Earning a High School Diploma at the Library

Los Angeles Public Library’s Career Online High School makes getting a diploma accessible for adults of all ages.

A 2023 graduate posing with California State Librarian Greg Lucas, Library Foundation of Los Angeles President Stacy Lieberman, Board of Library Commissioners President Valerie Lynne Shaw, and City Librarian John F. Szabo — Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library


Libraries have always been more than just books. They’re a hub of diverse services and programs catering to the unique needs of their communities. Recently, John F. Szabo, City Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), sat down with EveryLibrary staff to talk about the innovative program that he and LAPL have been at the forefront of, Career Online High School. This free program helps individuals who didn’t complete high school before the age of 19 earn their diplomas. It has been a ray of hope for many in the Los Angeles community and across California, providing them an opportunity to land better-paying jobs and a brighter future. Seeing how LAPL empowers its community, one diploma at a time, is inspiring.

Szabo brought his passion for adult education and helping people complete their high school coursework to LAPL after overseeing a GED program in his previous position as Director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System. He launched the Career Online High School program in 2014 and soon had other California libraries interested in it. The California State Library was quick to see the potential and wanted to see it throughout the state, not just at the libraries that had identified the means to fund it locally. That led to the program being funded through the state library in every county in the state through a combination of allocated budget and philanthropic contributions.

Career Online High School graduates receiving diplomas in 2019 — Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library


Szabo couldn’t be happier with the outcomes it’s achieved so far.

“I’ve loved it since day one,” he said. “This is tailor-made for libraries. Cleveland Public Library refers to themselves as the people’s university, but that’s what all public libraries really are, whether it’s a small town in Nebraska or Alabama or L.A. Public Library.”

He noted that the program has been transformative not just for the graduates but for their families. There are many reasons people have enrolled since 2014. Some students wanted to be able to pursue a four-year college, technical school, or community college degree and needed a high school diploma to be admitted, with the ultimate goal of pursuing long-term career goals. For others, it’s checking a box that allows them to be considered for a promotion at their current job.

But there are still others who sign on to prove to themselves that they can succeed at achieving something in the educational realm. That includes students who are in their 50s and 60s and never thought they’d be able to complete their high school education. Now they can, and they can be role models for their children and grandchildren.

Career Online High School’s 2023 graduating class — Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library


The program is designed for flexibility, and library staff stay in close touch to offer welcoming encouragement throughout the process.

2019 graduates of Career Online High School — Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library


The program is online and self-paced, so students can work their way through it as their daily lives allow. They have access to personal academic coaches who advise them online. LAPL has staff dedicated to the program focused on onboarding, recruitment, encouragement, and providing basic information such as what credits people will need to graduate and how long it’s likely to take.

The time from start to completion varies according to the student. Someone who dropped out of school in twelfth grade and has fewer credits to complete usually takes less time than someone who dropped out at a younger age. It also depends on whether the student works full-time or manages family commitments. In general, Szabo says it takes anywhere from three to eighteen months for students to graduate.

Husband and wife graduates from Career Online High School’s 2023 graduating class — Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library


Regardless of how long it takes, once they’ve successfully completed the credits for their diploma, the students receive something else they’ve previously missed out on: a graduation ceremony. Szabo understands the importance of celebrating that achievement and is happy to offer that to the students. He also loves to hear the personal stories behind them. At one ceremony, he said:

“This older gentleman comes up to me and says, ‘I’m so proud. My daughter graduated today. I just want to thank you all so much. Do you know why she was in the program?’ and I said no. And he said, ‘Because I graduated from the program in 2018. I’m 62 years old.’ And I said, ‘You’re just the best father and the best ambassador for our program.”

A 2022 graduate of Career Online High School being interviewed for Spanish-language TV — Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library


Since its beginning in 2014, the program has seen nearly 900 people graduate, with almost 250 currently active students. Szabo feels this is a great program for libraries to offer, not least because the students end up learning about the other services and programs their library provides. And they, in turn, share that information with others in the community.

“People think of us as a book organization, and people think of us as reading and literature and literacy, all of those things,” he said. “But we’re about lifelong learning. That’s about infants and toddlers, it’s about older adults. It’s about empowering people.”


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