Thursday, October 30, 2014

Making College Work for homeschoolers

You see we have always been somewhat eclectic in our homeschooling and certainly not a “textbook” or “school-at-home” kind of family.  Most of the things and curricula we use are not found in most public, and even few private schools for that matter.  We embrace the concept that learning should be just that, learning,  or gaining knowledge rather than studying for and passing tests often to forget that information the next day or week.   So how does that look for college?

Taking a look at our values the traditional “expected” path wasn’t the best choice for most of our kids.  Three of our four are “in process” of college and for each of them it looks different.

When considering what path your children will take it’s a good idea to first examine your values and what is important to you and your family.  I recently wrote an article for Home andSchool Mosaics exploring this concept which you’ll find here.  Once you’ve determined what is important to you, you can begin looking at options.

For us staying out of debt, staying at home if possible, and getting a degree with the least amount of “hoop jumping” were top priorities.  We don’t value the “name” on the degree and do value practical work experience and skills almost as much and maybe even more than a degree at all, though we do want our children to get a degree as it’s a necessary “hoop” in our society for many things.

So what can we do?

1.      Consider doing college in high school.  You can do this as “dual” credit, meaning you count what they are doing as college classes on their high school transcript too.  This means they are not doing “double duty” or double work so to speak.  For instance when my oldest son took ENG101 (composition) at Bethel college his senior year I used that as his English credit on his transcript for high school for that term. 

 Many colleges have reduced rates for high schoolers taking classes.  It doesn’t hurt to ask.  We use Bethel college which is about 20 minutes from us and has a program called REACH where high school Juniors and Seniors can take their 100-200 level classes at a reduced rate of $100 a credit.  Take a look at a map and find all the colleges within driving distance and inquire:  you might be surprised at what you’ll find.

 2. You MIGHT want to consider community colleges.  Near us Lake Michigan College offers classes at $89.50 per credit if you’re in their “district”.  Most community college cost around  $90-100 per credit.  Be aware if you chose to go this route that your student will probably be exposed to LOTS of varied opinions, and even colorful language (and by that I DO NOT mean    good , strong adjectives.)  My oldest son was able to handle this but it wasn’t a fun experience for him and he didn’t “enjoy” his classes as much as he would have liked.

 Some homeschoolers opt to sign up as public school students to take advantage of programs where the school district will pay for your tuition.  I do not in good conscience recommend this option.  We believe that signing up with a government school as a homeschooler has the potential to undermine the entire movement and I want to protect homescooling rights for my grandchildren.  I urge you to contact HSLDA or whomever you use for your homeschool legal advice and discuss it with them as we did.  Many states who have gone to partnership programs with homeschoolers within 10 years have much stricter controls on homeschooing, and I am adamantly opposed to this.

        3.  Consider “testing” out of classes.  This was the method of choice for my second oldest.  There are several options.  You can do CLEP, and/or DSST and sometimes even AP.  We use CLEP and DSST as we have found those easiest to complete on our own at home.  You can find information on CLEP and DSST at their sites.

Many colleges accept these tests.  “Most” will accept at least 30 credits this way.  A few colleges  will not accept any and a few colleges will accept an unlimited amount.  If you have some idea  where your child will end up graduating from check out their website and search CLEP /DSST   acceptance, or contact an advisor at that school who should be able to get you the information.

The advantages of “testing” out of classes are twofold.  First, it is a much less expensive option.   Testing runs around $100 ($80 for the test and $20 proctor fee) as opposed to a “class” at a   community type college running around $300 (at $100 credit) to $800 or more at a private college/ or state university.

Besides the cost advantage you have the time and proximity choices.  With testing you control  your time.  You can go as fast (or slow for that matter) as you like and work you study and testing around any schedule.  This allows much more flexibility to work and pay for your college.    This flexibility also allows you to stay home and do school rather than having to commute to a college or even go stay at their location.

There are several college/companies that will , for a fee, help and guide you with this type of schooling.  One we used for a year with my second oldest was College Plus.  It gave him “the ropes” so to speak and sent him on the path to his degree.  Since the first year he has continued without their assistance toward his goal.  It looks like at this point he will indeed complete his bachelors completely from home through testing and online classes.

4.     That brings me to a connected option, online classes.  More and more colleges are offering classes and even complete degrees on line.  My husband is currently working on an online MBA through Western Governors.  Doing your degree online may be “somewhat less expensive than a brick and mortar institution (though not necessarily.)  The benefit here is that you don’t have to go to them.  You can continue with your home, job, and life wherever you are.

For adults this is obviously a huge benefit, but for your young people it can be as well.  Many students can maintain the same job year round and earn seniority and advancements while completing a degree this way.  It sometimes can be difficult to do this in a traditional setting.   Again, do a search for online degrees and you will find an abundance of options.

You must do a little research with online degree colleges however; Be sure you check out the institution and its credentials.  Make sure it is in fact a reputable college.  Check out their accreditation.

   5.   Commute to a college.  Sometimes you can do some of the above mixed with this option or just go this route entirely.  For us a lot of this depends on scholarships.  As I said, we are committed to no/low cost college and not taking loans.  Many of the four year institutions are much more expensive.  Scholarships do help, as well as commuting rather than living on campus.

Look around your area and see what institutions are within driving distance and start investigating.  Ask what scholarships are available and go for them.  It can be possible that God will make a way.  This is the option that looks like may be taking shape for our 3rd college attendee.  Time will tell but it looks as if this is the path so far.

 Start with the college and ask about what scholarships they offer.  Then think outside of the box.   For instance if it is a Christian institution ask if your church denomination sponsors any scholarships.  Does you or your husband’s place of business offer any?  How  about  community organizations?  The American Legion for instance offers a scholarship connected to giving a speech.  How about Chamber of Commerce etc…  You can even find scholarship opportunities on line.

 A colleague of my husband  has found great opportunities for her daughter this way.  They have  even won a few.  They are usually small, but it all adds up!  

College doesn’t have to be something to worry, fear, stress about or even cause a lot of debt.  Just be willing to “think outside” the box a little and you can keep what you’ve taught and valued and have college too!

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