LaGuardia's GED Bridge to Health and Business Program


About two-thirds of high school dropouts continue their education and obtain a high school credential within eight years of their scheduled graduation date. The majority obtain a General Educational Development (GED) certificate rather than a high school diploma. Unfortunately, labor market outcomes for GED holders are much worse than for high school graduates, and few of those who pass the GED obtain even one year of postsecondary education or training.

When dropouts do continue their education, it is generally through adult education or GED preparation programs that operate in schools, community-based organizations, or community colleges. However, since few of these programs (even those that operate on community college campuses) are well linked to postsecondary programs, the GED often marks the end of these students’ education, with recipients facing long odds of success in a labor market that offers few good opportunities to young people with no postsecondary education or training.

To better understand how adult education programs might strengthen pathways to college and careers, MDRC, with financial support from the Robin Hood Foundation and MetLife Foundation, partnered with LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York to conduct a rigorous study of LaGuardia’s GED Bridge to Health and Business program. The GED Bridge program represented a promising new approach to GED instruction, as it aimed to better prepare students not only to pass the GED exam but also to continue on to college and training programs. The evaluation results were highly encouraging: One year after enrolling in the program, Bridge students were far more likely to have completed the course, passed the GED exam, and enrolled in college than students in a more traditional GED preparation course. MDRC is now testing a similar “contextualized” GED program in Wisconsin at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

In January 2014, New York State selected a new high school equivalency test to replace the GED as the primary pathway to a high school equivalency diploma. LaGuardia’s Bridge to College and Careers Program, like its GED Bridge program, uses a contextualized, career-focused curriculum to prepare students for the state’s high school equivalency test.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The GED Bridge program aimed to connect GED students to careers and postsecondary education through critical enhancements to the traditional GED curriculum. Rather than simply “teaching to the test,” as was standard for GED preparation classes, the program included a specially designed curriculum that integrated material from the fields of health care and business, as well as transitional support to help students identify the career or course of study that was right for them. Students also attended class for more hours over the course of a semester and received extensive outreach and retention supports from Bridge staff. Ultimately, the program’s designers hoped that teaching the GED within the context of career-based themes and transitional support, with a strong focus on developing general academic skills, would lead to higher GED pass rates and higher rates of postsecondary success among graduates.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The GED Bridge program targeted students who were at least 18 years old, had at least a seventh-grade reading level as determined by the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE), and had incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. In fall 2010, the program began serving students as part of a randomized controlled trial. In its first two semesters, about 190 students enrolled in Bridge classes. Approximately 180 more enrolled between fall 2011 and spring 2012, bringing the total to 369 students.

In the study, key outcomes for the Bridge students were measured against the same outcomes for students who went through a more traditional preparatory course. The study was designed to answer the following questions:

  • What were the characteristics of students who participated?

  • Did the program operate as intended? For example, did the Bridge curriculum differ in significant ways from the curriculum used by non-Bridge GED instructors? Did Bridge students receive more hours of instruction and counseling?

  • Did Bridge students stay enrolled in classes at higher rates than non-Bridge GED students?

  • Did the program lead to higher rates of success on the GED exam? Did it lead to higher rates of enrollment in postsecondary education?