More than 30 million adults haven't earned a high school diploma.1 The college enrollment rate for high school graduates in 2013 dropped from the previous year and was the lowest figure (65.9 percent) in a decade.2 Our educational communities are crying out for reform to improve the lives of young people and subsequently, the larger economy.

Creating higher education and career opportunities for disadvantaged students starts with high school completion - and today's non-traditional high school learner has options. The goal of many academic organizations is to find solutions to help increase high school graduation rates and provide at-risk students with career-focused options.

Many people hear of the GED test or General Education Development test, but this is not the only option. High School Completion programs are varied. Earning a high school diploma through blended and online learning, taking an HSE assessment to earn a credential and supplementing traditional curriculums with a college and career-specific program can advance and complete a high school education. Here is a lay of the land:


Online & Blended Education

Blended learning also positively influences the high school academic landscape as an instructional trend gaining permanence. Blended education personalizes learning experiences and tailors curriculums by blending online and traditional classroom instruction. This blended learning model provides flexibility for non-traditional students who need independent learning alternatives. By engaging in online "active learning" assignments (e.g., self-tests, tutorials, group projects), students can control and take ownership of their learning experiences. During this type of self-directed, self-paced education, students can still make face-to-face connections with the instructor and peers during in-classroom meetings.

Blended learning embraces the significant impact of technology on education as well. Student learning experiences are enhanced with technological advancements, such as interactive learning materials, time-efficient online testing, and digital coursework and communication tools. Engaged in a blended model, students can benefit from the best of both learning structures.3

Specialized High School Completion Programs

Online and blended education targets the workforce skills gap and equips individuals with the skills needed for in-demand careers. Academic institutions such as Penn Foster design specialized high school completion programs for high school students at risk for dropping out. For example, the Dropout Retrieval Solution developed a blended learning curriculum that helped 500 students graduate in Polk County, Fla., within the past seven years.

College-sponsored, accredited high school diploma programs not only increase graduation rates, but also boost college enrollment and individual earning potential. A partnership between a college and high school program creates these positive student outcomes, such as excellent preparation for postsecondary education (73 percent of high school graduates move forward with postsecondary education) and a 49 percent increase in monthly income.4

A high school completion program concentrating on blended learning provides a student with a high school diploma. The diploma signifies opportunity for students plagued by disruptive toxic circumstances and complex lives. Opportunity, along with professional support and guidance, is proven to change a student's life and establish a foundation for future long-term success.5

High School Equivalency (HSE)

High School Equivalency assessments provide students whose traditional high school education has been interrupted with alternatives for earning credentials and enhancing future opportunities. The following three examinations administered as HSE across the country include General Educational Development (GED), Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), and High School Equivalency Test(s) (HiSET). Because of these differing options, students can choose the type of assessment that best meets their needs.


Pearson-published GED testing measures a student's proficiency in science, mathematics, social studies, reading, and writing. The exclusively computer-based test determines if students have acquired the critical-thinking skills and practical knowledge traditionally learned in high school, from the ability to reason and connect information, to drawing conclusions from lectures and materials. By passing GED testing, a student earns a high school equivalency certificate or related credential.

Keep in mind, getting a GED is not equivalent to earning a high school diploma. A GED serves as an alternative to a traditional high school diploma from an accredited high school that's typically recognized and widely accepted by employers and higher education institutions. With more than half a million American adult learners earning a GED certificate, GED tests provide a sense of achievement, as well as academic and employment opportunity for returning high school students.6


The Test Assessing Secondary Completion published by CTB/McGraw-Hill was newly designed to prepare high school dropouts or adult learners for college or the workforce. TASC testing serves as an educational metric taken online or by pencil that identifies how the achievement level of the test taker relates to graduating high school seniors.

The TASC test supports second chances - a chance to earn a college degree and a chance to succeed in a promising career. College admissions and potential employers identify passing test-takers as meeting the "College and Career Ready Standards" for high school equivalency and comprehending a certain level of knowledge and skill set essential for moving forward academically or professionally.

TASC defines its equivalency exam as a "well-planned transition to the Common Core," which means it offers a Common Core aligned design enabling a gradual transition into phased-in Common Core content. Educators and students will gradually move from fundamentals and Common Core State Standards concepts to a deeper Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and innovative technology-enhanced, computer-based questions, underlines the TASC website.7


HiSET® is another newly released, affordable, and accessible solution for earning a high school equivalency credential. As the second alternative to the GED test, the HiSET exam by ETS helps students further their education or embark on a career path. The HiSET exam currently differentiates itself from TASC because of its Common Core implementation. HiSET is already aligned with the new standards and anticipates a second phase to better align with instructional programs, emphasizes the blog.8

Career & Technical Education (CTE)

In summary, a student enrolled in blended learning can earn a high school diploma, and a student who passes the GED, TASC or HiSET exam can earn a certification or credential. Although a CTE doesn't directly provide a high schooler with a diploma, certification or credential, the program can help increase higher graduation rates by engaging students and improving performance.

The Career and Technical Education program prepares learners for postsecondary college completion and high-skill, in-demand careers. The West Virginia Department of Education, for example, strives to ensure student success by offering alternative educational opportunities that integrate CTE with a traditional, relevant curriculum.

Ninety-four percent of high school students participate in CTE and learn job-specific skills for a wide range of career clusters, including Information Technology, Architecture & Construction, and Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. The average high school graduation rate for CTE-focused students is about 90 percent, compared to an average national freshman graduation rate of 75 percent, states the Association for Career & Technical Education. Also, more than 70 percent of students who concentrated on secondary CTE pursued postsecondary education following high school.

Not only does CTE increase graduation and college enrollment rates, it generates big economic returns for states and helps meet the highly skilled employment needs of high-growth industries. As part of a CTE program, a student can work toward joining the skilled trades workforce - a workforce with 726,000 available jobs in trade, transportation, and utilities and 256,000 available jobs in manufacturing. This type of program enhances traditional high school diploma curriculums and encourages students to embark on a clear career pathway.9

What do you think of these high school completion options? Let us know on Twitter.





(4) Ewert, Stephanie. "GED Recipients Have Lower Earnings, Are Less Likely to Enter College." Random Samplings. United States Census Bureau, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.






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