Are You Ready for Homeschool U?
By Thomas Pinckney
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #7, 1994.
What does a university education look like for homeschoolers?
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
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:
- 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?
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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
- Take advantage of the skills and interests of the students’ parents.
- 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.
- Allow students to stay actively involved in their home communities,
interacting with persons of different ages.
- Accomplish all of this at considerably lower cost to parents and
society than existing institutions.
- Provide an atmosphere that is morally upright and explicitly
- Embrace new methods and technologies which will facilitate achieving
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
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