The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents

63 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2001 Last revised: 20 Mar 2001

See all articles by Stephen V. Cameron

Stephen V. Cameron

Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA)

James J. Heckman

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Date Written: August 1991

Abstract

This paper analyzes the causes and consequences of the growing proportion of high-school-certified persons who achieve that status by exam certification rather than through high school graduation. Exam-certified high school equivalents are statistically indistinguishable from high school dropouts. Both dropouts and exam-certified equivalents have comparably poor wages, earnings, hours of work, unemployment experiences and job tenure. This is so whether or not ability measures are used to control for differences. Whatever differences are found among exam-certified equivalents, high school dropouts and high school graduates are accounted for by their years of schooling completed. There is no cheap substitute for schooling. The only payoff to exam certification arises from its value in opening post-secondary schooling and training opportunities. However, exam-certified equivalents receive lower returns to most forms of post-secondary education and training. We also discuss the political economy of the recent rapid growth of exam certification. There has been growth in direct government subsidies to adult basic education programs that feature exam certification as an output. In addition, there has been growth in government subsidies to post-secondary schooling programs that require certification in order to qualify for benefits. These sources account for the rapid growth in the use of exam certification in the face of the low economic returns to it.

Suggested Citation

Cameron, Stephen and Heckman, James J., The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents (August 1991). NBER Working Paper No. w3804. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=227998

Stephen Cameron (Contact Author)

Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) ( email )

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James J. Heckman

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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American Bar Foundation

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Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

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CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

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Munich, DE-81679
Germany

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