Homeschooling parents are all too aware of the hazards they face in signing up a beloved child for four years at Ivy U, Good Old State U, or even Used-to-be Christian College. Even if the institution in question does not hand out condoms like candy during orientation week and does not require courses that indoctrinate students in beliefs contrary to their faith, such aberrations could pop up at any time. Plus, there’s the “Roommate from Hell” problem. All this sexual activity, drug use, and whatnot has to occur somewhere on campus, and most parents would probably just as soon that it was not happening in their child’s dorm room.
I have been pondering the college problem very seriously. After all, what is the point of homeschooling our kids for years just to pay for the privilege of having them intellectually or physically harassed or seduced?
My suggestion: eliminate, skip, or sidestep the first two years of college.
Those years on campus are the most fraught with politically correct shibboleths and usually the least educationally worthwhile. Increasingly, they resemble the last two years of high school—or even the last few years of grade school.
Meanwhile, more and more homeschooled students are graduating from high school at age 17, 16, 15, or even younger. At home, it just does not take as long to whiz through the requirements for high-school graduation. So what do we end up with? Students who are ready for college academically but who may not be ready emotionally for the college atmosphere of sex, drugs, and anti-culturalism. Here are some alternatives.
Apprenticeship. There used to be a lot of noise in the homeschool community about the value of apprenticeship as opposed to a college degree. Right or wrong, however, most personnel directors believe that a college diploma is valuable, not for the sake of the education, but because it proves that a potential worker has the ability to stick to a long and arduous task dictated by authority. (So they have told me, anyway.) Even if a homeschool graduate finds a business willing to train him, he may end up trapped in that same company forever, as other companies continue to enforce hiring policies that require a college degree.
Entrepreneurship. Starting your own business immediately upon graduation from high school is an increasing trend, among the Web-minded in particular (for example, my oldest son, Ted). We all know that Bill Gates ditched Harvard to start Microsoft, so this particular road-less-traveled is becoming more socially acceptable. It also makes a certain amount of economic sense, provided the graduate in question has an actual moneymaking skill or idea. Why pay $100,000 or more to provide your child with computer-programming classes in the hope that he might get hired for an entry-level job, when he can make $100,000 during the same period, teach himself more computer languages and programming tricks than the college can, and build an excellent portfolio?
In our case, there are additional factors. Ted has physical problems that keep him largely bedridden, so attending a campus facility would be out of the question. The amount of time he spends sitting up could either be spent taking courses or building his business. He has chosen to be an entrepreneur, and so far, he is doing quite well.
Still, most parents and students will incline toward that coveted college sheepskin. What college-compatible alternatives are homeschoolers exploring?
Community/Local College. In recent years, homeschooling families have found that two plus two costs less than four. Attending a community college for two years enables their 16-year-old student to live at home, saves them lots of money, gives the student practice in going to college, and results in credits that can be transferred to a more prestigious institution. The downside is that these are usually not two years of educational challenge. However, if parents start their high-school student on some community-college courses, usually they can make the course count twice for credit. In the excellent book Gifted Children at Home, coauthor Kathleen Julicher relates the story of enrolling her 12-year-old, Seth, in a local university’s math class. He not only ended up with the top grade in the class, but he was invited to assist in teaching the class. By the time he graduated high school, he had already amassed two years of college credit.
Testing Out. The increased emphasis on educational excellence in general, and classical education in particular, sweeping the homeschool movement has caused an upsurge of interest in Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses. The vast majority- of colleges and universities grant credit for high marks on any of the 29 A.P. exams. Recently, the College Board has begun advertising its College Level Exam Program (CLEP) in homeschool magazines. Over 2,800 institutions grant college credit for acceptable scores on any of the 34 CLEP exams. The Regents College Examination Program has also shown interest in getting more homeschoolers to take its tests, which are accepted for college credit by over 1,000 colleges and universities.
It is possible to get one year or more of college credit through A.P., CLEP, and Regents exams. Pennsylvania Homeschoolers (www.pahomeschoolers.com) and Scholars Online Academy (www.islas.org) offer excellent online A.P. courses to homeschoolers. If a student qualifies as “gifted” through any of the regional Talent Search programs, software-based A.P. courses are available from Stanford University’s Educational Program for Gifted Youth. Some of the Talent Search programs also offer intensive on-site three-week summer A.P. courses. And Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft, has put some serious money into an online academy called Apex (www.apex.netu.com), whose mission is to offer A.P. courses nationwide. Apex originally was set up to supplement local high-school course offerings, since most schools offer either no or only a few A.P. courses. As of fall 2000, ten courses are available at $395 per semester. If Apex plays its cards right, homeschoolers should be among its best customers.
At present, homeschoolers can take high-school correspondence courses from a variety of state colleges, such as University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Texas Tech, University of Wisconsin, and Indiana State University. I have been talking to the people who run these programs for years, urging them to add a complete lineup of A.P. courses to their curricula. They may do so soon, perhaps in time to compete with Apex before it becomes the Microsoft of A.P. training.
I should mention one thing: A.P.’s are not like the SATs or ACT, which you can sign up for yourself You have to enroll through a local high school, and the school is under no legal obligation to offer the exams you need. We initially had trouble with our local high school, which was willing to let our children take A.P. exams for the courses that it taught (even though they had not attended the course) but did not want to let them sign up for A.P. exams in subjects the high school did not offer. The private schools in our area that offer A.P. exams also declined. A friendly state legislator had to talk to the school superintendent on our behalf before our kids could take the A.P. Microeconomics and A.P. Computer Science exams. All the school has to do is send in the sign-up sheet with a check, provide a proctor, and mail in the tests. Since they are the only ones who can do this, it seems only fair that anyone in the local community should be able to avail himself of these tests, not just the students who attend the school and take a particular course.
There is, however, one downside of “testing out of a year or more of college: Most scholarships are reserved for entering freshmen. If your child enters as a sophomore, he could miss out on some lucrative scholarships. It is wise to check the policies of the institution he hopes to attend before digging into more than three or four A.P. courses. The College Board itself recommends, “Unless told to do so, do not send your CLEP scores until you have been officially admitted.”
College at Home. Even better than the increased availability of A.P. and other college-credit exams would be the increased availability of college at home. Most colleges realize this, which is why just about every one is working toward making at least some of its curriculum available through distance learning. Witness the bulk of the latest guides to distance learning, compared to the slender editions available only a few years ago.
What is not yet available—and is desperately needed —is a two-year liberal-arts curriculum designed for homeschooled students. Patrick Henry College, a project initiated by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, looks like the first step toward a campus-based version of what we need in distance education. Patrick Henry College can only accommodate 200 students, will offer initially only one major (government), and is not even considering any distance-education component until it has received accreditation, which will take years. However, the founders of the college have the right idea academically. They realize that the average homeschool graduate is already a voracious reader with a wide background in literature and history; an eager learner; a logical thinker who is aware of differing worldviews; and a believer in God and traditional moral values.
Thus, freshman college courses for this group might resemble graduate courses in their depth of discussion. Hands-on and real-world practice is appreciated by homeschoolers, and the Patrick Henry College program is designed to include much of this. (See www.phc.edu for details.)
The ideal distance-education college program for homeschoolers would combine hands-on projects and Great Books studies, of the kind popularized in America by St. John’s College. Follow this with a year of traveling in Europe or working in various jobs, and a student would be well prepared for the final two years of college, in which vocational (or at least majorrelated) studies predominate.
I predict that the first accredited, non-politically impaired college or university that comes up with a classical distance-education program such as the one I have described will make a mint from homeschoolers, as long as it is priced affordably. High-school online courses are settling into the range of $200 to $395 per semester. Even at quadruple that amount, college at home would be a bargain, and both the professors and the administrators could live on the revenues. With hundreds of thousands of homeschooled students now in their high-school years, I see no reason why a number of competing institutions should not end up with thousands of off-campus students apiece, just from the homeschool community.