When our oldest child was six, I read the book No Regrets about the Swann children's homeschool academic advancement. Their studies were all through correspondence schools, and they graduated high school at eleven years of age while earning their Master's Degree at 16. Thrilled with their success, I planned our children's future – after homeschool high school, correspondence college was the goal. Ten years later, however, the story changed...
I would like to share our first semester's experience, perhaps helping you avoid some pitfalls.
When you look at colleges, there are some questions to ask to help make informed decisions. First of all, is the college accredited, and by whom? Which degrees do they offer? Will they accept work from other colleges? Who accepts credits from their college? Are there any age requirements? It is best to know your rights and the law, as it is against federal law to discriminate against age. What steps are necessary to be admitted to their program? Do they accept credit by examination (CLEP, DANTES, AP, ACTPEP)? And do they award credit for prior learning, as in portfolio review, research report, or video report?
SAT's The SAT's are not always needed, nor do they get you into a course. Sometimes you need entrance or proficiency exams given by the college of your choice. This is not a standardized test, but original for use by that specific college, such as the ISAT, which is an internal SAT test.
Make sure the course you want is applicable to your degree. Our daughter signed up for basic biology offered by correspondence. The administrative office was not informed this course would not count towards her science major. Consequently, we chose another course for her to take. Many basic English, math and science courses do not count for majors, so they become electives. The wisest action is to talk with the professor and a guidance counselor, telling them your college major and the courses you are considering. They can usually steer you in the right direction.
Make sure you have enough time to get the process started and all the paper work complete. Sometimes 3-6 months is necessary from initial contact. You'll need time for checks to be mailed, paperwork to be filled out by them and by you, entrance tests taken and scored, essays written and read, phone calls, letters of reference and textbook purchases. If you have a preference about when the course begins (i. e. Monday, September 17), state this at the beginning. Allow yourself plenty of time (a month or two) for delays.
Make sure that the student learns well by reading, since he will be teaching himself everything with an outline from the school. Otherwise you might find yourself enlisted to help. If you have an auditory learner who needs to hear the information, either read it to him, or have him read the lessons out loud to himself.
Do help the child set a schedule for school. Last minute cram sessions to complete assignments are no fun! Also, many correspondence programs come with assignment due dates. Clarify if these are postmark dates, or the day the lessons need to actually arrive at the institution.
Close your eyes and sign the check. We paid $350 for the books needed in two classes. Their resale value after the course was laughable. Only two books could be used again, the others had been replaced with newer editions and our total buy-back check would have been $7.50 – minus postage, of course.
An alternative to buying the books from the correspondence institution is to contact local college bookstores to see if the books you need are available through them, in stock and at what price. Used books are an even better bargain. Make sure the correspondence college will allow this option or if you must buy from them. Some policies are negotiable. Online bookstores might also carry the books you need.
Unbeknownst to us, the college we were working with lost their math teacher. Our assignments were never returned and we were not informed of the situation. There was no communication with the professor, so we were drifting and wondering about the grades, wanting feedback concerning quality of the assignments.
So, we came up with some things to ask the contact person (liaison or professor). If you are considering the correspondence option, you might ask these questions of those in charge:
- How often are assignments returned to the student? (weekly, bimonthly, monthly, at the end of the course)
- If there is a problem, whom do you contact and at which hours?
- Is there a phone number to reach this person, or an e-mail address?
- How soon can you expect a reply?
- What constitutes an "official" delay? Sickness, death in the family, or a doctor's letter? If you need to delay a due date or test, whom do you contact?
- Get everything in writing and document each contact with the date, name of person you spoke with and what was decided. Keep this information in a folder for handy reference.
Sometimes there is a need for a proctor or someone to oversee testing, essays or other official work. We ran into a problem when our proctor was contacted by the Christian College and asked to donate her fee to their "ministry." Since this institution is a for-profit business, our proctor asked if their president worked for free, and declined the donation option.
- You will need to clarify if the proctor needs to be a state-certified teacher, someone in the education field, a (related) parent, church official or just anyone.
- Find out who pays the proctor's fee: do you pay directly, pay the college and they reimburse the proctor or is there a separate check written to the college for this fee.
- Does the college set the fee for the proctor?
- How much is it and does the proctor agree with the amount?
- Ask when the proctor will be paid and follow up with her to verify she has received payment.
Also, query the institution about test sites. Does it need to be a public location, or can it be a school, church, home or anywhere?
- When the college sends you tests, books or assignments, yet they do not arrive on time, whom do you contact?
- Will this person then contact the registrar's office, the teacher and anyone else involved?
- Do any future test or assignment due dates depend on the previous delayed item? Whom do you need to contact to make further arrangements?
- Are there seasonal ebbs and flows? Is the staff off for the summer, not working for the Christmas holidays, on Spring Break? This will affect the return of the assignments. Clarify beforehand.
Typically the beginning of each semester is busy for onsite professors, so your response time from them might be slower. Additionally, summer and Christmas holidays are usually vacation time for the teachers and school. Communicate with the college about these times and plan your schedule accordingly.
When you receive the actual books and assignments, please look through the entire course with your child. While taking a study skills course from a reputable Christian college, we ran across some things that were unacceptable for our standards. The teacher worked with us to change assignments (substituting acceptable videos for the television viewing portions, watching a Christian program rather than regular talk shows, etc.). But, I had not foreseen the horror of the library assignment which asks the student to look at the covers of magazines. It seems harmless, enough, right? Until you read the list of magazines to be viewed: Cosmopolitan, Redbook, McCall's and Esquire. I had sent our early-teens daughter into the library to do her assignment. When she came home, she was troubled. When I asked what was wrong, she told me the blatant sexual content of the magazines, by the titles on the cover. I apologized to her, and we contacted the college. I encouraged them to write their own curriculum for the course, because their reputation was on the line. What you can do:
- Preview assignments for the complete course.
- Ask for alternate assignments, if some are unacceptable. You might not want to leave the alternate choice to the teacher's discretion, but come up with a list of acceptable substitutes to offer.
When we found out that there was no one overseeing the math correspondence courses, we had several choices: wait until the college found another teacher, ask them to have an upper-level student fill in and grade the assignments or request a refund for the course. When you run into a problem, be creative in your solutions. The best plan of action is to stay in communication with your child and the correspondence institution. Sometimes you may become your child's advocate and need to arbitrate reconciliation or future action. Know what your goal is, speak respectfully, get everything in writing, and stand firm.
Mark & Kym Wright have homeschooled since the mid-80s. She is a homeschool speaker and author, www.KymWright.com They have 8 children, having graduated four. Kym pens the "Learn and Do" unit studies. You can visit her website at: www.Learn-and-Do.com. First published in The Mother's Heart magazine, a premium online publication for mothers with hearts in their homes. Visit www.The-Mothers-Heart.com for more information.
List of colleges which have correspondence courses and have worked with homeschoolers:
Exelsior College: 7 Columbia Circle, Albany, NY 12203-5159, Call toll free: 888-647-2388, http://www.regents.edu/
Thomas A. Edison College: 101 W. State St., Trenton, NJ 08608, (609) 984-1100, http://www.tesc.edu/prospective/undergraduate/credit/portfolio.php
Thomas Peterson: http://www.petersons.com/distancelearning/
Bear's Guide to Earning College Degrees Non-Traditionally and College Degrees by Mail by John B. Bear, Ph. D
Barron's Guide to Distance Learning: Degrees, Certificates, Courses by Pat Criscito
Peterson's the Independent Study Catalog by Peterson's.
Kaplan Guide to Distance Learning by Kaplan, et al
College Online: How to Take College Courses Without Leaving Home by James P. Duffy
Campus Free College Degrees by Marcie Kisner Thorson
College Degrees by Mail & Modem 1999: 100 Accredited Schools That Offer Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorates, and Law Degrees by Home Study by John Bear, Mariah Bear
How to Get a College Degree Via the Internet: The Complete Guide to Getting Your Undergraduate or Graduate Degree from the Comfort of Your Home
by Sam Atieh
Get Your Degree Online by Matthew Helm
Complete Book of Distance Learning Schools by Jerry Ice, et al
How to Be a Successful Online Student by Sara Dulaney Gilbert