Record: Mary Beth Bolle-Brummond and Roger D. Wessel, “Homeschooled Students in College: Background Influences, College Integration, and Environmental Pull Factors” in Journal of Research in Education 22, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 223-249 [Available here]
Summary: The article before us today is a longitudinal follow up to a 2007 article published by the same authors plus T. M Mulvihill in the Journal of College Student Development. The earlier article had found that homeschooled students experienced transition to college in ways that were not very different than what conventionally-schooled students experienced. The original study drew on data from 2005.
The authors returned to the same students in 2010 to track their progress. They wanted to know if homeschooling had produced any kind of difference in subsequent college experience from their peers. Specifically they wondered if homeschooled students experienced the same three-stage process of adaptation to college that Vincent Tinto had found to be true of students generally. Tinto’s model stresses both academic and social integration as necessary for successful college completion.
Bolle-Brummond and Wessel begin with a brief review of the literature both of academic performance and social integration of college students who were homeschooled. In both domains homeschoolers have on the whole done just fine. Most of the literature, however, does not follow these students through graduation. That’s what this follow-up study is for.
The 2007 article reported on a qualitative study of six students. For this follow-up they secured participation from five of the original sample–three women and two men, all of whom had been homeschooled through high school. After conducting lengthy semi-structured interviews and coding the results, the authors present the following summaries of each student (names are pseudonyms):
1. Rebecca, eldest of 12 children from what she called “a religious and sheltered background,” (p.231) questioned her parents’ values and experienced profound personal transformation in college. She completed her bachelor’s degree in three years and was at the time of the follow-up study working on a master’s degree in history.
2. John, who came from a working class background, dropped out of college after three semesters for financial reasons. His grades were poor his final two semesters.
3. Eva, whose parents had both attended the same university, became heavily involved in the Campus Crusade for Christ organization and a professional business fraternity. She graduated in 4.5 years with a double major in marketing and hospitality.
4. Jeff, who had joined a social fraternity his freshman year, continued to enjoy the social aspect of college and graduated in four years with a degree in architecture.
5. Sidney, who married young and had a baby at the end of her first semester in college, failed her first two semesters of college and withdrew during her third. She joined the military for a short while and then began attending a local proprietary school that offered more career-oriented training.
As is clear from the summaries above, homeschooling itself had little to do with the success or failure of these students in college. The two who struggled did so more because of social class barriers and the challenge of raising a child and working while also being a full time student than because of the type of secondary schooling they had. Likewise for the success stories. These five students’ experiences did corroborate Tinto’s theory in that those who graduated integrated well into university life both academically and socially, and those who failed to graduate struggled both academically and socially. John’s experience perhaps comes closest to positing a connection between homeschooling and college success in that he blamed his homeschooling for “challenges in learning how to meet people and socialize,” (233) but as the three success stories suggest, this may say more about John and/or his family than about homeschooling as such.
By far the most interesting of the five students to read about is Rebecca, for whom college was a revelation. She clearly exemplifies the tendency described by Elias Dinas for children raised in extremely partisan households to rebel against their upbringing once they enter college or the workplace. Of the five she most closely resembles the stereotypical homeschooler–conservative, plain, from a large religious family. But by the end of college she had been transformed. She got “into shape,” started wearing makeup and nicer clothes (p. 237), and developed “new beliefs and values.” (p. 239) These developments caused quite a bit of tension with her family. As Bolle-Brummond and Wessel explain,
Rebecca indicated that her time home, during the summer between her second and third college years, was very difficult and that she felt attacked by her family…. Because of the deterioration of her relationship with her parents, Rebecca did not go home the summer after her third year in college. She took on all of her living and school expenses and provided for herself. (p. 239)
Bolle-Brummond and Wessel conclude that overall the experiences of these homeschooled students “were similar to those encountered by traditional students.” (p. 243) The two students who withdrew did so because of outside factors like financial constraints and the conflicting demands of motherhood and work, not because of any failing of their homeschooling. The student whose homeschooling most marked her as different, though she had to go through an emotionally wrenching separation, performed superlatively in college and seems poised for a very successful future. Homeschooled college students, in short, are “normal college students.” (p. 247)
Appraisal: As we have said so many times before in these reviews, a qualitative study of five students at one university does not yield generalizable results for all homeschoolers. But as study after study of this nature (to read about many of them click on the College/Postsecondary category on the right side of this page) has continued to find basically the same thing, I think the generalization with which Bolle-Brummond and Wessel end, that homeschoolers are just normal college students, is merited. The experiences of the two students who dropped out remind us that homeschooling does not magically turn working-class kids into academic geniuses. And the experience of Rebecca reminds us that even the most assiduous efforts by parents to inculcate conservative religious principles do not always work once children leave home. But in terms of academic and social adjustment in college, homeschooling just isn’t a very significant variable.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College