People who drop out of high school in the U.S.A. have an alternative method of getting a diploma. The alternative is called the GED, or General Equivalency Diploma. The GED is a second chance program. It provides a certified credential telling employers that anyone who with the credential has mastered the equivalent of what was done by a high school graduate.

The original GED test was first given in 1942. Since 1942 the test has been revised a number of times to reflect different standards and knowledge needed in the workforce. The most recent revision occurred in 2014. The 2014 test shifted from pencil and paper to a test taken entirely on the computer. The subject matter being tested also changed with candidates being required to demonstrate competence in four areas; language skills, math, science and social studies.

Many people take the test each year. From 2000 until 2013 about 725,000 people nationwide signed up each year to take the GED. In that same time period about 62% passed the exam. Data on the new version of the exam has not yet been released.

Getting high-school dropouts to pass the GED is one important tool Ohio uses to help job seekers find work. However, getting a GED is not easy. One website which sells GED study materials estimates it takes the average candidate about three months to prepare for the GED exam, if they are able to study two or three times a week,. This is a significant amount of time, especially for people who are working. The amount of time made me wonder if there was a growing or shrinking interest among Ohio residents in getting a GED, especially since the test was revised.

Interest over Time

The Internet giant Google has created a web based program that allows anyone to see what people are searching for on its website. The program is called “Google Trends” and is based on a random sample of the billions of searches done on Google. The data start in 2004 and can be broken down into geographic areas, like searches done from computers located just in Ohio.

Researchers have used Google Trends to track changes in the flu, chickenpox, breast cancer, movie ticket sales, smoking of non-cigarettes, new car sales, and even financial markets. Google Trends is not perfect. People who search using other engines like Bing and Yahoo are missed. People who seek information using other means, such as asking friends, neighbors or public officials are also missed. Last, poor people who have less access to computers and the internet are under-represented compared to richer people who are online more frequently.

Even with these caveats, Google Trends presents interesting data on if GED interest is growing or shrinking. The below graph shows the weekly trend in “GED” searches for the past five years in Ohio. Superimposed on the data is a thin line showing the overall trend.

Because Google does not want to reveal complete information, it does not show us the actual number of searches occurring at a particular point in time. Instead, it provides numbers that go from zero to 100, where 100 is the point in time when the most searches occurred. A number like 50 on the right hand axis shows the point in time where people did half the number of searches they did during the peak moment.

The above graph shows the most number of searches occurred five years ago. The peak occurred in mid-January 2013. There were numerous jumps up and down over the past five years. However, the overall trend, shown by the thin line, has been steadily downward. At the end of 2017 roughly half as many searches are occurring each week for the GED as five years ago. Moreover, the reduction in searches occurs around the time the new GED was introduced in 2014.

Google Trends also shows where there is the most interest in GEDs over the past five years. The table below breaks down searches by Ohio cities. Lorain, a city located on the shores of Lake Erie has the most GED searches. Other places where searching for GED information was popular were Cleveland Heights, Euclid, and Toledo.

Relatively few searches were done in cities like Westerville and Dublin compared to the top locations. Cities which are not found in the table did not have enough searches for the GED to be listed.

Overall, Google Trends suggests two things. First, there appears to be less interest in Ohio in getting an alternative high school degree over time. Whether this is because the new GED is harder or because of another reason is an open question.

Second, people in the greater Cleveland area have much more interest finding out information about the GED than those living in the Columbus or Cincinnati metropolitan areas. This suggests knowledge about the program and interest in getting a GED varies greatly depending on the part of Ohio where a person lives.

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