Partnership pairs MU High School with older prospective students

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 1:55 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Missouri School Boards' Association approached MU High School about a partnership with BJC HealthCare that would help its employees get a high school diploma. An earlier version of this story misidentified the approaching organization.

COLUMBIA — Even though Martha Allen-Tyson never finished high school, she has decided to once again try for her diploma. She has worked at BJC HealthCare in St. Louis for 34 years and, after her employer formed a partnership with MU High School, she enrolled in the school's diploma program.

MU High School, part of MU's Center for Distance and Independent Study, is an online high school through which students may complete a full diploma program. About 700 students are enrolled in the diploma program, which was accredited in 1999, and are completing their high school education through online courses.

In August of 2008, MU High School partnered with BJC HealthCare, a nonprofit health care organization in St. Louis with almost 27,000 employees.

Through BJC's Center for Lifelong Learning, employees are offered a $4,500 tuition benefit that allows them to take classes at certain universities. They can use this for the MU High School program, which costs about $150 per class.

This is BJC's first partnership with a high school diploma program; all others have been at the college level.

“There is a certain sector of their employees which lack a high school diploma,” said Kristi Smalley, principal of MU High School. “So what they were interested in doing, as a part of their lifelong learning center, was being able to provide those employees with an option for getting a high school diploma rather than just a GED.”

The GED, or General Educational Development, is a series of tests that, when passed, certifies high school-level academic proficiency. The MU High School program is high school coursework taken online that leads to a diploma.

The Missouri School Boards' Association approached the high school because BJC HealthCare wanted to expand some of the options it offered to its staff.

“This is something we really didn’t go out looking for,” Smalley said. “Quite honestly, they found us.”

Now there are 36 BJC HealthCare employees enrolled at MU High School. Most are employees who have been with BJC HealthCare for a while, and most are older than 25, said Jo Ann Shaw, vice president and chief learning officer.

“(Our students are) people who thought a) I’ll never be able to get this done, or b) I’m too old and probably don’t want my employer to know I don’t have this done,” Shaw said.

No one has completed the program yet. Most students at BJC HealthCare can only take a couple of courses at a time because they work full time. They also sign an agreement before the start of their class saying that if they pass the class, the cost is deducted from their tuition benefit, but if they fail, they have to pay back the cost.

Allen-Tyson, 54, had been taking classes toward earning her GED during her days off of work but not through a program affiliated with BJC HealthCare. When her manager explained the program with MU High School, she began taking classes there instead.

“All I have is me and my husband, and there’s not nothing to stop me,” said Allen-Tyson, whose children are grown. “I’ve been wanting this for a long time.”

Allen-Tyson is taking her time with the classes because she also takes care of her sick sister, but she plans to graduate sometime next year.

“I suggest that to anybody that wants their high school diploma, these are good classes to take,” Allen-Tyson said. “This is an opportunity, and I say take it.”


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