Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Homeschooling Through College: Our First Experience

Subtitled:  "Things that make you go, "Hmmmm."

Every year for the past 8 years I have posted a homeschool show and tell, outlining our curriculum choices, schedule/routine, methods, philosophies, and ideas.  This year, I want to share about our homeschool college experience.

My 19-year-old is just days... literally a few days... away from completing his bachelor's degree in Business Administration, and then he will just be three college classes short of CPA requirements (he's done nearly the equivalent of 5 years of college, taking extra accounting courses  for “fun”).

And he did it from home.

When he was 14, I began praying in earnest for God to lead me in how to do his high school years wisely and well, with the finished product being a mature, wise young man who was ready to go anywhere God called him and do anything.... ready for college, work, adventure of any kind.

Right at that time, I went to a homeschool convention and watched a presentation by a company called CollegePlus who explained the wisdom behind combining high school and college work.  They asked why you would want your child to do four years of standard high school subjects and then turn around and pay up to $100,000 to a college to repeat those same subjects the first two years of college to complete the general education requirements for most degrees? They explained how it was possible to do college through distance learning faster and for less money, even during high school. But even if high school was completed, it was still wiser to do college from home, more quickly and more affordably. 

Hmmm. That made me think about how my 14-year-old son was bored with school.  I knew I could throw any 11th or 12th grade curriculum at him and he wouldn't even have to lift a finger to complete it, and I wasn't up to the pestering that was going to be involved to motivate him.  Would challenging him with a college-level course be the way to go?

So, after hearing all the other practical things that the CollegePlus program had to offer (like bachelor's degrees for as little as $6,000, from home, by the age of 17, using one's high school subjects to earn college credit), I decided to lay out a fleece. 

I was pretty confident I wouldn't be pushing my son too hard. His standardized test results, then at the age of 14, had just placed him at the college level in all subjects (13+ Grade Level Equivalent on the ITBS). I knew he was bored. My fleece: I offered him a college level video course to try. It was a Financial Accounting course from Villanova School of Business (I had it “lying around” because I had done a review of it for TOS Magazine).  He was instantly challenged, motivated, and excited. And weirdly enough, discovered that he passionately loved accounting (I didn't see that one coming--but in retrospect, I should have!).  But for the first time ever, he excitedly set to work at his video lectures, taking notes, and completing assignments, telling me several times a day, “I really love this!”

Oh my! I had never heard anything like that before! I knew now we definitely needed college level stuff.

So I laid out another fleece. I told him as soon as he completed his Algebra II (VideoText Interactive) and Geometry (Saxon... because I got it for free in exchange for a review), we would try studying for the College Mathematics CLEP test, a test that many colleges accept for six general education credits towards a degree.  If he was able to pass it, then we would enroll him in the CollegePlus program to start working on college credits for high school. He finished his math, studied the CLEP materials for six weeks, finding some tips online, and then took and passed the examination. Seventy dollars. Six college credits. Age 15.

So, we applied to CollegePlus, and they accepted him. They don't often take 15-year-olds, but he had already passed a tough CLEP. They had no problem signing him up. We paid the $2,500 annual fee. They outlined his degree plan, test by test and class by class, incorporating any resources we had (like free classes at a local college where my father was a Dean--free tuition for grandkids!), and they assigned him a coach who called him once per month or more to encourage him with his study methods and schedule, to help him schedule his test dates, and to just generally encourage him and pray with him.  And he got started.  CollegePlus knew how to line up the tests and courses so the knowledge built cumulatively for each successive test. They also had tested and tried the study resources and recommended the most helpful books, websites, and other resources—different kinds for different learning types.  They also offered a student forum where the kids posted exam tips (i.e., “Be sure to know these four principles,” and “I passed using this book and this website to study”).  They posted his degree plan online with a workable checklist that updated every time he passed a test or a course, so he could see his progress towards his degree… test by test, credit by credit. Motivating!

Now, when a student first signs up with CollegePlus, they start with some pre-college readiness things as part of their program, and my son did do their speed-reading course and Advanced Communications Course (by IEW). They also offer something called “Life Purpose Planning,” which is designed to help kids discover their God-given strengths and desires, helping them to possibly choose a field of study. But I told them that we would not do that with them, because it was my job to shepherd my child to discovering his life purpose. I didn't want someone else's written “Bible” study/program helping my boy discover his purpose. But that was just our decision. We had also already decided, because of our son's young age, and the fact that we were treating this program as his high school, it wasn't time to worry about career choices or callings just yet. We decided that for a young man, a degree in General Business Management is wise all-around. And, we already knew that he loved accounting, too.

We got his 10th grade World History Course (Alpha Omega LifePacs). He finished the entire year's course in two weeks. Then we added the recommended study tools for the World Civilization CLEP test. He studied an additional six weeks. 

We were still homeschooling. This was still high school. I was still his teacher.  I helped him look over the different test resources and helped him learn how to choose ones that worked best for his learning preferences (you quickly learn to find textbooks/resources in the best writing style for your learning type! Or even YouTube video lectures!). I taught him how to look at the breakdown of test topics and come up with a topical study plan to “attack” his resources (instead of trying to read a textbook cover to cover).  I assigned him study exercises when necessary, like lists of terms to master, organizational charts to draw, and note cards to make.  He took his World Civilizations I CLEP test. $70. Three credits. Now he had 9 college credits.

He got his 11th grade US History Course, and completed it in a few weeks. We added the additional CLEP study resources. He continued to learn how to write a great study plan, and attack those textbooks by topic, and make good note cards and other helpful tools.  $70. Three credits in U.S. History.  Then another $70. Three credits for Civil War History (an elective). 

He got his 12th grade Economics and American Government course. He completed the Economics.  He studied for the Microeconomics CLEP.  He passed. 3 Credits.  He studied for the Macroeconomics CLEP. He passed.... on his second try, but still at age 16.  3 Credits.  He studied for the American Government CLEP.  Passed. Then he studied for his Social Sciences CLEP, which was 6 credit hours, and combined his cumulative knowledge of geography (a class he had completed for 9th grade), history, economics, and politics—add a bit of psychology.  He passed.

Get the picture? Let's keep going on our college journey....

He finished his HS science course. I chose The Rainbow 2-year-Science, which covered physics, chemistry, and biology, with labs, which is sold as  Jr. High course, but I compared it to other HS courses, and this was the wiser choice, and I decided is was more than enough to equal the three required HS sciences.  It turned out to be a very wise choice.  He studied 6 extra weeks and then passed his Natural Sciences CLEP (covers Physics, Chemistry and Biology) for six more college credits--and it wasn't that difficult.  And, just last month as I was ordering "refills" of this science program for his younger sister, I just discovered he didn't even complete the entire second year of labs... I forgot to order the lab book and supplies for year 2. He just did the textbook work. He still had no problems with his CLEP. HINT: I'm saying The Rainbow Science is an excellent choice for High School Science, unless your child wants to BE a scientist, or doctor, etc. It is not too much, all 3 sciences can be done in 2 years, and it teaches so thoroughly, that my son had no problem passing the College exam. And it comes with everything needed for the labs... right down to the dish soap, vegetable oil, toothpicks, foil, flashlight, lighter, and more. You never have to hold up or skip an experiment due to lack of supplies. It's all there, at a GREAT price!  

Okay. Plug over.

College Composition was a bit harder for him—a reluctant writer all his life. Weeks of nagging would produce a pitiful one-page report at about age 12. Did I say weeks? Maybe months. Creative writing to him was trying to get as much information as possible into as few words as possible. But after perseverance and a second try, he passed that. I had to take the Legos away, AND even threaten to take away his truck to get him to write his practice essays! But he got them written. 

He enrolled in the local vocational college at age 16 (where we had the benefit of free tuition), now that he was driving, and began taking all the accounting courses, one or two at a time, one or two nights a week. By this time he knew he wanted to become an accountant, most likely, after  earning his Business Management degree. The classroom courses were a BREEZE compared to the CLEP tests--simple homework assignments! You see, CLEP tests--you may think you're taking the "easy" way out. But the opposite is true. In a classroom for a college class, you are just learning one teacher and one textbook. To pass a CLEP exam, you have to know "all teachers and all textbooks."  You have to have a mastery of all the relevant knowledge of the subject.

Anyway, he enjoyed going to the school, being a bit independent, testing his wings. He came home almost every day thanking me for homeschooling him and teaching him to be respectful and diligent.

He was easily able to continue studying for CLEP tests while taking classes. CollegePlus was our liaison to make sure courses he completed at this college would apply towards his degree, which was being coordinated through Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey. Not all of them did. He took extra accounting classes in anticipation of going on to earn a CPA.  He took Welding and Advanced Welding, and received his certificate. He took small engine repair. He had fun. He has earned money doing welding and tractor/mower/weed eater/4-wheeler repairs for people, too!

He got the top grade in every course he took at the college. And when he wrote his first paper for a class, as he was still “homeschooled and in high school” I offered to redline his paper for him.  My jaw dropped when I read it. I thought he had plagiarized it off the internet!  Nope. He had actually, finally, learned to write a beautiful, logical, college paper! He was really learning to study and apply himself by this time... exactly what I had wanted for him to learn!  He was accomplishing the goals I had for him for High School.  He got 100% on every paper he wrote from that point forward! (God is so good, how He leads! You do not know what a miracle this is!)

And that is how it went, one class at a time.  Analyzing and Interpeting Literature, Operations Management, Human Resources Management, Organizational Behavior, Strategic Management, Precalculus, ... I don't even know what else. Some of the classes were CLEP tests.  Some of them were DANTES tests.  Some of them, towards the end here, were online courses (ALEKS for math, and online classes through Thomas Edison State College), and some of them were self-paced study classes and he took a test administered by Thomas Edison State College through a “proctor” on a local campus. Class after class, credit after credit. One at a time. As he earned each college credit, it went on his High School Transcript, too, of course. He built both his high school and his college transcript at the same time.  When he reached the age of 17 and was a “junior” in college (because he had acquired nearly 90 of the 120 credits towards his degree), I politely notified our state that our son was considered “graduated” and was now a full-time college student. I asked to have him excused from the compulsory attendance age early, and said I would no longer be turning in homeschool notifications. They seemed to have no problem with this (I never got another letter from them asking to renew his notification, which I get every year for my kids). His high school transcript would have just been ridiculous if I included everything on it.  I included all the state recommended graduation requirements and enough electives to look "motivated," and I let him graduate high school that year at our state homeschool convention, one year earlier than he would have graduated in public school.

We took our time. No rushing. Reasonable, yet still challenging, study schedules, one subject at a time. At age 17, he started working full time at a job that was great for his age--at a popular zipline tour company (we live in a scenic tourist area). His bosses noticed his maturity, knowledge and achievements.  I won't even go into how he has succeeded in his work, only to say that he is the youngest boss his current company has ever had (they made an exception to their 18-year-old age limit when they hired him at age 17), getting promoted past several senior colleagues, even the managers in training. And one of his bosses often calls him off the job to come into the office to help him with his online College Algebra (his boss is in his 20's).

And now we are, here, today.  He is in his final class... a self-paced online Statistics course.  He thinks he will be done this week. And he will have earned his Bachelor's Degree in Business Management.  It is a tough class for him. And the programming arrangement of the class is very difficult, tedious, and repetitive (not very efficient—you’re more learning how to give the program what it wants than learning the actual math).  But he’s almost done.  I walk by his room every night and say, “Go! Go! Go!”  Cheering him on!

And we’ve done it.  I can say we’ve met the homeschooling goals I had for him. He is, first of all, wise, and loves God, and lives for God.  He’s had to take a stand in the classroom and at work, and he withstood the testing and earned respect for his character.  And he can communicate, write well, study new material, research, debate, discuss, pass tests, conquer new challenges… basically he is ready to go anywhere and do anything God calls him to do. When he applied for his current job, he had to do an intensive training and study for a test. They told him he got the highest test score ever in company history.  He laughed… “Mom, that test was NOTHING!”  Oh… he’s prepared!

He was quite the trailblazer as our eldest. We prayed through this every step of the way.  We took a lot of criticism. A LOT.  But nobody is criticizing now. People are proud of him, and coming around. Some of our critics have even started to see the wisdom in what we did.  We didn't "rob" him of the college experience. First of all, we "saved" him from it. Secondly, we prepared him for college, so if God does call him to go to regular college, he will go, and he will take it by storm. 

Some people hear that he has earned his bachelor’s degree at age 19 and think I was a drill sergeant and pushed him, or that he was an academic prodigy who lived inside his textbooks voluntarily.  Nope. He’s an average kid who never really loved school. Correction:  He still doesn't love school.  But he loves wisdom. He pursues that. And he only did one class at a time.  How hard is that? 

There are wiser ways to do things when you think outside the box. That is what makes homeschooling so wonderful.  We didn’t consider putting our son through someone else’s predesigned educational system.  Sadly, when it comes to high school, many people don’t think there are any other options than to follow what the schools do, or other homseschoolers do. Even most of the homeschool curricula copies what the high schools do, add in your particular religious bent.  Nothing wrong with that, really. Everyone needs basic skills. But.... Hmmmmm. We prayed, and then we did it differently. We tried to be a better steward of our son’s time, and resources, and choose the best way for him to reach his God given calling and potential, thinking about what was wise for him to learn, and to be prepared.
Academics are not the rule, and not the goal. Godliness is, and training your child to be who God made Him to be.  Wisdom is what is to be pursued above all else, and fear of the Lord. What school program does that? Yes, preparing your child to fulfill God's purpose in his life most likely means knowing how to read and write well, do basic math, and have some reasoning skills. But wisdom should always be sought above all.  Seek wisdom...then comes knowledge.  We sought the path of wisdom for our son, and the knowledge came... in buckets.  His is prepared fully and well, and we know it is of God. 

As a side note, I also know the main secret to my son's success.  He is reaping the promised blessing that God gives to children who honor and obey their parents.  The verse says, "Honor thy father and mother, that it may go well with thee in the land that I have given thee..."  "Well" in this verse interpets as "thriving, successful, prospering."  I am able to tell my son with confidence that it is going well with him, not because of his own efforts, but because he has always chosen to honor God by choosing to honor and obey his parents. Sometimes that choice was a struggle, but he always made the right choice.  This is his biggest testimony of all.

Are we going to do it this way for every child?  I honestly can’t say! God will lead. He always does.  I know some children just don’t need college—and that is their clear calling. I have a dear friend whose eldest was clearly called NOT to go to college, and her son is thriving in every way, where God has clearly called Him. He is not lacking anywhere, but succeeding above and beyond, prospering. And as I keep tabs on his progress, it is amazing and heartwarming and miraculous. Because she let God lead, and her son did the same. 

My daughter who is 14, is planning to study music (she sings in a competitive/performance choir that operates at the equivalent level of college master's degree students).  She already has achieved the same college level results on her standardized tests… so why waste her high school years? I can already tell if I hand her High School curriculum, it will not be enough of a challenge. It will just be busy work. And I’m too busy raising a bunch of littles to be the one who challenges her. So… college it is.  She will begin taking her CLEP tests for her general education credits as she studies each subject for high school (and we already have all the college textbooks from my son!).  Unlike my son, writing will be the easy test for her, math will be much harder. Where my son was the master at the shortest writing assignments ever, her same workbooks have extra paper taped to her pages as extensions so she could write more!  

The CollegePlus program does offer a Bachelor’s Degree in Music, and the same college where my son earned his accounting credits most likely will have the music courses she needs to complete this degree. The plan is to work on the Bachelors of Music for her high school transcript, then when she graduates high school (with her Bachelor’s degree done, or nearly done), she will be prepared to apply for  a master’s program for music at the college of our choice. That is the plan. God is welcome to change it as we go.  

We don't have to go through CollegePlus, now that we've learned how it all works.  We'll probably do her first 30 general education credits independently, but then we will enroll her in CollegePlus because of the wonderful services and benefits they offer.

My favorite conversation we have had about this experience with people, repeatedly….

Them: “But what are you going to do about a high school diploma?”

Me:  “He’s getting a Bachelor’s Degree.”


Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm.”

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