When I wrote my last post, I talked about expanding on my newfound love for community colleges. As I mentioned then, I once was blind, metaphorically speaking, but now I see.
Dual enrollment—the idea of taking college-level courses as a secondary (high school) student and getting both high school and college level credit for those courses—was a fairly new concept all those decades ago when I was in high school. Now, several public high schools in our area have partnerships with community colleges such that graduating seniors leave with an Associate’s degree in hand as well. Dual enrollment offers opportunities for homeschooled students as well.
Why might a homeschooler attend community college, especially as a high schooler?
- I like the idea of taking those freshman level courses that are overwhelmingly big because every college student must take them—English, Intro to Humanities, College Math (or first course equivalent)—at the community college level. Even if your child does not have a firm hand on what he or she wants to study, he will need these introductory courses, so there is nothing lost (and everything to gain) by completing these early. Taking needful electives, like foreign languages or physical education courses, is also possible. Everything is on a smaller scale, so going to the writing help center and/or the math help center is not as intimidating, and cultivating the habit of getting help early on is beneficial for any students.
- Community colleges are an excellent way to eliminate the issue of biased grading systems in the home. I alluded to “Mommy grades” in my last post. The truth is that it is difficult at times to give the fruit of your loins the true harvest of his labor. If your child is enrolled in an accredited community college, he or she (in theory) has a more objective observer to give whatever grade he earned. As I tell my children, I am the last teacher who will love them enough to move at their pace and to genuinely care that they are learning. That might be harsh, but they get the point: there is an expectation in college, and to succeed, they will need to meet or surpass it.
- Community colleges are sources of college funds as well. Some offer scholarships to take classes at the school, and some offer scholarships as a part of special programs (like an honors program). Additionally, if your child earns a certain number of credits at the community college and performs well in class, he can become a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the two-year college honor society. Phi Theta Kappa offers scholarships for students transferring to four-year colleges. So in short, going to college can help you pay for going to college!
- Finally, if it is not obvious, community colleges help students transition to the pace and overall environment of 4-yr college. As parents, we spend our homeschooling years at our kids’ pace only to then send them off where they have to quickly adjust to moving at other people’s pace. Ideally, a community college is a smaller, safer environment for students to make this shift without being overwhelmed with every other aspect of college life. Again, those lessons of getting help early, establishing relationships with professors, and building strong study and note-taking skills are best learned when they can stumble gently as opposed to falling hard.
The key to making community college work as a part of your overall homeschool-to-college plan is to understand what are a given college’s specific policies regarding community college credits. And this is where you will have to work backwards, having some sense of where your child might attend college. Does the college take community college credits? Are there a maximum number of credits, or will they take them all? What is the academic records transfer process? Also—and this is critical—at what point do those community college credits classify your child as a transfer student versus a freshman? If at all possible, you want your child to enter college as a freshman; the pool of money is bigger for freshman students than for transfer students. Make that homeschool-to-college process work for you, not against you.
As one example of using research to make this process work, our oldest had a favored college choice for a couple of years. During a summer program there, one of her mentors mentioned that the layout of her intended major was 4 years long; it did not matter how many community college honors you brought to the table, because the major’s core classes were designed such that you could only take certain classes at certain times. When we began to make our college visits, the favored choice was not even on the list. The college she eventually chose took all of her community college credits.
Community college experience is about planning ahead, taking advantage, and putting doors and walls on that foundation. If it is something that you could use as a family, I highly suggest doing more “digging” at your own local community college.
For those of you who have taken advantage of this opportunity, what was your experience?