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More Than One Path to College

Though attending college is just one of several post-high school options, it is certainly the most well-known. Pursing a college degree captures our attention because it involves a set of compelling possibilities mixed with demanding standards, requirements, and costs. In this article, rather than looking at the various virtues and vices of college, we parse five paths to college, and then suggest another possibility: entrepreneurship.

Path 1, The Traditional: start college after high school

From the beginning of most children’s lives, their parents plan for them to graduate high school and enter a degree-granting, four-year institution1 as a first-time, full-time student. We parents want our students to go to a good college, if it is affordable, and we want our students to have a good high school education to help them get there.

Homeschooling parents with this traditional path in mind feel special responsibility for “making it happen.” Rather than follow the rules of an established high school institution, we have chosen to be the educators, the counselors, the testing administrators, the high school registrars, and the principals ourselves. With help from the community, we discover that these roles are not hard to fill, just unfamiliar at first.

When the high school curriculum is thorough and appropriately challenging, no other education at this time is necessary. This means that taking college courses early in the sophomore, junior, or senior year is unnecessary. Students have enough to focus on with pursuing a great high school education within the time available.2

As the homeschool family progresses from middle to high school, it starts to hear about and discover programs involving early college courses. Some families become very involved in early college courses, while others do not. Recently, as debates have risen regarding the value of a college degree, more families are investigating this option.

Path 2, Early College Credit: earning college credits from home

Today, there are many opportunities for high school students to earn college credits while going to high school full-time. These opportunities are certainly worth investigating to see if they are a fit for your family.

The best-known way to earn early college credit is called “Dual Enrollment,” which is available when a college offers high school students the opportunity to learn a subject by using the college’s pre-established professor, syllabus, learning outcomes, assessments, readings, and schedule. Often this arrangement is geographically convenient, as the college might be nearby or available via digital distribution. Another, emerging category is “Concurrent Enrollment.” Concurrent enrollment is available when a high school teacher with college-level credentials teaches according to his/her syllabus, assessments, readings, and schedule, all of which have been confirmed by a sponsor college to meet the sponsor college’s learning outcomes.

College credits through dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment have costs in terms of time, attention, travel, and money. However, it is also important to note that they have costs in terms of authority: as homeschooling parents, we relish the authority to select curriculum, teach, assess, and set schedules. It is important to be aware of systems that alter that authority, overtly or covertly. In light of this, we urge homeschooling parents to seek concurrent enrollment over dual enrollment.

The maximum recommended courses of dual or concurrent enrollment is five, as a sixth course begins to label the student as a transfer student into a college, rather than a first-time, full-time student. Concurrent enrollment courses offer a college-level assessor, who can work with the parent and the student to see where academic effort can be elevated to a college standard. Concurrent enrollment courses might be a fitting substitute for Advanced Placement (“AP”) courses. Dual or concurrent enrollment both involve fees, but the fees can be as little as half of what the credit would cost to earn on a college campus.

Path 3, Free College: starting in Junior Year

Another path involves leaving homeschooling after sophomore year and starting at a local community or four-year college in a free, state program. Washington and Tennessee have been leaders in this movement, and more states plan to make this option available. With this program, when a student would normally graduate high school, he or she will instead receive both a high school diploma and thirty to sixty credits3 from a local college, all of which are transferable to another college in the state or potentially to other colleges in the region.  

Here’s how it works financially: that the student’s enrollment triggers payments from the state treasury to the college’s account, while crediting the student’s account with the payment. The family is not obligated to pay out of pocket then seek reimbursement. Students must still pay several fees relating to security, technology, athletics, student services, and parking, which can add up to nearly $2,500 per semester.

Starting college in this way can be financially appealing, and gives the student a greater sense of responsibility as he or she drives to school every day. However, transferring authority to another institution should be a decision made with great care. Recently, a homeschool mom with administrative experience in community college admitted that, “community colleges are not prepared to receive classical Christian students.” Be forewarned!

Path 4: Students earn up to 60 credits while living at home

A relatively new emerging and economical option is for a student to earn up to sixty college credits while living at home. Students can do this because college accrediting bodies are beginning to standardize general education courses: a Composition 1 course at one college is becoming very similar to a Composition 1 course at another college, not just nearby, but across the United States. While the idea of standardization is a bit rigid or impersonal, it does create the opportunity for students to complete more courses at home. Colleges are having an increasingly difficult time charging high tuition rates when the same course can be taken at a lower cost from the student’s home.

The number of credits this option provides—“sixty”—is significant too: sixty credits constitutes a “Block Transfer,” and allows students to enter a traditional college as a junior. Registrars recognize the sixty credits as “good credits in bulk.”

Taking this path, a student could essentially get two years of college for as low as $4,125 per year. (The cheapest possible block transfer is about $8,250.) Students can begin earning these credits in sophomore year of high school. This path will likely also require a “fifth year,” where a student lives at home and takes four or five digital accredited college courses with an online college partner, such as Liberty University.

Some of the benefits of this approach:

  1. The student can often earn enough money to pay the tuition by working a minimum wage job, thus completing two years of college with zero debt.
  2. The student can stay involved with family and friends during their late teenage years.
  3. The student is more free to explore potential career interests, because he is not so concerned with “wasting” extreme tuition payments.
  4. The student is more mature when he finally enters a college campus as a junior.
  5. Even if the student does not earn all sixty credits, the credits he did earn (say twenty, thirty, or forty-five) were economical, transferable, and helpful in exploring career paths and academic interests.

Path 5: Graduate from digital/online college

More and more students are graduating from digital college with 120 credits and a diploma. The time constrains of digital college are less rigid: students may complete their degrees in four, six, eight or twenty-five years, if they wish! However, completing a digital college degree in four years may be more difficult without immediate external motivation like classmates and in-person professors. Online students do miss out on the social and interpersonal enrichment side of college.

Until recently, online college courses placed a tremendous amount of weight on a single final, which must be passed or the student must repeat the class. Now we have After Challenge Ends (“ACE”) courses, which can be taken digitally, and which often have five semester tests and a final. Course like this are available now through Integrity College Solutions.

However, keep in mind the advice from Dr. Joseph Childs of Southeastern University: “Do whatever you can to stay in Challenge through Challenge IV.” Challenge students gain important, classical rhetoric skills when they complete the Challenge program without attending early college. Leaving Challenge early for digital college is purely utilitarian, and students lose out on valuable reasoning and rhetorical skills. This Path 5 involves courses taken from a few online colleges, all of which are best completed after finalizing rhetorical skills: completing the Challenge program.

The financial savings of this path can be significant. Students who successfully attend online college earn a B.A. degree with little debt, and can proceed towards a career with less financial burden. Our lowest estimate for finishing a B.A. with this path is $21,000, ($175/credit-hour, based on a 120-credit requirement). To pursue this option, we recommend a “degree plan consultation” to develop a clear plan from early high school through college graduation.

One more possibility: Entrepreneurship

While there are endless possibilities of what can be done after high school, entrepreneurship is one to consider. Entrepreneurship means “undertaking,” which is better stated as “taking on a new enterprise” or “starting a business.” The cost of starting a new business has dropped dramatically since the improvement of Internet tools. However, one still has to acquire the skills for starting a business. Students can acquire business skills by watching and learning from other entrepreneurs. We like to call this “apprenticeship.” Apprenticing under an entrepreneur for a season (months, a year, possibly more) can provide valuable insights, and uncover skills and passions. Does the story of Mr. Bowditch come to mind?

We urge students to consider this option. A startup called Praxis has begun an apprenticeship for entrepreneurship, and we see the possibility of many homeschoolers choosing this path.

There are still other incredible options for post-high school graduation: military enlistment, missions, service, leading worship, working, artistic and literary pursuits, learning one of thousands of trades, travel, taking coding classes, and—my other favorite—“doing nothing.” We do include these options in our discussions on the Homeschool Counselor network at www.homeschoolcounselor.net.

All of our efforts are grounded on Romans 12:2: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” May God bless your efforts to find and follow His will for your homeschool family and your future high school graduate!

Notes:

1. The terms “degree-granting,” “four-year institution,” “first-time,” and “full-time” are precisely articulated and defined among peer leaders of higher education and are tracked by the US Department of Education in the College Scorecard. Of the 7,593 colleges listed in the College Scorecard, 3,810 offer undergraduate degrees, of which 2,582 are four-year institutions. Essentially, this means that for every time we mention a four-year college in a conversation, we are overlooking two other types of colleges. Our dominant mental image of the four-year college is out of proportion to reality, shaped by the culture we live in today.

2. Though this path has recently, say for the past 60 years, dominated American culture, media and education policy, recent results published by the US Department of Education show that 480 of 1,000 students who start at a four-year institution actually complete their degree in the time allotted.   

3. A college credit here is the term used to refer to a Carnegie Unit, which is a measure put forth in 1910 by the Carnegie Foundation which remains used today to standardize the amount of teaching provided in a college course. A typical college course is three (3) credits, though in reality credits vary widely. A typical semester is 12-15 credits made up of four to five courses at three credits each. While having a standardized measure of teaching has been useful in the past, much of the current questioning surrounding the value of a college degree today is rooted in the value of the Carnegie Unit. This is a complex topic which demands more attention. Briefly, however, the demands by parents and students for provable learning is different than administrative demands for provable teaching; the Carnegie Unit by design measures teaching, not learning. The difference is beginning to show, and as people paying for the right to have our students learn, not the right of professors to teach, we need to pay attention to the measure used in the exchange of teaching and learning.

TIERS: cc+, challenge
CATEGORIES: Homeschooling Life, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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