For-Profit Company To Offer High School Diploma Over Internet

By Andrew Trotter — April 21, 1999 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students soon will be able to earn a high school diploma anytime, anywhere, through a for-profit company that has been started by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

The courses will be online versions of traditional correspondence and television-based courses from the Independent Study High School, a fully accredited school that the university has owned and operated since 1920, according to Donald Helmuth, a vice chancellor at the university and the interim president of Inc.

While many schools and other organizations provide high school courses online, apparently is the first to offer a high school diploma from an accredited school on a for-profit basis.

Leaders of higher education groups agreed that the project was breaking new ground.

“The model is fairly unique. It’s an example of how the technology is going to foster a lot of entrepreneurship, partnerships, and collaborations,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, the president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington think tank.

But Mr. Merisotis was one of several observers who raised concerns. “On the other hand, it’s going to add tremendous complexity to our system of assuring quality,” he said. “What you’re talking about is an accredited entity brokering courses and course materials with a for-profit entity.”

The university’s division of continuing studies spent three years turning courses from the Independent Study High School into an online format using the World Wide Web, databases, and interactive tools such as electronic mail, chat rooms, and a computer tracking system that lets teachers monitor the amount of time students spend with different curricular materials, Mr. Helmuth said.

Development of those technologies was financed in part by a $17.5 million, five-year “Star Schools” grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Tax Issues has licensed the technologies as well as the school’s curriculum from the university, which will continue to own the company. also has hired, at least temporarily, seven faculty members at the independent-study school, which enrolls 2,000 students, including home schoolers, child actors, and rural residents.

Having access to the complete curriculum from an accredited school helped vault over what normally would be formidable obstacles to starting an online high school. The school’s accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools covers the online courses, Mr. Helmuth said.

A student who completed a minimum of 40 required courses would receive a college-preparatory diploma, not a high-school-equivalency credential, from the Independent Study High School.

The company’s plans go beyond selling courses to individuals, Mr. Helmuth said. It will try to sign contracts with school districts and even state departments of education to provide courses to large numbers of students. It will also seek other partners to put content into its online format.

Already, 623 students are taking 20 online courses, most of them from a special education district in California. Twelve more courses are expected to be ready by October, with a total of 55 courses planned.

A prime reason for spinning off the for-profit company was to allow it to be more entrepreneurial, Mr. Helmuth said. A for-profit company has far more latitude than a nonprofit organization in rewarding successful employees through salaries and bonuses--an important factor in conducting an aggressive marketing campaign.

Money that the university earns from the venture will be poured back into its own distance-learning programs, Mr. Helmuth said.

Careful legal arrangements, including licenses, independent boards of directors, and approvals from various government officials were needed to protect the university’s nonprofit tax status, observers noted.

Edward M. Elmendorf, the vice president of government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, said it appeared the company had “jumped through the right hoops,” though he was not familiar with the details related to the university’s tax status.

Mr. Elmendorf said the company, if it succeeds, may help the university compete with for-profit educational institutions in getting a piece of what is expected to be a huge future market for online education worldwide.

“Public institutions in general aren’t very good at marketing what they do. This sounds like an innovative approach,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 21, 1999 edition of Education Week as For-Profit Company To Offer High School Diploma Over Internet


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)