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HS4CC Chapter 3

Over the next few months, I’m going to so something I’ve never done before! I’m going to pull excerpts from Homeschooling for College Credit second edition and share them here!  I have several favorite sections that I refer to time and again, and I am thrilled to share them with you. Today’s section is from Chapter 3: Behind the Scenes

Colleges Don’t Like Parents

I know many of you won’t believe me, or at the very least assume this can’t be the case with all colleges, but that defensiveness will only compound your frustration through the very complex process you’re about to undertake. Understanding your place in the food chain will help you know which battles you’ll likely win, and which ones you’re likely to lose – because unlike most parents, it’s not their first time.

Colleges are used to dealing with adult students (over 18), and the rise of dual enrollment programs (minors under 18) has created an interesting dynamic where one didn’t exist in the past. Homeschooling parents of minors are (rightfully) directing a process that they would normally be excluded from if their teen were a high school graduate. It never occurs to parents that they should or could be excluded from any decision making. Parents take offense to the very notion that they can’t access their student (child’s) transcript, email the advisor, ask about CLEP tests, check on textbooks, or find out if a certain course will contain adult content. Believe me that this is a big change for higher education which is used to none of the previous meddlings. In the past, incoming freshman handled everything – end of story.  Now, those expectations are being placed on students as young as 14. Let’s unpack the relationships that make up this process, and hopefully, you’ll learn some tips to keep it running smoothly.
Your teen will be classified by the type of student they are, not their age or grade. Before your teen is enrolled, they’re a prospective student, which is a different category than the enrolled student. Furthermore, if your teen is in high school and will take college classes while still in high school, they are a dual-enrolled student (name may vary by state), but that’s a different category too. While your teen is a prospective student, you’ll get the most cooperation. At that phase, you’re still a potential customer. The employees you’ll interact with will be the college’s sales force. You’ll be invited on tours, sometimes even flattered with souvenirs and luncheons. Parents of prospective students are expected to be part of the picture, and your questions will be answered with enthusiasm and charm. Unfortunately, the sales force isn’t a valuable resource regarding financial or academic guidance. They are, however, excellent at introducing you to the activities, clubs, facilities, and other amenities your child will enjoy while enrolled there. I think most parents are aware that they’re being wooed by the college on these tours or seminars. I don’t think it’s emphasized that it’s also the sales force that picks up the phone when you call or email a college’s main phone line. General questions from prospective students almost never land on the desk you really want to hear from. In fact, unless or until your teen is an enrolled student, they’ll probably not meet an advisor or registrar (decision-makers). Often, we assume that the person we’re talking to is speaking with authority, but sometimes it might even be a temporary work-study student
answering phones.

While your teen is a prospective student, always email the college instead of calling if possible. In your email, identify yourself as a parent, and identify your teen as prospective dual enrollment or degree-seeking student (whichever is the case) and ask them to help you find the answer. This is different from asking them to give you the answer because what you’re really looking for is a link to a written policy or page in the catalog that gives you the facts that inform their answer. In other words, the person answering your email almost never has the autonomy to decide a CLEP exam will be accepted, simply, there is most certainly a written policy that is in place for that academic year. They’ll refer to that policy when they answer your question (or at least, they should). If you can get a link to the policy, you can cut out the middleman entirely, and check a lot of this out for yourself. Sometimes you’ll get a very vague reply (“we consider all previous college credit that is equal in scope and rigor to those of our university. Once you’ve enrolled, we will evaluate your prior educational experiences and determine if they merit transfer credit”) which is an eloquent brush-off. If this happens, ask again, push for an answer that helps you locate the written policy so you can do your own research. It is more likely that the person answering your email can’t quickly find the answer, doesn’t know the answer, or doesn’t know who to ask. In short, they hope you’ll drop it. Don’t. Be aware that while your investigation will be tolerated, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get any significant attention from one of the decision-makers. They’re busy with enrolled students.

On the extreme opposite side, if you do start to get a lot of attention (dozens of emails, daily phone calls, and gifts in your mailbox), you’re probably dealing with a college’s aggressive sales team. Be aware that the government is cracking down on what they call “predatory” recruitment. If you’re the unlucky recipient of this kind of attention, it should give you pause. Unlike legitimate colleges that tend to project an air of exclusivity, unethical, and predatory colleges project a sense of urgency. Once your teen is an enrolled student or dual-enrolled student, you’ll be shut out entirely. This protection of your teen’s personal information is courtesy of FERPA. FERPA is the educational equivalent to our health privacy protection known as HIPPA. FERPA intends to prevent your teen’s personal information from being shared with outside parties; which is a good thing. The issue here is that “outside parties” include parents! FERPA protection extends to almost all schools (there are a few exceptions) and has stunned the college system into silence. As such, your dual-enrolled student’s grades and financial information is confidential. You can’t email teachers or advisors, and you certainly can’t get them to take your meeting. Many parents are pretty upset to find that they may be expected to pay a bill they don’t even have a right to see!

For families of dual-enrolled teens, go with your teen to your college’s dual enrollment coordinator and ask them to provide you with a FERPA waiver. Intuitive colleges offer this up as a matter of practice, but you’ll probably have to ask for it. This waiver grants you (or anyone specified) access to records, grades, and financial information. In most cases, if you contact the college, you’ll need to tell them that your teen has a FERPA waiver on file. They’ll likely have to confirm this before communicating with you. Be aware that college employees can be fired for violating FERPA (talking to you about your child), so this is taken very seriously. Without a waiver on file, you’ll get nowhere.
One final mention of student status. Once your teen finishes their high school diploma, the college will usually require an additional paperwork process, even if they stay at the same school. This is to formally change them from dual-enrolled status to degree-seeking enrolled student status. In most cases, this will be painless, however, be aware that you may end up getting a new advisor in the process. One added benefit of this reclassification is that your teen will now be eligible for financial aid.


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Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit