Local adults honored for earning their diplomas through the library 

Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina, recently held a series of private ceremonies to honor its Career Online High School (COHS) graduates. Thirteen graduates who, years after leaving high school, earned their diplomas thanks to the COHS scholarship program offered by the library.

Graduates include Chelsea Alvarado, age 28, who plans to use her high school diploma to enroll in college and pursue her career passion; 43-year-old Roberto Garcia, who wanted to show his son the importance of an education; and Jesshanta Potter, age 22, whose 49-year-old mother Joyce Potter is also a recent COHS graduate. 

Richland launched COHS in December 2018, and has since seen 36 community members complete the program. Part of Smart Horizons Career Online Education, the world’s first accredited online school district, COHS is offered to local adults in over 1,800 libraries throughout the country. 

“Providing unfettered access to all and opportunities to learn are at the heart of what libraries do, which is why COHS thrives in this setting,” said Richland Library Executive Director Melanie Huggins. “Our staff is here to offer a network of support, including access to social workers, technology for coursework, and career assessments to identify interests, skills, and training. Throughout each individual journey, we hope to instill confidence in current students and former graduates, so they can achieve personal and professional goals at any age.”

Persistence—even through a pandemic

“At COHS, our mission is to reengage individuals like yourselves in the educational system as a pathway to college and better career opportunities,” said Kari Greenfield, the district’s Vice President of Academic Partnerships, during her commencement speech.

“For many of us the road is not straight. Our paths may have wound a bit to get to this point. What matters now is that you did it. You have proven to yourselves that you can accomplish what you set out to do. You can make your dreams a reality,” she said.

COHS District Superintendent Dr. Howard Liebman also commended the graduates for persevering during the pandemic. “The past 14 or so months have been challenging for everyone,” he said. “But during all of this, you have stayed focused on earning your high school diploma—and now we’re here to celebrate your big accomplishment.”

Graduating with the tools to take on what’s next

Through its partnership with COHS, the Richland Library offers a fully online high school program, including a 24/7 online classroom, personal academic coaches, and real-world career training. The library grants scholarships to COHS as part of its high school education programming. 

In addition to an accredited diploma, COHS students graduate with a certificate in their chosen career path, plus a resume, cover letter, and other tools to start or advance their careers. 

“I wanted to finish my high school diploma because getting into a college and studying to be a paramedic have always been my biggest goals,” said Alvarado. “Now that I have completed my high schooling I can officially do just that.”

“I am so proud of Chelsea,” added Sandy Tilton, COHS Academic Coach. “I know that it wasn’t easy for her at times, but having a goal to work for helped. She is kind, caring, and determined. She is going to be an amazing paramedic.” 

A focus on community 

In her commencement remarks, Greenfield also highlighted the library’s role in building and supporting the community. 

“Earning your diploma here at Richland Library is a reminder that you are part of a community that believes in your potential,” Greenfield said. “We stand here today because of your hard work and the library’s commitment to helping individuals learn, create, and share. Armed with your diploma, we invite you to continue learning, creating, and sharing your talent with the community and the world.” 

And many of those community members were in attendance, including Diane Luccy, Business and Careers Manager at Richland Library and co-manager of the library’s COHS program, as well as her Business and Careers team. Luccy and her team offer an array of free services through the library, including career and interview coaching; they also host job and volunteer fairs.

Overcoming the roadblocks to success in college and career

According to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report, there are more than 643,000 adults living in South Carolina who lack a high school diploma1—a difficult roadblock when it comes to applying to college or advancing in a career.

“The COHS program is a proven path to success. Eighty-one percent of our graduates pursue post-secondary education including community colleges, vocational schools, and bachelor’s degree programs,” added Dr. Liebman. 

In the state of South Carolina, COHS students have matriculated into community colleges such as Trident Technical College and Aiken Technical College, as well as universities including South Carolina State University and University of South Carolina.

With the skills they’ve learned and diplomas they’ve earned from the program, COHS graduates have the tools they need to overcome those once-hindering roadblocks—and reenter the workforce, take the next step in their career, or achieve their goals of earning a college education.

To learn more about the program, including how to enroll and available scholarship opportunities, visit the Richland Library website.

[1] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219

Pictured top of page: Roberto Garcia with wife and son.