Posted on December 30, 2015; originally posted in the Sun Sentinel on December 29, 2015.
By Brittany Shammas, Sun Sentinel
Broward County library to offer free, online high school diplomas to adults
Broward County adults who do not have high school diplomas will be able to get them – and some career training – through an online program launching at the public library.
Funded by the state for the first time this year, Career Online High School offers accredited high school degrees and career certificates. Enrolled students take all their courses online with the support of an academic coach.
The Broward County Library system is one of 11 in the state to pilot the program. It will provide full scholarships for 75 county residents to complete their degrees and certificates through the program, which normally would normally cost about $1,300.
“There are a lot of reasons people don’t complete their high school diplomas,” said Vonda Ward Byrant, learning services coordinator for the library system. “We want to give them a second chance.”
The creators of Career Online High School say it is more effective than the GED because it involves taking courses instead of just tests. It also includes career training they say could open more doors.
Certificates are available in eight fields ranging from child care and education to office management. Students start the program by declaring a major and taking career courses, then move on to high school courses like math, English and social studies.
“There aren’t as many night schools as there used to be and besides that there’s just the GED,” said Howard Liebman, founder of the Smart Horizons Career Online Education, the Pensacola-based company that helped create the program.
“That’s good for some people that are comfortable taking tests and they can take these five tests and get their high school equivalency. We wanted to focus on folks for whom the GED wouldn’t work.”
The program requires students to be at least 19 years old, have completed at least ninth grade and hold a library card. It takes up to 18 months, with courses available 24/7 online to provide flexibility for those who are juggling jobs and raising children.
In Broward County, about 12.1 percent of adults over 25 years old lack a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Earning a diploma can have a “huge, huge impact,” Liebman said. He said graduates may be able to get a better job or continue their schooling.
Career Online High School began in 2012 through a partnership between Smart Horizons and Cengage Learning, an educational content provider. In 2014, it was adapted for public libraries by Gale, a division of Cengage Learning focused on libraries.
Since then it’s been rolled out in libraries in Denver, New Orleans and across California. In Florida, it is being offered by libraries including the North Miami Beach Public Library and the Martin County Library System.
Paul Gazzolo, senior vice president and general manager at Gale, said libraries across the country are embracing a role as community education centers.
“I think it’s so on the bulls eye of the mission of libraries to provide some sort of community education that they just love it,” he said. “It’s something that they could not have done 10 or 15 years ago.”