By Anne Nagrant
Last year, the New Jersey State Library (NJSL) decided to try something new that would change lives. They heard about an innovative program, Career Online High School (COHS), and they wanted to make it available to their member libraries. Along with my colleague Sarah Withers, I directly help support COHS at NJSL and libraries in this state.
Gale works closely with library staff through the COHS onboarding, with webinars, weekly conference calls, emails, etc. Our team helps the libraries determine their approach to administering the program. We offer training sessions and provide marketing and student recruitment assistance. The library then begins to recruit and pre-screen potential students for the program, while Gale continues to support them every step of the way. On October 6, 2014, COHS launched in New Jersey.
A public library typically purchases a certain number of scholarships for local residents to earn accredited high school diplomas. In the New Jersey model, NJSL received a grant through the NJ Department of Labor to fund scholarships which they would then divide among selected libraries. After a competitive application process, NJSL selected six pilot libraries: Camden County Library System, Elizabeth Public Library, Long Branch Free Public Library, Scotch Plains Public Library, Somerset County Library System, and Trenton Free Public Library. The libraries span the state and represent a mixture of sizes, budgets and demographics. Each library had slightly different goals, plans, and experiences implementing COHS in their communities.
Goals and Motives
Who wouldn’t want to increase the numbers of high school graduates in their community? People with high school diplomas have more job opportunities and earn more money in their lifetime than non-graduates. Graduates of COHS also earn a career certificate in one of eight practical fields.
Tonya Badillo, Library Director at Long Branch Public Library, explained it this way: “We know that too many adults in our country cannot read and write well enough to meet the 21st century literacy requirements. If we do not work to address this issue as a whole, the effects of this crisis threaten the economic, social, and political viability of this community and further allow the cycles of poverty to continue.” Her library wanted to offer COHS “because of our ongoing commitment to provide relevant and necessary services to our community.”
Somerset County Library System was “getting a significant number of inquiries for local GED preparation classes.” According to Selwa Shamy, Head of Adult Services, “Many of our patrons rely on public transportation or have family obligations and cannot travel the distance to where the free classes are offered in our county. COHS makes it possible for our community members to work toward their high school diploma at their own pace and by creating their own schedules.” Once the library began offering COHS, they focused their publicity at branch locations with the highest need.
Elizabeth Public Library and Scotch Plains Public Library applied for a NJSL grant as partners. Although the two libraries are located in the same county, they serve different demographics. Scotch Plains is a suburban library, and Elizabeth is an urban library system. José Ruiz-Alvarez, Head of Reference and Adult Services at Elizabeth Public Library, explained that his library came on board “because Elizabeth has a 72.8% high school graduation rate compared to 87.9% at the state level for adults over 25 years old. With COHS, we saw an opportunity to close this gap in our community.”
A key factor in the success of COHS is attracting potential students. Gale provided brochures and a recruitment website, and NJSL provided the libraries with additional marketing materials including in-library banner stands, window decals, web ads and outdoor lawn signs. Statistics show the importance of library marketing efforts.
During the first four months of the program, over 500 online self-assessment forms were submitted by hopefuls across New Jersey. The self-assessment, which is accessed from the marketing recruitment website, is the first step to declaring interest in becoming a COHS student. One of NJSL’s self-assessment questions asked how the student learned about COHS:
- 40% – through the library (including staff, newsletter, website, digital billboard)
- 17% – family or friends
- 15% – printed materials (flyer, poster, brochure, bookmark, postcard)
- 13% – news media (newspaper, radio, news website)
- 11% – internet (Google, search engine, social media, email)
Selwa Shamy of the Somerset County Library System reported that “one of the local schools publicized COHS in their newsletter for parents and this has also been an effective way of getting the word out.”
Tonya Badillo told me about a Long Branch Public Library student who found out about COHS when her relative saw “our flyer in a neighboring library. She is a military wife with three small children and a husband that is overseas. Without a reliable sitter, the only way she could return to school would be online.”
The largest of the participating COHS libraries in New Jersey, Camden County Library System has enjoyed quite a bit of media coverage. On October 13th, Library Director Linda Devlin was interviewed by KYW News Radio regarding COHS. “We had great success in getting the (Camden) Courier Post to provide ongoing coverage, and the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled one of the students,” stated Shyamoli De, adult education/literacy coordinator.
An additional 4% of potential students indicated on the self-assessment that they primarily heard about COHS through a school, unemployment office, or job skills center. Due to the nature of NJSL’s application process, the libraries laid groundwork with their community partners even before making the decision to offer COHS.
We encourage libraries to develop partnerships with local organizations. Long Branch Public Library has partnered with “other local libraries and our housing authority to help spread the word,” said Tonya Badillo. Camden County Library System has partnered with Camden County College, and Camden County College Gateway to College, Camden Housing Authority, Camden County Freeholder, Center for Family Services, Hispanic Family Center, Hopeworks N’Camden, and Rutgers University in Camden.
About the Author
Anne Nagrant is a Customer Care Consultant who serves public libraries throughout the US and Canada. She came to Gale in 2012 after a fun career in historical museums. She has a BA in anthropology and history from the University of Michigan. Anne is invigorated by promoting education via non-traditional paths.