Library High: San Francisco Public Library Offers Online Diploma With Cengage

[Corrected 6/26/15, 9:32 am. See below.] Educational technology is often cast as a solution to the high cost of a college degree, which Americans see as the essential gateway to reasonable earnings. But in San Francisco, which has one of the most highly educated populations in the country, more than 30,000 people over 25 lack even a high school diploma.

The San Francisco Public Library is going to try to change that with the help of technology, the system announced today. Starting in August, pre-qualified adults will be able to sign up free through the library for the Career Online High School, a program offered by Gale, the library resources division of Boston-based edtech company Cengage Learning.

Graduates earn an accredited high school diploma by completing 18 credits in the traditional subjects—English, math, social studies, and science. But they also sign up for coursework in one of eight career fields, which include office management, child care and education, transportation, and retail customer service.

“Being able to offer Career Online High School helps us achieve our goal of rethinking adult literacy in the 21st century in a profound and impactful way,” City Librarian Luis Herrera said in a statement announcing the San Francisco library’s new education program. “For SFPL, the Career Online High School initiative redefines the role of the library as the place for personal growth and learning for individuals most in need.”

Some employers also work with Cengage to offer their workers the chance to earn a career-oriented high school diploma: they include Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Walmart. The library-based program has been adopted by systems in Denver, Phoenix, New Jersey, and other states. [An earlier version of this story stated that employers work with Gale. We regret the error.]

San Francisco is the latest California library system to launch the online high school program. Los Angeles was the first, in 2014, followed by the library systems in San Diego and Sacramento. (Sacramento student and working father Mario Rideaux is pictured above.)

Since Gale started signing up libraries last year, about 450 students have begun the self-paced program, 130 students are halfway through to completion, and about 30 students have graduated, the company says.

Adults whose libraries don’t participate can sign up directly through the Career Online High School site, but the program costs $1,295, or $77 a month if paid in installments. Students can take up to 18 months to finish, but many will be able to graduate faster—in as little as four to six months. They can transfer in as many as 14 credits they’re already earned toward a diploma. The students are supported by paid academic coaches. [An earlier version of this story gave a different sign-up location. We regret the error.]

So far, the San Francisco Public Library has purchased 100 scholarships for Career Online High School, so the diploma program is free to residents who pass a pre-registration enrollment course, a Cengage spokeswoman says.

Libraries help low-income learners clear another educational hurdle by making computers and technical support available for those who don’t have their own computers at home.

Cengage’s largest revenue stream comes from products for higher education, such as its MindTap learning platform, which is used at the University of California at Davis, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, the City College of San Francisco, and other California institutions.

The global company operates a major branch at San Francisco’s Mission Bay with 300 employees—not far behind the staff count at its Boston headquarters. The San Francisco unit is primarily devoted to higher education projects.

Photo of Mario Rideaux and Susan Bloom courtesy of Sacramento Public Library.

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