By Janet Coles
It’s not earthquakes rockin’ California these days.
43 public libraries are partnering with the California State Library on a new state-funded Career Online High School (COHS) pilot program. The program, which officially began in November 2015, will extend until at least the end of next fiscal year (June 30, 2017), and through it we hope to set some 1500 adults statewide on the path to high school graduation and the means to a better life.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state has a larger share of college graduates than the nation as a whole, but it also has more high school dropouts. The latest available educational attainment data show that nearly 20 percent of California’s population over the age of 19 has not earned a high school diploma or equivalency. Besides the many negative outcomes of this for individuals and their families, there are severe impacts for society as a whole. The California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara estimates that California loses $46.4 billion over a lifetime for each cohort of Californians who reach age 20 without a high school diploma.
Recognizing that public libraries could play a critical role in alleviating this situation, last spring California State Librarian Greg Lucas and other advocates worked with the Governor and Legislature to fund a statewide pilot program using Gale’s Career Online High School (COHS) product to offer adults the opportunity to earn, for free, accredited high school diplomas through their local libraries. $1 million in state funding was allocated to the California State Library to develop the program and test it in a variety of libraries statewide.
An early decision was made to require partner libraries to independently fund a matching scholarship for every scholarship allocated to them through the program. This was done for two reasons: it effectively doubled the program’s funding; more importantly, it ensured that localities would have ownership in the program. Libraries in areas with lower local income per capita were given the opportunity to request a reduction in the match requirement.
Several large California public libraries, including Los Angeles Public Library, Sacramento Public Library, and San Diego Public Library were already offering COHS in their communities and were well on the way to graduating their first students. We thought that by partnering with these early adopters and taking advantage of their expertise, we could smooth the way for libraries across the state to participate.
The Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego Public Libraries agreed to join our program and help us shepherd the first group of newbies through. We held an application process in September 2015, and accepted 33 new libraries, for a total of 36 in our first cohort. Each of the new libraries was assigned a mentor from the 3 experienced libraries, and then the new libraries were divided into several smaller groups for online training provided by Gale Cengage. The last group of libraries in our first cohort will complete training this month.
As COHS is an online program, we felt it was important to make sure our participating libraries would be able to offer laptops and/or wifi hotspots to their COHS students if needed. We partnered with Califa Group, a nonprofit membership cooperative serving libraries and information organizations in California, and obtained an LSTA grant that would allow us to help libraries purchase computer equipment to support their COHS services. Rollout of this grant was just completed.
The new libraries in our COHS program represent a diversity of geographies, sizes, and communities across California. We knew it would be a real challenge getting everyone informed, trained, equipped and up and running under the tight timeline that we had. With excellent support from our Gale customer success team (Nick Schultz supporting the state library and Vanessa Craig supporting local libraries), and the assistance of COHS veterans from experienced libraries (Candace Mack from LAPL, Cathy Crossthwaite from Sac Public, and Leslie McNabb from San Diego Public), we’re starting to see success. We fully expect that all our libraries will be enrolling students in COHS before the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2016.
We have a number of cool plans for our COHS program. We will soon roll out fundraising and best practices toolkits (with support from Gale) and we’re planning a fundraising webinar for early March. We’re thinking about student support and graduation activities, including student blogs, a virtual yearbook, and maybe even a Google Hangout graduation ceremony or two. We’ll also be holding another open application process for our program in March, to bring on some more new libraries and allow existing participants to apply for more seats. Our expectation—and hope—is that we’ll be able to show enough return on investment from this pilot program to garner future support from the governor and legislature.
At the California State Library we’re thrilled to be working on this, because it’s a win-win for everyone concerned: public libraries are brought to the forefront as educational institutions that produce real, positive change for individuals and communities; California adults without a high school diploma now have a safe, supportive, quality means of obtaining one; and state/local governments are doing what they’re meant to do and looking great for supporting it all. We are absolutely rockin’ it here!
Interested California residents can learn more about the program and which libraries will be offering it by visiting the Career Online High School California website.
To learn more about offering adults in your community the opportunity to earn an accredited high school diploma and career certificate at your library, visit the Career Online High School site.