The Homeschool to College Transition

Experiences with a college early enrollment program

by K. Titchenell

When my 14 year old daughter started studying full time at college as a participant in an early enrollment program, we were concerned that she might not easily adjust to the regimen of homework, deadlines, and examinations she would face. As a homeschooler who had never read a book, written a paper, or practiced a musical instrument except when inspired and moved to do so, it was unclear how she would respond to the pressures of being a full time student alongside others upon whom these classroom demands had been inflicted every school day since the age of five or earlier.

The program in which she is participating is offered by a local community college under a government grant, and presents high school aged students with the opportunity to finish their secondary education at the college under full scholarship while simultaneously earning college credit. Though indeed a marvelous opportunity, public and private high schools made aware of the program were initially unresponsive. The potential value to students that such a program presented was disregarded by high school administrators who viewed this early college opportunity simply as a potential drain upon their respective student populations and the all-important funding associated with each student-classroom hour. This was not particularly surprising to us; after all, we are homeschoolers for a reason. The early enrollment program did achieve sufficient enrollment however, almost entirely through participation by homeschoolers and various Independent Study Programs, the most active participant being Excellence In Education (EIE — the definitive homeschooling resource center in Monrovia California — of which our family is a member.

Perceived shortcomings of homeschooling are easily overcome.

Homeschooling is criticized largely for two perceived disadvantages from which children might suffer: undeveloped social skills due to the lack of companionship with other children, and inferior academic experience due to limited exposure to different intellectual role models. It is critical to understand that the traditional school environment does not solve either of these problems particularly well, with one harried teacher to a class of 30 or more students, who are, in turn, often practicing, or suffering from, a culture of harassment, intimidation, and ridicule — problems which the teacher and institution are generally unable and often unwilling to address. Importantly, neither of these was ever a problem for these homeschooled college students.

The problems of institutionalized education aside, homeschooling families, particularly in collaboration with other homeschooling families and support groups, can solve the problems of socialization and intellectual role models quite readily. The EIE homeschoolers now studying at the college are very well equipped in both these areas. They are a very cohesive and supportive crowd and are, above all, delighted to be able to face the college challenge as a group. My wife and I, both credentialed teachers (I mention this only for the benefit of those misguided individuals who consider it significant), have for some time been conducting classes in the homeschool spirit for children at the EIE Resource Center where courses from music to lab sciences, English, and calculus are offered to help augment the homeschool experience and to provide a level of intellectual diversity to home education. I am proud to have been able to help homeschool many of my daughter’s EIE colleagues and have been following their progress at the college and noting their difficulties with great interest.

Anticipated difficulties fail to arise.

I needn’t have been concerned about the transition from the unstructured academics of homeschooling to the structured environment of the college. The 15-17 year old EIE participants scored higher on their placement exams, as a group, than entering high school seniors, and some who had never spent a minute in a primary or secondary classroom did as well or better than those who had. As a group, the EIE alumni are enjoying their college experience immensely. However, college life has proven to be extremely frustrating to the homeschoolers in certain respects, and has presented some very significant unforeseen obstacles.

Unanticipated difficulties do arise.

Homeschoolers, unaccustomed as they are to an atmosphere of enforced conformity and compliance, are necessarily having a different set of problems than those upon whom institutionalized education has been imposed. In some cases, motivated and inspirational teachers are delighted with their home educated students, impressed by their dedication, creativity, and independence — “the best student I have had.” Indeed, it is to be suspected that that role of “best student ever” for many teachers may be filled by a homeschooler. On the other hand, teachers and administrators more comfortable with the volume-oriented cookie-cutter approach to education are likely to find the lack of herd mentality disconcerting and even threatening. In the words of one homeschooler “We are not docile enough for them.”

Learning consideration for others.

Some but certainly not all homeschoolers have difficulty adjusting their level of participation from that which is appropriate to being one of one of a few students to being one of a class of 30 or more. For example, having gained the floor after performing the obligatory hand raising (possibly a newly acquired habit), a student may proceed to relate a lengthy anecdote. Whether the narrative is relevant or not to the matter at hand often remains undiscovered as instructors will rarely let it go far enough to find out. Homeschooled students generally realize very quickly from the response of instructors and from that of other class members that they are permitted to have the floor for only relatively brief periods as they are graphically made to understand that if each of 30 students spoke for a minute or more in a 50 minute class, there would be little time to do anything else. Thus they learn to share — and to do so on a scale that reduces individual participation to a tightly proscribed minimum.

Learning to cope with lack of consideration by others.

Busywork and irksome inefficiency are largely new concepts to many homeschoolers, who tend to respond with bemused incredulity to the discovery that that the vast majority of time spent in many classrooms is wasted upon pointless ritual and mindless repetition with much of what remains taken up with the baffling and unexplained. After an education which, with rarely a wasted minute, is adjusted to the pace and needs of the student, assignments intended simply to keep the class busy and occupied appear ludicrous in the extreme. Though the transition from custom to volume education will inevitably bring the intrinsic inefficiency of the latter into sharp relief, there is no doubt that that inefficiency is often excessive — at least from the perspective of those upon whom it has not previously been inflicted. Of course, the ills described here only appear as inefficiency if student-time is thought of as a factor. These mass-production classes are actually highly efficient if one disregards wasted student-time entirely.

Many homeschoolers have been taught to think and to question. Some standard institutional practices which remain generally accepted and unquestioned by institutionalized high school students are found irksome and inequitable by these homeschoolers who bring a fresh perspective to bear. One of numerous examples is the common community college procedure for handling instructor absence. The policy is generally to cancel class, posting no notice and making no announcement, and to demand that students come to class regardless, remain until 20 minutes after the scheduled commencement of the canceled class before departing, and that they submit a sign-in sheet to prove that they did attend.

While this practice is accepted without question as inevitable by most students, more than one homeschooler has done some analysis and made the observation that committing a few minutes of college staff time to the posting of a notice of class cancellation, either physically on the door or online, could save tens or even hundreds of student man-hours that could be far better used for study or other pursuits. In some cases, particularly where block scheduling is practiced, the posting of an online notice could obviate the need for a commute. Indeed, an enlightened policy of class cancellation notices could well have more effect on reducing commuting/fuel consumption/emissions than any number of carpooling incentives.

While few, if any, believe that this policy is likely to change in response to student discontent, and, no doubt, dealing with such inequities is certainly something with which all students will inevitably have to learn to cope; it is reasonable to conclude that these are not valid reasons for failing to recognize the degree to which this inefficiency and disregard for the needs of students could be reduced through relatively negligible effort, nor are these grounds for overlooking the pervasive pattern of neglect for students’ welfare (as well as environmental concerns) that underlies the deliberate decision not to make that effort.

Such observations are to be expected from homeschoolers who, as newcomers to institutionalized education, are able to view the scenario from a fresh perspective, but it does not endear them to administrators who would clearly prefer a higher level of pusillanimity in their charges.

A barrage of influences

Gay pride groups have been extremely visible on campus, approaching and making overtures to these underage early enrollment students. The group has thus far coped with this problem well, though there is always the possibility that future instances might get out of hand. Far more calculated and scientific are the ploys of the many military recruiters on the campus flaunting their resplendent costumes and insignia, setting up enticing play equipment, making all manner of tantalizing (but not legally binding) promises, and employing a vast repertory of studied tactics for cajoling students to join their ranks. Their focus rapidly shifts to other targets upon learning the age of these early enrollment students, but they make a significant, if somewhat mixed, impression. Some members of the group are already sold on the military, while others have been inspired to do research on recruitment ploys, making note of those used upon them. A few have remarked on the fact that a commitment to the military, such as that being considered, may well entail total dedication in support of policies and practices with which they (and much of the world) might take issue. One conclusion one can draw about homeschoolers with some certainty is that they are an unknown quantity. Recruiters may well find that the alumni of institutionalized high schools are, in general, more promising marks.

A great semester and a few uncomfortable insights.

With one irrelevant exception, all members of the early enrollment program have now made it through the first semester and many have distinguished themselves. Some have encountered very inspirational teachers and many have settled comfortably into college life, setting goals for themselves with will and resolve. As a group they are very enthusiastic about the experience and grateful for the opportunity.

Unfortunately, the program and associated grant included a component requiring participants to attend many hours of mandatory support-oriented meetings which caused much irritation, resentment, and anger on the part of very independent homeschooling self-starters who overwhelmingly regarded these “confidence boosting” workshops as ineffably fatuous and counterproductive . This response (and perhaps the tendency to refer to these sessions not by their official name but by one that more accurately reflected their perceived function: “detention”) did not endear those few who openly voiced their opinion to the administrators of the program. Accustomed as they are to an environment that welcomes the presentation and justification of conflicting academic opinions, our homeschoolers are discovering that alternative viewpoints are not really as encouraged in academic institutions as one would suppose, and that open disagreement with instructors, however well justified one’s position may be, is often not the safest course to take. They are unfortunately being forced to learn that there are many agendas in play at college, and education is frequently far from the top of the list.

While funding, public relations, and administrator convenience occupy positions at the top of the college’s priority scale, with student convenience as close to the bottom as possible without seriously affecting enrollment, education tends to fall haphazardly, and somewhat incidentally, somewhere in between. However, a strong argument in favor of institutional higher education is the fact that, though high academic goals may be achieved in or out of institutions, some (but by no means all) college faculty do bring great knowledge, experience, and insight to the classroom and, on occasion, can introduce students to ideas that will open new vistas and change their lives. Our group has been very fortunate to have encountered a few such professors this semester and to have been able to cope with the others without losing their enthusiasm for academia altogether.

As a whole, the transition to higher education has been made with relatively few problems, none insurmountable. Our students are really appreciating the world of college, have developed immense respect for some excellent instructors, and are learning to handle the absurdities of the environment with admirable restraint and aplomb. It is not to be expected that they will ever be quite as comfortable with some of the more disconcerting aspects of institutions as are their institution-educated counterparts and we homeschooling parents are quite comfortable with their discomfort level. We are very proud of them.