How To Get Your High Schooler A College Degree At No Or Low Cost

How To Get Your High Schooler A College Degree At No Or Low Cost

With dual enrollment, high schoolers can be introduced to college-level material to fulfill course expectations while living at home and with a class load paced to that student’s ability.
G.W. Thielman
By

While many writers describe the difficulties facing contemporary higher education, middle-class parents of college-bound children can be overwhelmed at the sheer number of choices offered by confusing propaganda. This becomes even more of a problem for homeschooling families. Whatever homeschooled children learned lacks the parchment from a recognized institution.

What to do? Well, according to law professors from Emory, Georgetown, and Harvard, you shouldn’t be homeschooling in the first place. But truly, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all panacea, no “Lose weight on an ice-cream diet while watching video game tournaments on YouTube!” solution. All I can do is present what our family did. Your mileage may vary. Ours did.

My wife and I have six children spanning ages from 18 to 30 years—three of each cis-gendered non-trans binary type in a haphazard order (we changed their diapers, so trust me). We homeschooled all of them, although two attended a private institution for a year. None saw the inside of a public school until they took the PSAT or SAT. We chose that route partly out of a desire to provide religious instruction, albeit leavened with Calvin and Hobbes comics and dinosaur documentaries.

There were other reasons too. When Joy Pullmann describes the grade-school indoctrination taking place in Illinois, there’s little doubt that it’s not happening in other states.

Only the eldest completed high school through our chosen denominational program and subsequently enrolled in the local community college at age 19. Upon our discovering the dual enrollment option, our second began classes there at 17.

What is “dual enrollment”? Dual enrollment denotes an agreement with an academic institution to permit high school students to take college-level classes. This should be distinguished from “concurrent enrollment,” in which “college” classes are taught in high school. How should that be distinguished from “advanced placement” (or AP) classes? Beats me. Leftist educators complain about dual enrollment, however, as do the politically correct, so that should tell you all you need to know about its merits.

Typically, dual enrollment is accommodated through community colleges, which offer two-year programs resulting in an associate degree for completing a suite of freshman and sophomore coursework. Such colleges usually accept students on a non-competitive basis, although passing entrance examinations may be needed to attend classes.

They also typically do without many of the amenities (and expenses) found at universities and four-year institutions such as dormitories, Greek life, varsity teams, cafeterias, and manicured lawns. Instead, they employ faculty who focus on teaching.

All states permit dual enrollment, at least officially. Unfortunately, as John Fink illustrates with data from the Community College Research Center, the availability of dual enrollment options varies heavily across the nation. States with dual enrollment comprising at least a quarter of community college students as of 2010 include Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Texas. The states with less than 5 percent are Georgia, Hawaii, South Dakota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

Unless one attends a prestigious academy, the last several years of high school are, in my humble opinion, an unnecessary waste of time. But at least at the end of this ordeal, one receives a diploma. For homeschoolers, this trap possesses an additional obstacle to joining society, as their studies have no recognized pedigree. Thus, for their academic accomplishments to be recognized, homeschooled children need some form of educational credential—much like Scarecrow in “Wizard of Oz” desired his “thinkology” certificate.

While admittedly college has become an elaborate shell game, jeopardizing career potentials of our children by relying solely on their talents and efforts became disconcerting for us.

Meantime, our third child started attending the local community college at age 16; our fourth also at 16, our fifth at 14, and our youngest at 13 (a month before turning 14). For the youngest two, we respectively used PSAT and Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED) scores to demonstrate academic readiness. Since then, all completed their associate degrees—three of them before their 18th birthdays—and were subsequently accepted to in-state universities.

Of these, five have since graduated with bachelor’s degrees. Four found employment, and one continues with graduate studies. Perhaps these achievements seem modest, but our children did accomplish them. To enhance their marketability, they also pursued ancillary skills, such as organ accompaniment, emergency medicine, arc welding, data analysis coding, and drywall manufacturing. The four-year degree might indeed be necessary, but don’t assume it’s sufficient.

Admittedly, our kids could have transferred to four-year institutions without completing their associate degrees, as many students do. But absent a diploma from an established high school, their vulnerability to academic interruption presented greater risk than my wife and I were comfortable with. So, to ensure all of them would possess an independently established credential, we insisted on each completing his or her associate degree at the local community college before either moving on to a university or entering the labor market.

Choosing dual enrollment involves accepting particular constraints. Ivy League colleges will sniff at any such attendees, but then again, nobody you know will be accepted either. More practically, transferring credits to out-of-state or private institutes may be more challenging than with an in-state college. Not everyone can pull off the impressive accomplishment of plowing through a bachelor’s program in less than three years. This is especially true for STEM majors—partly due to the intensive content, but also due to the prerequisite laboratory hours needed for completion.

Gradually, the advantages of dual enrollment appear to have caught on. When our eldest children started, the student body at the local community college seemed composed of young adults in their twenties or so. However, as time went on, the average student age drifted younger, suggesting that other local families had begun taking advantage of this opportunity.

With dual enrollment, high schoolers can be introduced to college-level material to fulfill course expectations while living at home and with a class load paced to that student’s ability. Furthermore, dual enrollers can take time off to work or reduce their course load while still graduating before their peers.

Worth noting is the option we didn’t investigate: the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) administered by College Board. These standardized tests are accepted by some colleges for course credit. By demonstrating proficiency, students can bypass some undergraduate coursework, thereby reducing both cost and time. It may also be an avenue to consider. But for us, the dual enrollment strategy turned out well.

Dual enrollment is not for everybody. But you might not want to casually dismiss the possibility.

G. W. Thielman has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. He is currently employed as a patent attorney, and lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His opinions are his own.

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