That's according to the doctoral dissertation by Andrew Ryder, a research and evaluation scientist in Iowa State University's Research Institute for Studies in Education (RISE). Ryder's research, which analyzed data collected by the Iowa Department of Education, earned the Council for the Study of Community Colleges' "Dissertation of the Year" award last month.
"I was very interested in looking at President Obama's desire and stated goal of having the highest percentage of population in the world having a college degree or some form of college training by the year 2020," said Ryder, who earned his Ph.D. from Iowa State last December with a concentration in higher education. "It seemed to me that an interesting group of people to study were those people who left high school without a diploma, but pursued the GED. That's because we're talking about people who are most likely to have spotty employment or are underemployed -- working in low wage jobs that don't necessarily provide upward economic mobility."
Ryder worked with Tom Schenk, a past consultant on institutional effectiveness and accountability for the Iowa Department of Education, to analyze individual records for the Iowa candidates who enrolled in the GED preparation program by the end of the 2003-04 fiscal year. Community colleges are the exclusive GED preparation and testing providers in Iowa.
Of those who earned their GED certificate, Ryder was surprised that just under 41 percent (1,504) eventually enrolled in community college -- particularly since community colleges conduct the GED preparation program.
Small percentage earn community college certificates
"The reality is that a lot of community college students are not there to get a two-year degree or a one-year certificate," he said. "They're there to get coursework that they need in order to take the next step in their job or career. They also have to balance family demands, so they may not be able to attend full-time, which means they're not eligible for a lot of aid and don't want to take out loans. They take what they can afford to take that next step incrementally."