing candidates. While the number of GED earners who pursue higher education in Iowa is low, Ryder says the data compares favorably on a national scale. Below is the data from Ryder’s study for fiscal years 2004-09. The percentages reflect the proportion of the total number of GED candidates.

GED candidates: 11,675

Earned GED: 3,680, 31.5 percent

Enrolled in community college: 1,504, 12.9 percent

Completed credential: 229, 2.0 percent


Ryder offered an explanation as to why the percentage of those enrolling in and completing postsecondary education after earning their GED is so low. Many of the candidates are older with family responsibilities and working part- or full-time jobs, often with low wages. They are unable to attend school full time, and there is not enough financial aid to support part-time students.

This is a problem, especially in today’s economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma in May 2012 was 13 percent. The unemployment rate for high school graduates (or the equivalent) without a college education was 8.1 percent. For those with some college or an associate degree, unemployment was 7.9 percent; and for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, unemployment was 3.9 percent.

While Ryder says higher education is unique for each person, he stresses the necessity for everyone to pursue some form of postsecondary education. He believes it is important for higher education to become more accessible to students who may not have always had the best educational experiences or opportunities.

“Every industry is becoming more technologically driven, and people in those industries want someone with some sort of training beyond high school,” Ryder said. 

Looking toward the future

Ryder plans to continue tracking the progress of GED earners through community colleges and four-year institutions. While Ryder acknowledges Iowa is doing great things that the state and community colleges are not getting credit for (for instance, Iowa has a 90 percent pass rate for GED candidates who sit for the exam), he hopes his research will help initiate change.

Ryder calls GED candidates a “captive audience.” The candidates sit in an exam room at a community college, where a few doors down, they can actually enroll to become a student. Ryder says the transition from earning the GED to enrolling in college has the potential to be a seamless process, and he would like to see Iowa develop more resources to support that transition.

Even with unemployment being as high as it is, the housing construction industry and the Manufacturing Institute are reporting a shortage of workers or unfilled positions due to a lack of the necessary skills. Ryder says these are opportunities we cannot afford to pass on when additional training is all that is needed to solve the problem.

Ryder said he understands states need to balance budgets and taxpayers don’t like paying higher taxes, but he believes we will see some dire consequences in all levels of education if more attention isn’t paid to financially support these institutions. After all, no one is able to get where they are without the education they receive. Ryder admits education is expensive, but it is worth the investment.

“We can’t keep sacrificing quality in educational support for political expediency,” he said.