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More Colleges Giving Warm Welcome to Homeschoolers
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THE SUNDAY OREGONIAN -- MAY 14, 2000

There are already 200,000 enrolled across the nation, and colleges are smoothing the path for more.

By KELLY HEYBOER
NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Darcy Abrams did not expect applying to college to be so easy.

Abrams was prepared to explain to colleges why she had never spent a day inside a traditional classroom. Why her mother had been her primary teacher since kindergarten.

But when Abrams, 17, and her parents started going to college fairs last year they were met with a warm reception from recruiters.

"They all said, 'Oh, we like homeschoolers,'" said Carla Abrams, Darcy's mother. College admission officers, once suspicious of the homeschooling movement, are finding that homeschooled students not only are college-ready, they're more ready than their public school counterparts.

Studies show students taught at home consistently score higher than the national average on the SAT and ACT standardized tests. Once they make the transition to college, other studies show homeschoolers also tend to have higher grade averages than other students, often because they are more motivated, curious and take responsibility for their own education.

There are already 200,000 homeschooled students enrolled in colleges across the country, and another 1 million are expected to apply over the next decade, according to homeschooling groups. In response, many colleges have begun changing their admission policies to make it easier to homeschoolers to apply.

"We are very encouraged. They are opening their doors. They are smoothing the path for homeschoolers," said Chris Klicka, senior counsel for the Virginia-based Home Schooling Legal Defense Association.

Well-organized parents
Colleges are getting a good look at the first generation of students to come out of the "new" homeschooling movement. While previous generations of homeschoolers were largely isolated, the members of the new movement are taught by parents with access to prepared curricula, homeschooling magazines and networks of other parents.

The students take classes over the Internet. They socialize with other homeschooled students in well-organized support groups. They have their own bands, sports clubs, put on plays and hold graduation ceremonies with diplomas printed by their homeschooling groups.

Most homeschooling parents still say they pulled their children out of school because they object to what they perceive as lax morals or anti-Christian teaching in the public schools. But there is evidence that homeschooling is diversifying and no longer solely tied to a religion.

Many of the new families warming up to the concept are doing so because they are concerned about violence in schools.

While most experts agree the number of homeschoolers has at least doubled or tripled over the last decade, real numbers are hard to compile. Many states have only rough estimates because they do not require these students to register or take statewide tests. Nationally, the number is estimated to be between 700,000 to 2 million students.

Isolation a shortcoming
Critics of homeschooling still cite isolation as its leading shortcoming. The National Education Association and other groups say homeschooled students lack math and science skills and are sheltered from other political and religious views, breeding intolerance.

But, Darcy Abrams argues, she couldn't be more well-rounded.

Her family belongs to the Christian-based North Jersey Home Schoolers Association. She says she feels as ready for college as any student from any public high school. She has acted in plays with her homeschool support group and has done three- to six-month apprenticeships in several professions, including physical therapy, communications and speech therapy.

Darcy, one of four children, was set to enter kindergarten when the West Milford, N.J., family opted for homeschooling. Darcy's mother, who was concerned about sex, drugs, violence and what she believed to be the anti-Christian aspects of the school system, was receptive when her husband told her about a homeschooling lecture he had just attended.

"He said, 'You know, we don't have to send our daughter to kindergarten next year,'" Carla Abrams said.

When Darcy's needs surpassed her parents' academic knowledge, she turned to the Internet, taking online versions of advanced-placement high school psychology and literature.

Student has no regrets
Darcy was accepted this spring at Geneva College, a small private school in Pennsylvania, where she plans to study speech therapy under a partial scholarship. She said she doesn't regret her home-based education.

"There is always something inside you where you wonder what if would be like to go to school. What it's like to walk down the hall and hear the lockers slam and hear the people," she said. "But I'm not nervous about that I was homeschooled at all. If anything, it helped me."

A survey of more than 500 colleges conducted by the Home School Legal Defense Association earlier this year found nearly 70 percent, including Harvard University and other Ivy League schools, had "positive" admissions policies that did not penalize homeschooled students for being without a traditional high school diploma. The other 30 percent still require these students to earn GED certificates, take extra SAT subject tests or other exams

The results of the study were a significant improvement over a 1996 survey that found 40 percent of colleges were deemed welcoming to homeschooled students.

Homeschooling groups attribute the more flexible admissions requirements to both the growing number of homeschooled students and 1998 change in federal law that opened up college financial aid to homeschooled students without a GED certificate or a traditional high school diploma.