The Kent District Library is the first public library system in Michigan to offer its residents the opportunity to earn a free, accredited high school diploma.
The district last month launched Career Online High School, a program through Gale, a Cengage Company, which will allow 25 residents to obtain their diploma from one of KDL’s 19 branch libraries.
The program is free for residents, but students must be over the age of 21 and have a KDL library card. Grand Rapids residents are not eligible for the program through KDL since Grand Rapids has its own library system.
Students accepted to the program can access courses online from anywhere and are paired with an academic coach.
The program takes 18 months to complete, but students can complete the program sooner by transferring previously earned high school credits.
“With approximately 35,000 adults in Kent County without a high school diploma, we wanted to implement a program that gives our residents an opportunity to advance their education and achieve their career dreams,” said Lance Werner, KDL director, in a press release.
“The program truly shows the economic value public libraries provide to communities and future workforces, and we couldn’t be more excited to be the first public library in Michigan to offer it.”
After launching the program in May, KDL has been in the process of going through applications and last week accepted its first student to the program.
KDL purchased 25 spots for the pilot program, which may seem like a small number given the size of Kent County, said Sara Proano, KDL community engagement manager, who runs the program.
However, this is the first step KDL is taking in its effort to combat poverty within the community.
“This is a small dent, it’s only 25 people,” Proano said. “But it’s our first step. It’s about financial investment in communities affected by poverty.
“Studies show that in order to make a dent in poverty, the best way is to invest in education to increase wages. This is part of a bigger plan to address financial stabilization in the community.”
In one year, KDL will evaluate the program with community feedback to determine where to go next. The mission, Proano said, is to expand the program and purchase more scholarships through partnerships in the community.
Although Grand Rapids residents are not eligible for KDL’s program, Proano said KDL will provide interested Grand Rapids residents with a “warm referral” to other resources so as not to discourage them. She said KDL also offers tutoring services to anyone, no matter where they live.
Kent County residents interested in learning more about applying to the program can visit KDL.org/cohs.