By Nancy Smith
Homeschooling, once considered by academia the best way to make sure a child couldn’t get into college, has grown in student number and in stature during the early 21st century, as more and more parents look for an alternative to enrolling their children in failing government schools.
According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of American K–12 children educated at home increased from 1.09 million in 2003 to 1.77 million in 2012. That means they make up 3.4 percent of the nation’s school population.
The homeschooling organization HSLDA says college admissions personnel who used to view homeschooled applicants with skepticism are now scrambling to recruit and enroll students who collectively score better on the SAT than their peers.
In fact, there are now so many homeschooled college applicants that colleges and universities are adapting their admissions processes to accommodate homeschooled children’s unique backgrounds and skills.
Andy Torbett has written a comprehensive story on academia’s increasing interest in recruiting homeschooled students in Heartlander Magazine. Much of my information here comes from that story.
Lennie Jarratt, the education transformation project manager at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says home education generally prepares children for college better than government schools do.
What a change from the perception of homeschooled children 50 years ago.
One of the first newspaper stories I wrote during the 1960s, as a college intern, was a piece on the disadvantages of homeschooling, as seen through the eyes of academics. I remember one Boston College professor telling me parents with no teaching credentials who keep their children out of school and tied to a kitchen table “should be locked up.”
No one is saying that now.
With federal and state education policy placing ever-greater emphasis on core standards and standardized tests, many parents want to give their kids something more creative, flexible, and engaging than a school day they see as factory-made.
A story in New York Magazine says the one-size-fits-all model is “especially unappealing to parents of children who are ‘special’ in some way: unevenly intelligent, intensely shy, immature, or in need of a flexible schedule to accommodate their professional acting or dancing or musical careers.” According to the Department of Education, nearly 88 percent of U.S. homeschool parents express concern about the school environment, citing drugs, negative peer pressure, and general safety.
“For the most part, homeschoolers are better prepared (for college), the Heartland’s Jarratt said. “They have already learned how to study independently and are very self-directed. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, homeschooled students achieve a higher [American College Testing] score, 26.5 compared to 25 for the overall population. They also have higher retention and graduation rates.”
Jarratt says colleges and universities are now seeking out homeschooled children. “There are colleges actively recruiting homeschooled students,” he said. “Just one decade ago, this didn’t happen.”
Not that the road to college for homeschooling families is entirely smooth going.
“The biggest item parents need to do is to maintain a transcript of courses taken and their grades,” Jarratt said. “In some instances, parents and students just have to ask questions of the college, including the willingness to ask for supervisors, when necessary. Scholarships are the one area where I see the most bias remaining. This is typical with scholarship-granting local organizations, such as a chamber of commerce.”
William Estrada, director of federal relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a nonprofit “advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children,” says the boom in homeschoolers heading off to college is the result of significant growth in homeschooling nationwide.
“There is absolutely an increase in the number of homeschooled students applying to college for one simple reason: The number of homeschoolers is continuing to grow, and homeschool graduates are graduating from high school and heading to college,” Estrada said. “HSLDA’s research has shown that homeschool students are better prepared for higher education than their traditionally educated peers. In addition, homeschoolers, due to their unique flexibility in learning, often have more diverse life experiences, including volunteering, politics, and community service.
“As homeschooling has become more popular, colleges and universities have gone from skeptical of homeschooled graduates to welcoming them with open arms,” Estrada said. “The system is working and does not need to be changed.”
Nancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.