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Columbia Missourian

Far from home

By BETSY MIKEL
November 13, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Columbia College tries to reach out to home-schooled students

Magda Pride is one of nine children, all of whom were schooled at home. When it came time for her to choose a college, she didn’t intend to stray far from her parents and siblings; her first two choices were schools she could commute to every day.

Pride’s plans began to change when Columbia College contacted her mother, who publishes a magazine called Practical Homeschooling. Administrators wanted the magazine to help get the word out about Columbia College’s home-school-friendly application process. Pride attended an information session, then participated in a round of essays and interviews. Pride, who didn’t start reading until she was 8 years old because she is dyslexic, ended up qualifying for a full scholarship, more financial aid than any other school had offered her. She is now in her first year, studying forensic science.

Pride’s decision to attend Columbia College is a result of the school’s growing effort to attract home-schooled students. Regina Morin, Columbia College’s director of admissions, said studies have shown that 23 percent of home-schooled students score a grade ahead of their public-school peers and consistently perform well on the ACT and SAT. “From a pure marketing perspective,” Morin said, “it would be foolish for an institution to ignore this pool.”

Nearly 5,100 Missouri children are being home-schooled this year, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — although that figure is probably higher, agency spokesperson Jim Morris said, because parents of home-schooled children in Missouri are not required to register with the state or their local school district. Columbia College accepts five to seven home-schooled applicants each year.

Pride comes from a small town and a close family, so Columbia College didn’t figure to be too overwhelming for her; she thinks adapting to a larger campus might have been more difficult. As it is, she enjoys being surrounded by familiar faces. Her experience is why Columbia College thinks it can successfully recruit more home-schooled applicants, said Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for academic affairs at Columbia College. Because of Columbia College’s size, students have the opportunity to build relationships and work more closely with their professors.

“It’s a mind-set about the habits and background for home-schooled students,” Smith said. “We’re just a good fit.”

Smith began working with the admissions department to develop a marketing program for home-schooled students in the 1990s. Smith, who home-schooled three of his four children, recognized Columbia College as a place where home-schooled students might feel comfortable.

While many colleges require home-schooled students to pass a General Educational Development test in lieu of a high school diploma, Smith said Columbia College realizes that most of these students have already completed high school-level course work. Columbia College does require students to present a record of their high school-level course work or a self-generated transcript, and they may also be asked to supplement their applications with extra work, projects, a portfolio or letters of recommendation.

“Schools just need to get more flexible with how they look at their courses,” Morin said.

Columbia College is trying to tailor its academic programs to appeal to home-schooled students because, as a group, they bring skills and attributes different from their traditionally schooled peers. Smith described home-schooled students as high achievers and motivated, with good critical thinking skills and well-established values nurtured at home. “A lot of things traditional students wait until college to learn,” he said, “home-schooled students bring with them.”

Pride’s older siblings taught her how to cook when she was 10. And, because she was always at home, she had a large role in raising her younger siblings. She said she learned practical skills that she sometimes does not see in her classmates, like planning and executing ideas.

“Some people here say ‘I like coming up with ideas, but I don’t know how to do them,’” Pride said. “It’s almost like I’m from a different culture. We have all these different areas, but being home-schooled gave me a whole different perspective on them.”

In some areas, however, home-schooled students may be at a disadvantage, Smith said. Home-schooled students aren’t as used to structured educational environments, deadlines, objective multiple-choice tests or taking lecture notes in formal classroom settings. Columbia College tries to work with home-schooled students so that this type of structure isn’t something that takes them by surprise.

When Pride began considering her college choices, she thought attending a school further from home would help her adjust better to the world that existed outside of her family. Pride said she did not have much trouble making the transition to a college environment. Like many home-schooled students, she took classes at a community college near her home and brought 27 credits with her when she started classes at Columbia College.

What was more difficult for Pride was starting every day without her family to greet her in the morning. However, she said, the absence of her parents and siblings for moral support forced her to become more social.

“Coming here was so crazy because normally I’m not an extravert,” she said. “But since I’ve come here, it’s helped me open up more.”