Statewide program helps adults earn the high-school diploma they missed

By Mary Mogan Edwards


Kayla Hughes is working to complete the credits needed to receive her high school diploma in a statewide program. She hopes to go on to receive a degree in social work.

Kayla Hughes hasn’t lacked initiative since she dropped out of high school 11 years ago at 16. She’s worked one fast-food job after another, cared for her four children and discovered a passion for community organizing. Still, patching the hole in her education with a GED never motivated her.

But when she heard about the state’s Adult Diploma Recovery program, which allows adults to earn full diplomas from their former high schools, that was different. “When I saw this, I jumped right in,” said Hughes, who plans to go on to a bachelor’s degree in social work and dreams about law school some day.

First, though, she has to earn every one of the 19 high school credits that the state required when she started high school. A series of foster homes and an online school that closed midstream left her with no high-school credit at 16. “I could have gone back, but I would have been 16 in the eighth grade,” she said.

The diploma-recovery program is one of two options created recently for dropouts in Ohio to earn diplomas rather than the GED. Hughes’ program, also referred to as 22 Plus, requires students to track down their high school transcripts and complete any credits they’re missing as well as any standardized tests, such as the Ohio Graduation Test, that were required when they entered high school.

They learn and take tests online, and typically can earn a full credit — which would have taken a year in high school — in a month.

Hughes is participating through Columbus State Community College, one of 13 organizations certified by the state so far to offer it. Columbus State contracts with a private company called Graduation Alliance to provide the online course work. The company and the college have advisers on hand to help 22 Plus students navigate the paperwork and stay on track with their classes.

“They were so helpful in helping me get all my transcripts,” Hughes said. “It’s just so easy to give up when you don’t feel like you have any support.”

Janie Boice had a premature and sick newborn son when she quit school in 2003, just months before graduation. That baby is 13 now, and Boice has three other boys. She has worked at Wendy’s, at a telemarketing company and in a nursing home, but she wants higher pay and a job she can love.

“I want to become a teacher’s assistant really, really bad,” she said.

Earning a long-missing high-school diploma is an enormous confidence builder, said Columbus State’s Sherry Minton, director of adult-diploma programs. But they often need a confidence boost along the way.

Kimberly Camera is 53 and didn’t know her way around a computer before starting the 22 Plus program. Between the online learning and having to face algebra, “I kinda wigged out,” she said. But she hasn’t been shy about calling academic and tech-support people at Graduation Alliance for help. “The support is really great,” she said. “For somebody like me, there’s no excuses.”

Students in the 22 Plus program don’t have to pursue a degree or credential beyond the diploma, but they can. “That’s where we can be of help,” Minton said. “We’re well-positioned to give students options.”

The state’s other adult-diploma program, tailored toward certain high-demand jobs, is offered through five pilot schools, including the Pickaway-Ross Joint Vocational School. Those students are given a test at the start and, depending on how well they score, may or may not need to complete high-school work.

They must take career training at the same time, to earn certificates for jobs such as state-tested nurse assistant, pharmacy technician or IT support.

Steve Gratz, who oversees the programs for the Ohio Department of Education, would like to see more providers. “We have more than a million adults in Ohio without diplomas,” he said. Helping them to earn diplomas rather than GEDs “can be a real economic changer for these families and their communities. It’s a real game-changer for the state to invest in adults like this. It’s unprecedented.”