News Local/State

Illinois Adults Now Can Pursue High School Diplomas

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs high school diploma legislation at Goodwill in Rockford.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs high school diploma legislation at Goodwill in Rockford. Susan Stephens/WNIJ

Nearly 13 percent of Illinoisans do not have a high school diploma. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law Friday aimed at changing that. The new law will allow community colleges and non-profit organizations to set up “adult high school” programs where people over 21 can earn diplomas.

Currently, their only option is a GED. Rauner said this program will offer much more, including “more job opportunities, to better careers and higher wages, higher salaries for the people of Illinois who now have access to a high school diploma that they didn’t have access to before.

Rauner signed the bill into law at Goodwill Industries in Rockford. It’s a future site of the program. Rauner says Goodwill worked hard to change state law to offer this but still has a lot of work before doors can open. He expects funding to come from federal grants and donors, not the state.

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti has been a strong supporter of the proposal. She recited statistics she said show the need for high school diploma access.

She said that 12.7 percent of Illinoisans don’t have a high school diploma, including 32,000 people in the Rockford area. She said African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than other groups to lack a diploma, and that hurts their employability. Asked if undocumented immigrants would be eligible for this program, she said, “All students will be treated equally here in Illinois. All of them.”

Illinois joins six other states that allow people over 21 to earn high school diplomas instead of GEDs. State Rep. Joe Sosnowksi, R-Rockford, was the chief sponsor of the bill. Other lawmakers who attended the signing ceremony at Goodwill in Rockford include State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford; State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford; and State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley.