Smart Horizons Career Online Education recently launched the Bridge to Start program in partnership with Florida Career College and is proud to announce its first high school graduate. Smart Horizons Career Online Education (SHCOE; is the world’s first AdvancED/SACS accredited online school district, enabling students to earn both a high school diploma and credentialed career certificate in one comprehensive online high school program.

The collaboration with Florida Career College (FCC; led to the establishment of learning labs on all eleven FCC campuses in the state of Florida. These labs provide students with computer Internet access and represent a unique hybrid learning environment.

“Students are able to take advantage of SHCOE’s innovative online education model while also immersing themselves in an on-campus learning experience,” said Dr. Howard Liebman, CEO and Superintendent for SHCOE. “Students report to the labs 4 days a week, which gives them a feeling of being part of campus life. Engaging students in this way also helps improve student retention rates.”

SHCOE launched the Bridge to Start initiative in partnership with ed2go and Cengage Learning as a response to federal legislation changes that will take effect on July 1, 2012. As of that date, students without a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent will no longer be allowed to receive Federal Financial Aid to attend college—a move that will affect millions of U.S. students, including approximately 25 percent of students currently enrolled in postsecondary career training programs. Without funding, many of these students will no longer be able to enroll in courses—a hardship for both the students and the schools they attend. Through Bridge to Start, colleges are now able to offer students the option of earning an accredited high school diploma and career certificate.

Twenty-year-old Benita Sylvain became the first Bridge to Start graduate when she earned her high school diploma earlier this month. She completed her SHCOE coursework in the learning lab set up on FCC’s Hialeah, Florida campus. In addition to her high school diploma, Sylvain earned a certificate in SHCOE’s General Career Preparation program, which provides students with the fundamental skills required to succeed in post-secondary coursework.

“The career online high school program was great,” Sylvain said. “The lab facilitators at FCC and academic coaches help you every step of the way. You have to work hard, but if you listen to the online lessons, the program is simple to follow and all the assignments and tests make sense.”

Sylvain said she plans to continue her education through FCC with a goal of becoming a patient care technician. Thanks to Bridge to Start, she is now able to pursue that goal.

“To date, Florida Career College has been thrilled with the implementation of the career online high school program within our eleven campuses across the state of Florida,” said Michael Schwam, Regional Vice President for FCC. “There are so many high school programs out there that don’t truly equip students with the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a career college such as ours, but SHCOE offers a well-designed, accredited online high school program. Our students love the flexibility of the program and it is helping us provide them with expanded educational opportunities.”