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The College Prospects of Homeschoolers

October 3, 2006

Here are some highlights from a Washington Post/AP piece titled, “Colleges Coveting Home-Schooled Students.”

– “Bombarded by choices at a college job fair, Sara Kianmehr quickly found her match: Columbia College [in Columbia, MO], a small, private school that didn’t mind that her transcripts came from her parents.”
– “With colleges and universities aggressively competing for the best students, a growing number of institutions are actively courting homebound high achievers . . . .”
– “After years of skepticism, even mistrust, many college officials now realize it’s in their best interest to seek out home-schoolers, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. ‘There was a tendency to kind of dismiss home schooling as inherently less rigorous,’ he said. ‘The attitude of the admissions profession could have at best been described as skeptical.’ Home-schooled students _ whose numbers in this country range from an estimated 1.1 million to as high as 2 million _ often come to college equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in higher education, said Regina Morin, admissions director of Columbia College. Such assets include intellectual curiosity, independent study habits and critical thinking skills, she said.”
– “At Stanford, sympathetic admissions officers have helped make the university a beacon for high-achieving home-schoolers. The support can be seen on the Stanford admissions office’s Web site. ‘The central issue for us is the manner in which you have gone about the learning process, not how many hurdles you have jumped,’ the office advises home-schooled students. ‘We look for a clear sense of intellectual growth and a quest for knowledge in all of our applicants.'”

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Something about the first bullet point above struck me. On the one hand, for most of higher education’s history, institutional admissions officers have had to deal with variable student backgrounds. That was part and parcel to non-standard primary and secondary experiences around the U.S. That all changed shortly after 1900. This is aptly dealt with in Harold Wechsler’s Qualified Student, an historical look at college admissions.

On the other hand, there’s a reason why standardization came about. Evaluating homeschooled students likely requires more staff, or at least specialized staff, at the accepting institution. Stanford can afford this, and perhaps Columbia College (mentioned above) has found a way to balance the budget for a consistent number of homeschooled applicants. Without more staff or a special system, one must basically rely on standardized test scores. But what are homeschoolers’ averages on standardized tests? I’ve not seen any studies with these numbers.

Also, with homeschoolers one must necessarily deal with special non-academic backgrounds. It is a fact of recent history that homeschooling parents are often motivated by religion, or the Culture Wars. I suppose, however, that students educated in a particular religious fashion often have a college outlet with the same foundational motivations.

In sum, the “new” homeschooling phenomenon raises a lot interesting questions for higher education officials. – TL

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