For a long time, an adult’s path to a high school diploma depended on passing the GED. Now adults who shy away from one-shot standardized tests or prefer an online environment for their learning have a new diploma path with the Career Online High School program through Gale. In Florida, scholarships to Career Online High School are provided to individual libraries and library systems by the state’s Division of Library and Information Services. Libraries apply through the state to offer the program to their residents, and the state divvies up their total scholarship allotment by population.
The Jacksonville Public Library (JPL), a county library system, has participated in COHS since its Florida inception in 2015. The application requirements at JPL are simple: potential students must be 18 or older, have a library card in good standing, be a resident of Duval County, and not hold a diploma or GED already. If a student meets these criteria, they fill out an application and are directed to complete a prerequisite course in one of eight career majors. This course allows students the opportunity to test out the online learning environment and determine if the program is a good fit for them. If the student passes the course with a 70 percent or higher, they are invited to interview at the library, and if they do well on the interview they are awarded a scholarship. Then the high school (Smart Horizons Career Online High School, in JPL’s case) takes over, collecting the student’s existing school transcripts, awarding credit for completed courses, and assigning an academic coach to facilitate communication between the student and the school.
Students have 18 months to complete the program whether they are starting from scratch with no high school experience or coming in with all of the required academic credits (but no diploma) and working only on the career component. When they finish, they receive an accredited high school diploma that they can use to apply to college or the military and a career certificate and portfolio that may help them get a foot in the door to land a job. Completing the program is not easy. “For someone with no credits [going into the program], it’s a lot of work,” said Katie Devanny, Literacy Program Manager at JPL. “Eight to ten hours of work per week is a minimum, if you’re a good student.”2 The program can be difficult for those who lack computer skills or who need the face-to-face time lacking in an online course. “At the end of the day it’s not the best for everyone,” Devanny said.2
But COHS can be the best option for others, like those who may find it difficult because of schedule or physical ability to get to an in-person GED class and those who know they don’t do well on standardized tests, Devanny said. Over the last three years, 427 potential students have applied to the program at JPL, 171 were awarded scholarships, and 57 have graduated. The library has one staff member dedicating part of her workday (about ten hours per week) to the library’s side of the program, including collecting applications, conducting interviews, and making the library’s scholarship offers.
- Personal interview with author.