Beyond the GED: Preparing for College and a Career in the 21st Century

Beyond the GED: Preparing for College and a Career in the 21st Century
Beyond the GED: Preparing for College and a Career in the 21st Century


While the GED strives to provide a pathway for many students to transition to postsecondary education and the workforce, studies have shown that in practice many GED prep programs falls short of this goal. According to a 2009 report published by the GED Testing Service, only about one-in-three GED holders enrolled in at least one postsecondary institution five years after attaining their GED; 77 percent of those individuals dropped out after one semester; and only 17 percent of individuals earned a postsecondary credential. In order for the GED to live up to its potential to provide a viable alternative for youth to progress to and through postsecondary education, GED programs must re-evaluate the supports and services they provide to their students.

This Capitol Hill forum, co-sponsored by MDRC, will explore the history of the GED, and highlight best practices at LaGuardia Community College’s GED Bridge Program. Richard J. Murnane, Professor of Education and Society at Harvard Graduate School of Education will provide an overview of the historic trends and value of GED attainment to participating youth. Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College, will then discuss the development and implementation of the GED Bridge Program at LaGuardia. Vanessa Martin, Senior Associate at MDRC, will present the results of MDRC’s GED Bridge Program evaluation, and highlight opportunities for future research. Finally, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Research Associate at MDRC, will discuss policy implications, and highlight future opportunities within federal policy to support successful programming.

Presenters included:

Vanessa Martin, Senior Associate, MDRC

Gail O. Mellow, President, LaGuardia Community College

Richard J. Murnane, Professor of Education and Society, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Research Associate, MDRC

Presenter Biographies

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Vanessa Martin has over ten years of experience in the social and education policy research field, focusing primarily on employment, training, and postsecondary education for low-income individuals. She is currently responsible for project development and management as well as site recruitment. She serves as the project director for an evaluation of LaGuardia Community College’s GED Bridge to College and Career Programs, which are enhanced GED preparation programs that provide GED instruction, contextualized around careers in health or business. She also serves as operations lead for the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), and as site liaison for the TANF/SSI Disability Transition Project and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) evaluation of the Adult and Dislocated Worker Program. Martin left MDRC in 2007 to serve as Program Director for employment retention and advancement programs that are part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity, a public-private antipoverty initiative. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and is an alumnus of the Workforce Leaders Academy, a year-long peer learning exchange for workforce leaders in New York City. She is also on the board of The Financial Clinic, a nonprofit financial development organization in New York City.

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Richard Murnane, an economist, is the Thompson Professor of Education and Society at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. In recent years he has pursued three lines of research. With MIT professors Frank Levy and David Autor, he has examined how computer-based technological change has affected skill demands in the United States’ economy, and the effectiveness of educational policies in responding to changing skill demands. Murnane and Levy have written two books on this topic. The second line of research examines trends and patterns in U.S. high school graduation rates and their explanations.  In June 2013, the Journal of Economic Literature published Murnane’s interpretive review of the evidence on this topic. The third line of research examines the respects in which the growth in family income inequality in the U.S. has affected educational opportunities for children from low-income families and the effectiveness of alternative strategies for improving life chances for these children. Murnane co-edited (with Greg Duncan) the 2011 volume, Whither Opportunity: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances (Russell Sage). In January 2014, Harvard Education Press (and Russell Sage) published Duncan and Murnane’s book, Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education.

Early in his career, Murnane taught high school mathematics. In 2001-02, he served as Special Senior Assistant to the Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools.

mellow formattedDr. Gail O. Mellow has served as President of LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens since 2000. A member of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for achieving boundary-breaking success educating underserved students.

A nationally recognized expert on the history, development and future of the American community college, Dr. Mellow is a frequent voice on higher education issues in the media. As co-author of Minding the Dream: The Process and Practice of the American Community College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), she is in demand as a speaker both here and abroad, and has been extensively quoted in a range of publications on the vital role that community colleges play in educating students for a global economy and spurring job creation, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Bloomberg and more.

Dr. Mellow has appeared on PBS’s FRONTLINE, MSNBC and participated in a debate with college presidents from public, private and for profit institutions about the future of higher education in America aired on PBS stations across the nation.

Photo_Zachry Rutschow formattedElizabeth Zachry Rutschow is a lead in MDRC’s developmental education, adult basic education, and GED research. She is the director of two projects in these areas, including: (1) an evaluation of the New Mathways Project, a developmental education reform aimed at revising college students’ math pathways in the state the Texas and (2) an evaluation of the Learning Pathways Pilots in New York’s District 79 and Office for Vocational Adult Education programs, which are piloting new English and math curriculum aligned with the Common Core State Standards and the new 2014 GED.  She also co-directs (with Vanessa Martin) MDRC’s demonstration around new adult education and GED reforms aimed at improving students’ college readiness and success. She has authored two literature reviews analyzing the most promising reforms in developmental and adult education, based on the results of rigorous research (Unlocking the Gate and Beyond the GED). Zachry Rutschow was also the Project Director for MDRC’s evaluation of Achieving the Dream from 2007 to 2012 and, in this role, authored a number of reports examining the implementation, costs, and outcomes of the initiative. She received her Ed.D. in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


 Click here to view the presentation slideshow

Vanessa Martin

Senior Associate


16 East 34 Street,19th Floor

New York, NY 10016


Gail Mellow


LaGuardia Community College

31-10 Thomson Ave.

Long Island City, NY 11101


Richard J. Murnane

Professor of Education and Society

Harvard Graduate School of Education

6 Appian Way, Room 469

Cambridge, MA 02138


Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow

Research Associate


16 East 34 Street, 19th Floor

New York, NY 10016



The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.