The Evolving Role of High School Equivalency Credentials as a Post-Secondary Pathway
Blake Heller

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Houston

Primary Discipline

Educational Policy
For the over 24 million American adults who do not hold a traditional high school diploma, high school equivalency (HSE) credentials represent the primary “second-chance” pathway to meet minimum requirements for many jobs or educational opportunities. This project will update and extend knowledge about HSE credentialing in the United States in several ways, filling important gaps in the extant evidence. To answer the research questions that drive this project, I will characterize the modern landscape of high school equivalency in the United States, estimate the causal educational impacts of earning an HSE credential, measure heterogeneity in the impacts of earning an HSE credential, assess the returns to different types or levels of HSE credentials, explore the role of HSE exam retaking in educational attainment, and assess how HSE credentials are judged by hiring managers. I will bring current, representative data to bear on pressing questions about HSE credentialing and adult education at the national and state levels and probe the mechanisms that explain whether, how, and for whom high school equivalency credentials help adults without high school diplomas meet their educational and career goals.
About Blake Heller
Heller, Blake
Blake Heller is an Assistant Professor at the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. He uses the tools of applied microeconomics to study alternative academic pathways in U.S. public education. His research spans a wide range of education policy topics within this domain, including career and technical education, high school equivalency credentialing, adult education, and immigrant language training. Heller has developed research partnerships with several state education agencies, school districts, and education-focused organizations, and he is the co-PI of the CTEx 3.0 project and the Massachusetts English for Speakers of Other Languages Impact Study. His work is published in peer-reviewed journals, including the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, and Education Finance and Policy. Heller began his career in education in 2007, teaching middle and high school math in Gary, Indiana. He earned his Ph.D. in Public Policy at Harvard University in 2021 and was a post-doctoral scholar at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development

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