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Homeschooled students still face bias in college admissions, even when they meet requirements

‘Afraid of losing their accreditation’ if they let in qualified student 

Even as many colleges have taken to recruiting homeschooled students because they tend to outperform their public-school counterparts, homeschoolers still face discrimination in postsecondary education.

As evidenced by a recent case handled by the Home School Legal Defense Association, cosmetology schools are a surprising locus of bias against the homeschooled clients of the association’s attorneys.

It’s a sweeping change from HSLDA’s work during the Clinton administration, when colleges of all kinds routinely denied admission to applicants whose parents personally instructed their education, staff attorney Darren Jones told The College Fix in a phone interview.

Yet even as the frequency and severity of cases has subsided, one enormous university system has stubbornly resisted the trend of colleges treating homeschool students on an equal footing.

Three years of college, ignored

A Georgia mother’s decision to homeschool almost ruined her daughter’s dreams of attending a cosmetology school in the state, solely because the school refused to recognize the daughter’s accredited homeschool diploma – in violation of state law.

The young woman, identified by HSLDA as “Elizabeth,” transferred out of the University of Georgia after three years. Elizabeth was initially accepted by the cosmetology school, her mother told The Fix in a phone interview. She asked that her and Elizabeth’s full names be left out, as well as the name of the cosmetology school, out of fear of retaliation from the school.

All seemed well until the week before classes were supposed to begin this spring, when Elizabeth received a notice that she could not attend because her diploma did not come from an accredited program, the mother said. The cosmetology school also ignored her three years of credits and 3.4 GPA from the University of Georgia.

The possibility of belated rejection by the school “wasn’t even on our radar,” the mother told The Fix, saying she was shocked by the turn of events. She chose to homeschool her children to “instill the love of learning in them, and provide a much richer learning opportunity to them, than sending them to a [conventional] school could provide.”

MORE: Homeschooling convention thrills this proactive mom

The mother said she called every admissions officer at the cosmetology school, who were very apologetic about accepting and then rejecting Elizabeth, but because they wrongly believed Elizabeth’s diploma didn’t qualify, they were “more afraid of losing their accreditation than anything.”

That’s when the mother contacted Virginia-based HSLDA, which represents and advocates on behalf of homeschool families who pay its membership fee. (The group claims a yearly membership costs “close to” the same as one billable hour “almost anywhere else.”)

The association promptly wrote a letter to the school explaining that Georgia law explicitly authorizes homeschool diplomas. Eventually the school relented and Elizabeth was allowed to attend.

Such difficulties for homeschoolers applying to colleges are now exceedingly rare, lawyer Jones told The Fix: Frequent hurdles for homeschoolers were most prevalent in the 1990s.

Colleges have come to actively seek out children educated by their parents, Jones said, citing “several studies [that] have found that when homeschool graduates go to college they do better academically than their public school peers and take more mature leadership roles.”

A 2006 article by the group’s general counsel cited mostly research from the 1990s that he said showed homeschoolers’ academic excellence. The founder of the Oregon-based National Home Education Research Institute, science educator Brian Ray, wrote last year that “home-educated” students “typically score 15 to 30 percentile points” higher than their public-school counterparts on standardized tests.

For some reason, resistance to homeschoolers remains common in cosmetology schools, Jones said, and issues also arise outside Georgia, with some state cosmetology boards refusing to issue certifications to students with an unaccredited homeschool high school diploma.

Don’t expect California Democrats to help homeschoolers

In the 1990s, according to Jones, homeschooling was much less common and most people weren’t familiar with it, so colleges were unprepared to deal with applicants who presented an unconventional credential.

With an estimated 1.8 million homeschooled students as of 2012, according to the federal government’s research, colleges have largely adjusted to the population and devised specific policies for letting them enroll.

Homeschoolers got a big boost that year when a Department of Education letter made clear they were eligible for financial aid, removing any lingering reticence to admit such students, Jones said.

MORE: Prof says ‘jury still out’ on homeschooling despite positive results

One big exception: the University of California System, with more than 238,000 students.

The UC system does not accept credentials from a “non-traditional education,” regardless of the issuer. This is a major hurdle to homeschool families that design their own curriculum, Jones said, and stands in contrast to other universities that verify non-accredited diplomas through interviews, specialized SAT tests and reviews of a homeschool curriculum’s books.

The UC system, in contrast, forces homeschool students to attend community college or another postsecondary institution and then transfer to their desired UC campus.

It’s also particularly hostile to the use of creationist science materials in high school education, according to Jones, though he could not point to any specific incident probed by HSLDA.

Jones doesn’t see the issue being resolved in California without intervention from its Democrat-controlled Legislature, which he says is not particularly friendly to homeschoolers.

“For a legislative fix, a bill would have to pass (which wouldn’t happen in California’s legislative climate) requiring UC to accept unaccredited diplomas and high school credits,” Jones said in an email.

The UC System’s media line told The Fix to contact a generic news email address to request comment. An email sent to this address bounced back.

MORE: Jewish parents on trial for homeschooling children

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About the Author
Jeremiah Poff -- Franciscan University of Steubenville