JACKSON - New Jersey residents are being offered a second chance to obtain their high school diplomas through the New Jersey State Library and Rutgers University, with funding from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. But a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds students who graduate the program wind up with degrees that are not even recognized by the state of New Jersey.
Eddie Irvin, of Jackson Township, invested 18 months and $1,495 to graduate Career Online High School, a nationally accredited online school. He says, since he enrolled through Rutgers, he assumed he would be able to go on to attend cosmetology school. So he was shocked to learn that his diploma - offered or funded through three state agencies and institutions - was not recognized by the one agency that actually mattered: the New Jersey Department of Education. "I don't understand how they can offer a program through the state and the state won't accept the diploma," Irvin says.
But the NJDOE says this is nothing new. Spokesman David Saenz says the agency has never approved online high schools. So Kane In Your Corner asked: how did this program get so far along? Did Rutgers, the state library and the NJDOL all offer it, or use taxpayer dollars to fund it, without checking the rules in advance?
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Rutgers spokesman EJ Miranda did not answer the question directly, but said the university is refunding Eddie Irvin's tuition and has suspended the program until the issue of state recognition of the diplomas can be resolved.
Kane in Your Corner also asked the NJ Department of Labor repeatedly whether it had checked with NJDOE prior to funding the program with taxpayer money. That agency also never answered the question. Spokesperson Kerri Gatling would only point out that Career Online High School "is recognized by many employers as well as many of the state's community colleges." She also said NJDOL will assist students who graduated with taking a high school equivalency test.
As for the State Librarian Mary Chute, she claims the library did not consider it important whether the NJDOE would accept the diplomas when it began offering the classes because "we were focusing on prepping students." Chute says the library hopes to convince the state to change the rules to allow online high schools in the future. She notes that "New Jersey has over 1 million residents lacking a high school diploma" and calls the program "the chance to pilot an alternative second chance model."
Eddie Irvin is incredulous. "How could you release the program first, and then go 'Well, we're going to try to get it recognized now', after someone's having an issue?" he asks. Irvin says he's now preparing to take the GED, something he says he could have done 18 months ago.