High school dropouts aren't just starting adult life with one hand tied behind their backs.

They've slipped on a straight jacket that would confound even Houdini.

Citing U.S. Census data, Education Week reports people who never graduate from high school or receive a GED earn 41 percent less than their peers and are more likely to end up in prison.

A GED is a way for dropouts to correct their earlier mistakes. It's an equivalency diploma, earned at their own pace, that shows they've mastered the same material high school graduates have to know.

Most employers accept a GED credential as they would a high school diploma, and the GED can be used for admission to most colleges, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

It's a different path -- but it's not supposed to be an easier one.

Yet even as No Child Left Behind raised the bar year after year for high school graduates, dropouts could earn an equivalency diploma by passing a test created in 2002.

That's about to change.

Starting Jan. 1, 2014, a new, more "rigorous" GED test will be in place, one that reflects the changes in typical high school programs over the past 12 years, the state Education Department said in a release.

Good. It's about time.

If the state expects its GED to mean anything to employers and colleges, it can't wait a decade or more to update it.

And speaking of time, those already in the process of earning a GED diploma might want to keep an eye on it. They have until Dec.31 to finish all five sub-sections and pass the test.


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After that, it's pencils down, and they'll have to start all over again under the new requirements -- even if they've already completed most of the sections.

Plus, they'll again have to pay the course fee, which is increasing from as low as $50 to $120 with the new requirements.

That's still a small price to pay for a better future with more opportunities.