Ever since they were babies, the thought of affording a college education for my children has been a daunting one. When Calvin was born I dutifully opened a little savings account for him to start saving for college. But when my husband started his own business, all of our financial efforts went towards getting the business off of the ground and just surviving. By the time we had five kids and were half way through our homeschool journey, we were more of the philosophy that we would prepare them for college as best we could, but that they were going to have to find ways to pay for college by themselves.
This is not a totally foreign idea in my family. When my mom went to college back in the 50s, she did a work study program by serving meals in the dining hall. In her senior year, to make ends meet, she gave up piano lessons and redoubled her work-study efforts. My grandfather also planted a big field of soy beans with the intent of applying the entire profit from that crop towards my mom's tuition. With the hard work and sacrifice by mom and her parents, she was able to graduate and even get a master's degree without any debt!
But I doubt a field of soybeans would be enough these days to pay for even a semester of college. I knew that we were going to have to be very creative in findings ways to get a college education for the kids.
In this part of the country, post-secondary education is very popular. It basically means that while a high school student is attending school, if s/he is eligible, s/he can also take classes at a local university for high school and college credit at no cost to the family. And I have to say that many of my friends and acquaintances have taken advantage of the idea by either enrolling their kids in the local public or private schools, or putting them in online charter schools, or even becoming little private schools themselves so that they could access the funding. I know that has worked well for many families.
But I had some misgivings. For one thing, I wanted to start reaping the benefits of all those years of home education. I taught them to read - now I wanted to share the classes with them! I catechized them - now I wanted to have the deep theological/philosophical discussions. I wanted to further cement and instill the Catholic lifestyle into their DNA before they went out into the world.
Also, I had had some experience with a child being out into the world while in high school. My oldest child participated on a public school swim team and attended a public charter school during high school. He also worked a part time job. While I am very proud of my son and the work he is doing as an EMT, my heart is saddened as he spends the early part of his 20s wading in the same lukewarm waters of bland Christianity that we did at his age. I had hoped to spare him that, but at this point he is not even looking for a life jacket!
So determined not to repeat that mistake again, my second son Sam has been homeschooled exclusively through high school. The last thing I wanted to do was immerse him in the liberal/secular culture that is the contemporary college campus!
Obtaining college credits on a campus didn't seem to be an option for our son at just 17, but when I learned about CLEP tests, I thought that might be the answer. CLEP Tests are administered by the college board, the same folks who administer the ACT tests. From the CLEP website:
The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) gives you the opportunity to receive college credit for what you already know by earning qualifying scores on any of 33 examinations. Earn credit for knowledge you've acquired through independent study, prior course work, on-the-job training, professional development, cultural pursuits, or internships.This sounded perfect to me! I was always the type of student who loved to dive into books and learn a subject by myself and I always did well on tests. So in the fall of 2008, Sam and I started to study for the American History I CLEP test. My thought was that we would study until January and then take the test and then we could move on to Science. But Sam didn't like to study alone and I didn't have the time to always study with him. He had a hard time remembering all of the facts and the many dates. January came and went and we ended up having Sam sit for the test in the spring, only to have him miss passing by just a few points. It was discouraging.
Then last summer at the homeschool convention, I ran into the College Plus booth. They offered study skills nd techniques as well as one-on-one coaching and a system to help students prepare for the CLEP exams and be successful in passing them. I took Sam to their booth and had him talk to the representatives. We also found Sam's former soccer coach at the both; his son was already a College Plus student! After talking it over we felt that College Plus would provide the motivation, encouragement and techniques for Sam to be successful at passing the CLEP tests. After some more family discussion and prayer, we signed him up.
We are just at the beginning of our College Plus adventure. Sam spoke with his College Plus coach last week and already has assignments to complete. He is working on his Life Purpose book and also taking some courses on Speed Reading and Study Skills. We are also getting ready to start studying his first CLEP test. If Sam is successful with this program, he should be able to obtain his accredited degree by the time he turns 20, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional 4-year degree.
This may not be the answer for every family. It might not even be the answer for all of my children. But right now we are very excited at the start of our College Plus adventure and feel that this is a great opportunity for children.