Starting in January, New Jersey residents seeking state-issued high school diplomas will have options besides the venerable GED. But all are expected to be tougher than the current exam.

New Jersey's Board of Education on Wednesday approved three vendors for diploma exams: Pearson VUE, which offers the GED; Education Testing Service; and McGraw-Hill.

With the action, New Jersey joined a growing list of states introducing alternatives to an exam whose abbreviation (for "General Educational Development") is synonymous with high school diplomas for adults.

In New Jersey, the GED has been the sole test of its kind since 1959. Some states - including New York, New Hampshire, and Montana - have cut ties with the GED. Others are making or considering moves like New Jersey's.

New Jersey says the main reason for the change was to introduce price competition. The state said it would also authorize other exams as they become available.

The GED costs $65 per student. Pearson VUE is changing the exam to bring it in line with the Common Core State Standards, which most states have adopted to establish a national baseline for what students are expected to learn.

With the changes, Pearson VUE was increasing the total fee to about $195 per student, including fees for the testing centers.

The Education Department says the other vendors will have lower prices and the average cost per test-taker will be $112, including the fees.

Pearson VUE will offer tests only on computer, except as an accommodation for some disabled residents. The other two companies have agreed to give paper versions through at least 2016.

The content of the exams will be similar.

Students will have to pass five sections to earn their degrees: writing, reading, math, science, and social studies. Applicants who do not pass can retake the entire exam or individual sections.

There has been a major rush in New Jersey and elsewhere for students to complete their GED before the new exams and prices kick in.