Although libraries are continually reinventing themselves to meet the needs of the 21st century, serving as a high school has to be one of the most unique ideas yet.
As part of the first program of its type anywhere, a growing number of libraries across the U.S. are offering their patrons a chance to earn a high school diploma.
It’s called Career Online High School and combines a high school education – culminating in a diploma not a GED – along with additional specialization in one of eight in-demand career fields. These career certificates, ranging from certified transportation services to retail customer service skills, give graduates an extra edge when they search for employment upon graduation or a head start if they decide to go on for further education or training.
Developed in 2012 by Cengage Learning and Smart Horizons Career Online Education, the Career Online High School program was adapted for the public library market by Gale, a division of Cengage Learning, in 2014.
Currently more than 70 public libraries offer Career Online High School, with nearly 1,000 students and more than 130 graduates nationwide so far.
Libraries adapt to changing needs
The program is part of the ever-evolving mission of libraries determined to adapt to the changing needs of their patrons.
“In 2008 with the recession, libraries were impacted. A lot of libraries were seeing a ton more traffic than before,” said Phil Faust, vice president and publisher for databases at Gale. “What we saw in the market was a changing of the needs. People were coming and looking for help finding new jobs. They’d been in an industry like the automotive industry and never done anything else but had now been laid off.
“Libraries across the country started switching their programming and focus to educating the community, high school completion, things like that.”
And Career Online High School is one of the best examples of this.
How it works for a library and its students
Gale partners with libraries that are interested and guides them through an eight-week start-up and training process. Each library is provided a different package, depending on the number of seats (space for students) it wants. Some libraries have 25 students, while others will buy upwards of 200 seats at a time.
The students begin with a pre-requisite program, going through a sample class that shows them what it’s like to participate and allows the library to evaluate whether they qualify.
If accepted into the program, a student will have 18 months to complete it. All instruction is online, and students can either do the work at home or entirely at the library, if they have no computer or Internet access otherwise. Each student is given a scholarship, which comes out of the library’s budget, so there is no cost to them. Some libraries, including the San Diego Public Library, encourage members of the community to support the program by paying for a scholarship.
Gale offers support through representatives who work with the individual libraries, but it also offers support to individual students.
“We have dedicated academic coaches (provided by Smart Horizons) assigned to every student who takes the program. Their job is to assist them to make sure they’re successful and get through the program,” said Faust.
Los Angeles Public Library, one of the early adopters of Career Online High School, held a graduation ceremony in January for its first class of 28 students.
“L.A. is a city of second chances, and our libraries are a vital resource to help level the playing field of opportunity,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at the ceremony. “As today’s graduates complete their secondary education through the Career Online High School, we are inspired by the power of these types of programs to transform the lives of Angelenos.”
And as more libraries sign on to the program, Career Online High School is in the process of transforming the lives of people not just in Los Angeles, but across the U.S.
Students or libraries interested in more information can contact Gale.
Online campus in Florida prisons
In addition to libraries, this program is being used by the Florida Department of Corrections. Known as FDOC Online Campus it operates at 15 facilities across the state. About 1,100 inmates have received diplomas during the the four years that the program has been in existence.