Homeschooling has taken a significant place in the American education fabric. We see this in the sheer volume of students who are homeschooled, as well as the high quality of education that is possible through homeschooling. We see it in the frequent positive portrayal in the news media (e.g. National Spelling Bee winners) and we see it in the attitude of higher education institutions. Colleges are becoming increasingly "homeschool-friendly." However, it is the distance education trend in higher education that may hold the most promise for the homeschool community.
Here are four common ways that homeschoolers are using distance education to obtain a college degree.
Homestart / Headstart
The transition from homeschooling to college can be dramatic for some students. Distance education allows you to make this transition as you see fit, including the completion of entire programs at home. Many colleges provide introductory courses, general education courses, and even specialty courses that can be taken online or through other distance education means.
Some homeschool families may want to provide a basic Bible foundation from the distance education program of a Christian college prior to sending their student to the college of their choice. These Bible courses can transfer into most colleges, even secular ones, as general electives or humanities electives, provided they were taken through an accredited institution.
Increasingly, advanced high school students receive both high school and college credit by taking college distance learning courses. This is commonly referred to as "dual credit." Many students now graduate from high school having already completed many credits toward college.
Fewer and fewer students are completing their entire college programs with a single institution. Most students transfer credit from one institution into another and many graduate from a college other than the one with which they started. The distance education programs of prestigious institutions can be combined with the practicality and flexibility of courses offered at nearby colleges. Students who don't know for sure what they want to do may take courses from distance education schools and benefit from vocational training at local community colleges.
Often, students don't really determine their career direction until graduate school anyway. Distance education and local colleges help them to mature further before they make decisions regarding higher education that may require them to move away from home.
Stop Outs (That Keep Going)
Today, it's no longer true that if you put your education on the shelf for a while, you'll never be able to pick it up again. "Stopping out" is replacing "dropping out."
Not only are students enrolling at more than one institution during their college careers, they are often taking breaks in the middle of programs or going part-time. Distance education offers students the opportunity to continue with college even during periods of "stopping out" for financial or other reasons. It is also a time when students can benefit from the specialty courses offered by distance education schools that may not be available at the college they are attending.
Although often categorized as a time when college is "on hold," in reality, students are able to make significant progress on their programs. Since this part of college is usually done in the context of home and community, students often find themselves benefiting tremendously from the nurture and guidance that was characteristic of their K-12 homeschooling experience, but may have been lacking in college.
America is filled with people who have attended college but not graduated. Many colleges have degree completion programs designed to help adult learners finish what they started. Many homeschool parents have come to value education through the investment that they have made in their children. Homeschool graduates (and homeschool parents) for whom graduation from high school was once thought enough may now be yearning for higher education. Colleges with distance education now make it possible for these folks to go back to school without uprooting their commitments to family, church, job, and community. Distance education allows older students to keep alive their dreams of graduating from college.
What Is Available?
As with homeschooling, there is a wide range of resources and quality with the distance education movement. One needs to investigate well the opportunities that are being considered. There is no shortage of "degree mills" that offer educational promises that sound too good to be true because they are not true. Although not degree mills, there are many distance education programs that are substandard. Direct interaction with graduates whose perspective you respect is often the best way to evaluate the appropriateness of the program.
Here are a few resources to help with your investigation:
- Peterson's Guide to Distance Learning Programs 2002. Petersons Guides, www.petersons.com.
- Bakers Guide to Christian Distance Education: Online Learning for All Ages by Jason Baker. Baker Book House, www.bakersguide.com.
- College Degrees by Mail & Internet: 100 Accredited Schools That Offer Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorates, and Law Degrees by Distance Learning, 8th edition (April 2001) by John Bear and Mariah P. Bear. Ten Speed Press, www.degree.net.
- Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning, 14th edition, by John Bear et al. Ten Speed Press, www.degree.net.
- Walston's Guide to Christian Distance Learning: Earning Degrees Nontraditionally, 4th Edition by Rick L. Walston. Persuasion Press. Available from www.amazon.com.
- Accelerated Distance Learning: The New Way to Earn Your College Degree in the 21st Century by Brad Voeller. Global Leadership Institute, www.globallearningstrategies.org.
- Moody Bible Institute's Distance Learning Center. The leader in Christian distance education for more than 100 years. Courses, certificates, and entire college degrees available in print and online. Call 800/955-1123 or go to www.moody.edu.