Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Homeschooling through High School--Community College

There's been a lot of discussion among our local homeschool group about sending high school kids to community college. At first glance, it sounds like a great idea. The local school districts will fund homeschooler's tuition at one of our many local community colleges. All they ask is that the kid pass the course, which for most homeschoolers is probably pretty darned easy. (At least that's what I've been told from kids who've been there). Plus, it sounds uber cool to say, "My kid goes to college," when they're only 16. Doogie Howser meets Dougie the Homeschooler. Somehow it's supposed to legitimize homeschooling through high school. Which, by the way, is a pretty daunting task and you'll certainly encounter more than a few raised eyebrows if you dare to tell people (or your mother) that you plan on homeschooling little Dougie past elementary school. But, if you can tell Grandma that Dougie is enrolled at Local Area Community College and he'll actually earn *gasp* COLLEGE CREDITS!! she can proudly tell all her Bunco friends that Dougie is going to college and they can "ooh" and "aah" to Grandma's delight.

But...(you knew there was a BUT coming, didn't you?) how do you know that Dougie will actually learn something meaningful at Local Area Community College? (I'll just call it "LACC" for short). Being a thoughtful homeschooler, you actually like to know what your kid is learning and you understand that institutionalized education doesn't always teach your kids the things you want them to learn, least of all the things that you know they really need to know like how to get ten loads of laundry done, the bathrooms cleaned, the dog vomit scrubbed out of the carpet, the Legos picked up from the living room floor, the grocery shopping done, the kids' scrubbed and dinner made all in time for Fr. Smith to come for dinner.

Maybe that's not really what you think your kids need to know in order to be responsible adults. Maybe you want them to actually know some History or some English Literature or some Calculus or some Spanish. Maybe you've checked into LACC's History department and you know that Dougie will get some excellent instruction in U.S. Constitutional History. Or maybe the English department has an excellent reputation for classical literature. If that's the case, then LACC may be a great way for Dougie to further his education. Unfortunately that's often not the case. Most high school students, for some blithering reason, tend to take courses like: Psychology, Sociology or History of Oppressed Minorities Like Gays and Women.

But Mrs. Jones sends her kids to LACC and she tells you how great it is because they're going to save TONS of money on college since the state (I mean taxpayers) are picking up the tab for her kids' first two years of college. What Mrs. Jones failed to tell you (probably because she doesn't know it yet herself) is that unless the kid has an unusually highly developed sense of responsible planning, he will most likely take some classes at LACC that are completely useless for his future major (which he'll probably change a half dozen times anyway). Or that should her kid actually want to go to a college out of state, the chances of all those LACC credits being accepted are pretty small.

And believe it or not, there can actually be a problem with skipping your freshman year at a four-year college. If you or Dougie are interested in getting the full "college experience," then freshman year is a vital part of that. Two of our four kids who've graduated high school thus far have gone on to Catholic colleges with a visible Catholic identity on campus. There's nothing wrong with skipping that first awkward year of college, but it's not necessarily a good thing either.

We've purposely avoided sending our kids to community college during high school. Why? My first thought is that the large number of high school-aged kids going to community colleges has really dumbed down both the community college and high school. Homeschooling through high school entails branching out from the kitchen table to acquire more real-world experiences. But that doesn't mean shuttling kids off to a community college during some of their most formative young adult years. Some of the parents who send their kids to a community college wouldn't dream of sending the same kid to their local public high school.

If its college credits you're after, look into having your son or daughter take a CLEP test after finishing up a course at home. The CLEP tests are far cheaper than a community college course, at $77 per test. Plus, since they're standardized by the College Board, they're probably accepted at more four-year colleges than the credits from LACC would be. And, Dougie can start taking them as young as he wants. Just find a CLEP testing location and sign up.

Finally, keep in mind that not all colleges will accept community college credits or CLEP exams. For example, the top choices of my two high school kids right now are Wyoming Catholic College and Thomas Aquinas College. Both are Great Books schools whose students study the same courses each year. Everyone has the same major (liberal arts), so getting college credits in high school is a moot point for them. They need to develop strong foundations in the liberal arts through broad reading and learn good study skills to help them in college.

There's no one-size-fits-all description of the perfect homeschool high school program. Some kids may benefit from a rigorous community college preparation or using community college to gain some vocational skills. But I suspect most high schoolers would benefit more from having a rigorous high school program combined with real-world experiences and practical applications. (More to come).