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College Admissions and Financial Aid for Homeschoolers

By Christopher J. Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #53, 2003.

HSLDA attorney explains the current regulations governing "underage" homeschoolers being admitted to college and being awarded financial aid.
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Chris Klicka

Excitement is in the air! Homeschoolers are graduating from their home high schools throughout the country. Many parents are shedding tears as they behold their children walk up onstage and receive their diplomas.

After many years of hard work and sacrifice, parents and homeschool graduates alike are breathing a sigh of relief as they finally enjoy the fulfillment of the fruit of their labors. God is good!

But this is only the launching pad. Those graduates who have decided to enter college may be nervous about the obstacles that may be thrown in their way by the admission offices.

Last year, many homeschoolers faced various problems because their documentation is different. Some colleges refused to admit homeschoolers into their college for fear of losing their "institutional eligibility" federal funds. The source of the problem was the Federal Student Aid Handbook that was issued during the last year of the Clinton administration, which contained inaccurate information. The Handbook indicated to financial aid officers and college admissions officers that they would lose their institutional eligibility if they admitted homeschool students. The Handbook was inaccurate and contradicted the federal law.

A federal law states that colleges can only receive federal funding for their institution if the students they admit have either a high school diploma, a GED, or if the students are beyond compulsory school attendance age.

Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an organization that defends the legal right of homeschooling and also defends its members against challenges to their individual homeschools, worked with many colleges to convince them that the Handbook was wrong and that they could admit homeschoolers, even if the students were under compulsory attendance age.

The Solution Within Reach

In my capacity as Senior Counsel of HSLDA. I worked with Eric Jasso, the Deputy Counsel for the Postgraduate Education, to resolve the discrepancy in the Handbook. On March 6, 2002, I testified before the Regulatory Board of the U.S. Department of Education. I explained that the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, which HSLDA drafted, make it clear that students who complete a secondary education in a homeschool setting are eligible for federal financial aid, yet the Handbook indicates that if those same students are accepted into a college, the college will lose its federal funding. The Regulatory Commission signed off on new language drafted by Eric Jasso and I to correct the Handbook errors.

The First Step

In the meantime, in April, Eric Jasso issued a letter which HSLDA widely distributed to help clarify the problem in the interim period, while the Handbook was being revised. Nonetheless, some universities remained stubborn and refused to change their policies, fearing the loss of institutional eligibility if they accepted homeschooled students who were under the age of 18. HSLDA attorneys worked many hours with colleges and universities helping homeschool students finally gain admission in nearly every case.

Clarification Finally Issued

At the end of November, the U.S. Department of Education finally issued a formal "Dear Colleague" letter to all universities clarifying admission of homeschooled students to college. This time I worked with Jeffery Andrade, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Postsecondary Education, to produce this "Dear Colleague" letter. The summary of the letter states, "An institution can admit most home-schooled students as regular students without jeopardizing its eligibility to participate in the Title IV, HEA student financial assistance programs. The Department considers that a home-schooled student is beyond the age of compulsory school attendance if the State in which the institution is located does not consider the student truant once he or she has completed a home-school program."

We praise God for this important clarification since it resolves the frequent problem associated with "underage" homeschool students who are being denied admission. This "Dear Colleague" letter makes it absolutely clear that students who graduate from their homeschool program before reaching the state's compulsory age can be admitted to a college without that college losing any of its federal financial aid.

In the past, homeschool students below the compulsory attendance age were able to receive federal student aid for college, but yet the Handbook stated that those same students could not be accepted into a college because the college would lose its financial aid. This absurd result was clearly fixed by the "Dear Colleague" letter, which can be found at the U.S. Department of Education's financial aid website at ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN0211.html.

Federal Student Handbook Revised

All of these issues were further clarified in the new 2002-2003 Federal Student Aid Handbook. This Handbook is sent to virtually all the colleges in the country and is accessible on the U.S. Department of Education's financial aid website. Volume 1, chapter 1 of the Handbook specifically states that a homeschool "student is eligible to receive FSA funds if the student's secondary school education was in a homeschool that state law treats as a home or private school." It also states that "the Department considers a homeschool student to be beyond the age of compulsory attendance if your school's state would not require the student to further attend secondary school or continue to be homeschooled." The citation on the U.S. Department of Education web page for this section of the Handbook is ifap.ed.gov/sfahandbooks/attachments/0203Vol1Ch1.pdf

The most helpful section of the Handbook is found in Volume 2, chapter 1, pages 6-7. This section makes it clear that homeschool students who complete their homeschool curriculum before reaching the minimum age in compulsory education "can properly be admitted to a post-secondary school participating in federal financial assistance programs." The U.S. Department of Education confirms that homeschoolers fit into the third category of eligibility as listed below.

The Handbook states:

"An eligible institution may admit as regular students only persons who:

Have a high school diploma; Have a recognized equivalent, as defined by the regulations, of a high school diploma; or Are beyond age of compulsory school attendance in the state in which the institution is located... "

The U.S. Department of Education clarifies in the Handbook that, "We consider a homeschool student to be beyond the age of compulsory attendance if the state where your school is located would not require the student, once he or she completes the homeschool program, to further attend secondary school or to continue to be homeschooled."

On the issue of proof of their completion of a homeschool program, the Handbook says on page 7 of Volume 2, chapter 1 states:

"Homeschool students may self-certify their completion of a homeschool curriculum, just as high school graduates may self-certify their receipt of a diploma. Home-schooled students are NOT required to obtain a state certification of homeschool completion unless their state law provides for the issuance of such a certification."

This puts to rest the often-abused procedure that some colleges have tried to apply to homeschoolers, demanding that they present a high school diploma that is specifically recognized by the state. This has never been a lawful requirement, and this clarification makes it perfectly clear that homeschoolers do not have to obtain state recognition of their diploma. Presently, of the 50 states, there are no states that require homeschoolers to obtain such a certification of their high school diploma, and only one state offers some homeschoolers a voluntary procedure for obtaining a diploma.

Homeschoolers Of Any Age Can Be Admitted To Federally Funded Colleges

The U.S. Department of Education has finally spoken in plain words on this issue: colleges need not fear losing institutional eligibility by admitting homeschool students. They are free to admit homeschool students at any age, and those homeschool students are also eligible for personal student financial aid as well.

We are thankful for the revisions in both the Handbook and the new "Dear Colleague" letter and believe that this will clear the air and enable homeschoolers to easily gain admission to colleges based on the merit of their excellent academic programs and will also enable homeschoolers to freely obtain student financial assistance without any further unnecessary and illegal barriers.

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