New Study Shows LaGuardia Community College’s GED Bridge Program Significantly Boosts GED Pass Rates and College Enrollment

John Hutchins, MDRC, 212-340-8604, [email protected]
Randy Fader-Smith, LaGuardia Community College, 718-482-5985, [email protected]

(New York, May 16, 2013) — MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, released encouraging findings today from a rigorous evaluation of a new approach to GED instruction pioneered by LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY). The GED Bridge to Health and Business Program not only aims to better prepare students to pass the GED exam but also to continue on to college and training programs. One year after enrolling in the program, Bridge students were more than twice as likely to have passed the GED exam and three times as likely to have enrolled in college as students in a more traditional GED preparation class. 

In many large cities, high school dropout rates hover around 50 percent. And while most dropouts eventually do continue their education, too few of those who start GED programs ever pass the exam. Moreover, for those who do earn their GED, the certificate often marks the end of their education, in part because few GED programs (even those that operate on community college campuses) are well linked to college or training programs. Students with only a GED face long odds of success in a labor market that increasingly prizes specialized training and college education. The need to develop stronger pathways to college for those without high school credentials is clear. And this need is only magnified by new rules eliminating federal financial aid for aspiring college students without a high school diploma or a GED and by the planned 2014 implementation of a new GED exam that emphasizes college readiness. 

What Is LaGuardia’s Bridge to Health and Business Program?

LaGuardia’s GED Bridge to Health and Business Program offers several enhancements to the traditional GED preparation approach. Rather than focusing solely on passing the test, the program was designed explicitly as a pathway to college and careers. Students attend more hours in class over the course of a semester than is typical for GED programs and receive intensive advising from full-time Bridge staff. The foundation of the GED Bridge program is its “contextualized curriculum.” The curriculum has two broad goals: first, to build the skills that are tested on the GED exam through the use of content specific to a field of interest (health or business) and, second, to develop general academic habits and skills that prepare students to succeed in college or certification programs.

What Did MDRC’s Study Find?

MDRC used a random assignment design to evaluate the effects of the GED Bridge program on student achievement compared with a more traditional GED program (GED Prep). The GED Bridge program was targeted to low-income individuals in New York City who did not have a high school diploma or a GED. Over 80 percent of students were either African-American or Hispanic, about half of the students scored at a seventh- or eighth-grade reading level, over half reported receiving some form of public assistance, and close to 40 percent reported that they were employed when they began the program. MDRC’s analysis provides one-year of follow-up on three cohorts of students (fall 2010, spring 2011, and fall 2011). Key findings include: 

  • Compared with students who went through the traditional GED Prep course, Bridge students were much more likely to complete the semester of classes. The first milestone for students in the GED Bridge program is class completion. Students in the GED Bridge group completed the class at a significantly higher rate than the Prep students (68 percent compared with 47 percent). 
  • Bridge students were more than twice as likely to pass the GED exam as GED Prep students. Overall, 53 percent of Bridge students passed the exam within 12 months of entering the study, compared with 22 percent of Prep students. 
  • GED Bridge students were more than three times as likely to enroll in CUNY as GED Prep students. Only 7 percent of GED Prep students enrolled compared with 24 percent of GED Bridge students, a difference of 17 percentage points. 

“LaGuardia’s pioneering work with the GED Bridge program is changing the lives of students. We now have powerful evidence that we can significantly improve students’ ability to pass the GED test and successfully enroll in college. LaGuardia is committed to not only see this work grow at our own campus, but also to share our strategy and approach with educators across the nation,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College. 

“With national interest growing in programs that prepare individuals for careers in high-growth industries, and with changes coming to the GED exam, these promising findings could hardly come at a better time,” said Gordon Berlin, President of MDRC. “They contribute to a growing body of evidence that sector or career-based initiatives may offer an effective route for low-income, low-skilled adult learners to complete secondary education and gain access to higher education and training.” 

In 2014, MDRC will publish longer-term follow-up data, which will include the fourth and final study cohort and information on persistence in college. Given that these promising findings are from only one site, it will be important to test other models that have a similar approach and goal of preparing low-income students for college and careers. 

The Robin Hood Foundation and MetLife Foundation supported both the development of the GED Bridge program at LaGuardia Community College and MDRC’s evaluation. 

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 Headquartered in New York City, with a regional office in Oakland, CA, MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization with nearly 40 years of experience designing and evaluating education and social policy initiatives.