This post reviews Molly H. Duggan, “Are Community Colleges ‘Home-School Friendly?’: An Exploration of Community College Web Sites as an Indicator of ‘Friendliness’” in Community College Journal of Research and Practice 34: 55-63 (2010).
Duggan, whose earlier work on community colleges and homeschooling I reviewed here, this time asks what community colleges are doing, if anything, to recruit homeschooled students. It is important to note at the outset that the intended audience for this piece is community college administrators and policy makers. After a brief orientation to homeschooling, Duggan begins by pointing out some of the unique challenges of tapping into the homeschooled population. These students “often lack access to precollege counseling” and hence rely heavily on college Web sites for information about schools in which they’re interested. It is the college website, therefore, that is the best recruitment tool to attract homeschoolers.
Duggan’s next move is to lay out what a homeschool-friendly college looks like. She relies here on HSLDA’s Recommended College Admissions Policies, noting that while HSLDA has approved 629 U.S. institutions of higher education as “home-school friendly,” only 5 of these approved institutions are community colleges. [Note: HSLDA has taken down this list of institutions since Duggan's article was written since nearly all U.S. colleges are now "home-school friendly." Thanks to Darren Jones for providing me with this information!]
Duggan wanted to find out the degree to which community college websites were “home-school friendly” as HSLDA defines it. To do so she created a matrix and used it to analyze 105 community college websites in an 11-state accreditation region for homeschool friendliness. Her matrix was crafted from HSLDA’s recommendations combined with other research that has led to a consensus on best practices for college websites. I won’t go into the details of her criteria here, but they seemed pretty complete and sensible to me.
Here’s what she found. 65% of community college websites have nothing at all on their sites especially for homeschooled applicants (what she calls a “home school persona”). Of the 45% of sites that do have resources for homeschoolers, it takes on average about 3 clicks to get to the stuff homeschoolers need to know, which is too many according to researchers. She recommends that community college websites provide on the main page a “doorway” link to homeschooling information just as they do for transfer, new, and returning students (only 35% of the sites in her study have any sort of homeschooler doorway, or “landing page”).
A second issue she addresses are the specific admissions policies for homeschoolers on these websites. Basically, there’s no institutional standard. Some colleges require college placement tests. Some require a special application to be reviewed individually by an admissions officer. Some advise homeschoolers to get at GED. Some require some kind of accredited transcript from a legitimate source. Regardless of the policy, many websites make it very difficult to even find this information at all.
Duggan also notes that homeschooling parents are often very involved in the college selection process, so community colleges would do well to create a page for parents as well. Homeschoolers are also often interested in taking classes before they’re 18 years old, and policies for underage applicants not only vary widely by state but are hard to access on many sites. Many sites don’t have any information about underage applicants at all.
Some homeschoolers, not being familiar with the bureaucratic style of formal schools, might need help with matters that most Americans would understand as a matter of course. Duggan recommends some sort of real-time support or at least a FAQ section that might help novices better understand the basics of how community colleges work and how to apply to them.
Finally, Duggan offers non-website advice for marketing to homeschoolers. Youtube-type videos explaining the school might reach them, as might taking the time to get one’s college registered on HSLDA’s friendly institution list [which, as noted above, no longer exists]. The bottom line, though, is that the best way to reach out to the media-savvy homeschooled population is to design a website that meets its needs for accessible and complete information and to craft sensible, “home-school friendly” admissions policies.
The research base for this article is not fancy, but it gets the job done. Duggan here has put together a thoughtful and reliable primer with lots of good common-sense advice to community college staff on how to better attract homeschooled students. In her previous work she noted that community colleges lag behind four year institutions in crafting deliberate and coherent admissions policies for homeschoolers. Here she extends that claim to these instiutions’ websites as well (though she doesn’t actually investigate whether four year institutions’ websites are any better). If community colleges wish to attract the growing population of homeschooled students, who by all measures are performing at least as well as their traditionally-schooled peers, they would do well to heed Duggan’s counsel in this piece.