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Practical Homeschooling® :

Are You Ready for Homeschool U?

By Thomas Pinckney
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #7, 1994.

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The number of students completing the equivalent of a high school education at home should increase dramatically in the next few years. With more and more families opting to continue homeschooling through high school, there will be at least 25,000 homeschooled 18-year-olds in the year 2000. This is enough students to completely fill five new middle-sized universities. If each student spent only $2,000 per year on educational services (less than one-fifth the average amount students currently spend per year on higher education), that would amount to fifty million dollars per year. A few years later, hundreds of thousands more homeschoolers will be flooding the higher education market, with a total purchasing power in the billions. Clearly, with this amount of purchasing power, homeschoolers have the chance to demand new higher education alternatives.

College Concerns

Homeschooled students who have attended traditional colleges and universities have done well. Nevertheless, many homeschooling parents are skeptical about the net benefits of sending their children to traditional colleges and universities. Some of their concerns include:

  1. Higher education is expensive. While public high schools tend to spend about $5,000 per student and homeschooling families only a fraction of that, the best colleges and universities now cost over $25,000 per year. And the “sticker price” does not cover expenses; once all operating and capital costs are included, the total cost to society per student per year is well over $50,000. Although financial aid lowers the short-term cost for many families to amounts well below the “sticker price,” much aid is in the form of loans which hang over the heads of parents for years. And financial aid does nothing to lower the cost of education to society. If homeschoolers can educate their children for a fraction of the cost of public high schools, isn’t there a way to accomplish the same “educational efficiency” at the college level?

  2. To believe or not to believe. Christian homeschoolers are particularly disturbed by the anti-Christian bias they perceive at most universities and colleges. Some faculty are accused of working specifically to destroy the faith of young Christians. Students who believe that Jesus is the son of God and the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind are at times ridiculed even in the classroom. While some students grow in their faith as they meet this challenge, many others fall away.

  3. Morals. A related concern is the moral laxity of many residential campuses. In most institutions, school authorities hardly limit student behavior at all, and peer pressure to conform to the norms of the group is strong. Again, many students from strong Christian backgrounds come through these temptations unscathed and strengthened, but many others become involved in sins that have repercussions for decades in their lives.

  4. Age segregation. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the degree of interaction between persons of all ages. Traditional colleges and universities, on the other hand, isolate 18- to 22-year-olds from persons of other ages, thereby increasing peer pressure to conform, limiting the positive influences of adults and children on this age group, and keeping the students from making their contributions to persons outside their age group.

  5. Obsolete instructional methods. Existing colleges and universities were set up when information technology was quite different. Yet changes in this technology over the last fifty years have had only marginal impact on higher education. Some within academia, including the President of Stanford, have recognized that today’s technology changes the optimal method of instruction. In a June 3rd letter to alumni Stanford’s President states, “In the future, traditional residential learning may, to some extent, give way to what has come to be called ‘distance learning’—education delivered by technology from the best teachers and libraries, wherever they can be found, to the best students, wherever they are.” But many vested interests limit the extent to which these institutions can change. If you can access “the best teachers and libraries” from home, the benefits of attending a residential college or university shrink notably. Furthermore, homeschooled students, who are much more adept at independent learning than their public-schooled age mates, are well-prepared for the challenges of distance learning.

College Alternatives

For these and other reasons, homeschoolers in general and Christian homeschoolers in particular are beginning to question the prevailing cultural norm that all bright 18-year-olds should go to college. Many are taking a serious look at apprenticeship opportunities. Others wonder if the money that would have gone towards college would be better invested by setting up their sons or daughters in a small business.

Undoubtedly apprenticeships will increase in the future and a number of homeschooled students will be able to invest money that would have gone towards college expenses in profitable businesses. But as Mike Farris writes in his book The Homeschooling Father, “If you have a child who wants to become a doctor, dentist, lawyer, architect, or a member of any other profession licensed by the government, your child is not going to be able to obtain the necessary license without a [college degree].”

Other homeschoolers have attended community colleges or pursued correspondence degrees while living at home. These outlets will grow in importance in the years ahead, and will be valuable in the education of many. There are several problems, however. First, with open enrollment, students at community colleges are not the best. Ideally, the students at an institution should take their work seriously and challenge each other to achieve excellence. This peer encouragement is unlikely to occur at a community college —and cannot occur through traditional correspondence courses. Second, many parents, potential employers, and graduate school admissions staff are suspicious of the value of these credentials. And preparation for some future professions—such as medicine—is simply not available through correspondence courses or community colleges.

Benefits of Traditional College Education

Many homeschooled students still want to attend one of the nation’s best four-year colleges and universities. Why? For the following reasons:

First, the credentials offered by such institutions are worth a great deal. Good jobs and graduate or professional school admissions come much easier to students from these institutions, even if the students learn no more than those taking correspondence courses.

Second, you have opportunity to learn more than students at other institutions. With top-notch libraries, faculty on the leading edge of research, excellent laboratory facilities, and (not least) bright fellow students, you have the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount during four years. Bouncing ideas off other students, challenging each other intellectually, can be key in the educational process.

Third, many students develop social and presentation skills probably not learned in earlier years and unavailable through correspondence courses: the opportunity to present and defend a thesis orally, for example, or the chance to work in a group on a major research project.

Fourth, if you ask graduating seniors at such institutions what they learned during college, many place the greatest emphasis on a growth in autonomy, a definition of self that occurred during these years, at least in part through encountering an environment different from their home backgrounds. (For one example from a Christian perspective, see the sidebar.) Students with international experiences during these years emphasize such benefits even more.

Fifth, students become part of a community diverse in background and interest, but united in the devotion to the importance of education and knowledge in the world today.

Many homeschooling parents are likely to question one or more of these points. For example, is not the fourth “advantage” simply the maturing process that takes place in most young people at this age? Can not the same or even greater advantages be gained by providing opportunities for experiences abroad, or in a different part of the country, without sending the young person to a four-year college? Is not the only true “unity in diversity” that which comes through our relationship to Jesus Christ?

Goals for “Homeschool U”

Nevertheless, the first three arguments for traditional colleges are strong. Is there a way to reap these advantages of higher education while avoiding the problems outlined above? To do so would require accomplishing the following goals:

  1. Provide a credential within four years or less that is as valuable in the job market and in graduate and professional schools as those from excellent four-year colleges and universities.
  2. Provide students with a challenge and opportunity to learn equivalent to that offered in the nation’s elite colleges and universities, including the opportunity to interact and work with each other intellectually.
  3. Take advantage of the skills and interests of the students’ parents.
  4. Provide the opportunity for students to mature intellectually and spiritually, while maintaining the strong bonds between parent and child developed over the years of homeschooling.
  5. Allow students to stay actively involved in their home communities, interacting with persons of different ages.
  6. Accomplish all of this at considerably lower cost to parents and society than existing institutions.
  7. Provide an atmosphere that is morally upright and explicitly Christian.
  8. Embrace new methods and technologies which will facilitate achieving these goals.

Can this be done without founding yet another campus-based program that can so easily be taken over by anti-family activists? Could we possibly harness the new technologies—video, online services, software, teleconferencing—and combine them with onsite “weekend classes” and “summer seminars,” to produce a genuine university education at a fraction of its present cost? Instead of struggling to create one centralized “Homeschool U,” could we develop resources that make it possible for state groups and local churches to sponsor their own fully credentialed colleges?

The sidebar presents some reactions to these thoughts from folks on the Internet. A future article will elaborate on what such an institution might look like and how it would differ from existing colleges.

Thomas C. Pinckney is Assistant Professor of Economics at Williams College in Massachusetts. He can be reached through the Internet at Thomas.C.Pinckney@williams.edu


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