“My son is taking all his classes for 12th grade at the community college, he will be graduating in May with both his high school diploma from our homeschool and associates degree from our local community college”
-Jayne L., North Carolina homeschooling parent.
Updated for 2021
The topic of today’s post is targeted toward our North Carolina families, but the takeaway isn’t that you should relocate to North Carolina, it’s that in almost every state there are some strategies you can build around the resources you have available to you. I know many non-NC adults who “hacked” their education and earned AA or BA degrees for pennies on the dollar (I’m on that list!) For the motivated, there are a lot of ways to save money, but this post is my deconstruction and then reconstruction of the resources in NC, assembled in a way that maxes out the benefits available to parents.
I like to point out that I volunteer at our county’s library as a college planning expert (for homeschoolers). Eight times per year I give Homeschooling for College Credit presentations, championing the educational benefits available to those in North Carolina . 10 times out of 10, a parent will tell me they had no idea these resources were available to their teen, and that their teen could complete a degree this way instead of earning an academic scholarship, or taking on a lot of student loan debt. Nevermind the opportunity to oversee the process while their teen is still living at home instead of sending them away to college and hoping their college advisors are good stewards of your teen’s time and money.
10 times out of 10, a parent will tell me they had no idea these resources were available
In short, make it your mission to find the programs in your state, and build a ladder that takes advantage of each and every one- then share that ladder with others. The more brainpower we have working the problem, the greater we all benefit!
College costs: Tuition, books, fees, meals, housing, and transportation. No matter what your teen is doing, they have to live somewhere and eat something. Sure, they can do that on campus and in a cafeteria, but my advice is that they live and eat at home. I also like to rent textbooks or buy used editions whenver possible.
You have to plan ahead
Starting in high school, the homeschool parent has the option of bringing college credit into their high school -but since each parent acts as their teen’s guidance counselor, sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know.
- Parents are great at high school planning, but may not understand dual enrollment planning.
- In high school, the Career and College Promise advisor can help you with dual enrollment, but they aren’t great at helping with degree planning.
- In community college, the advisors can help you with your AA/AS degree, but they aren’t great at helping you plan your BA/BS.
- At a 4 year university, the advisors can help you earn your BA/BS, but they can’t go back in time to correct the inefficiencies from 1-2-3-4 years earlier.
There is no ONE PERSON IN THE SYSTEM that can advise for your teen from 10th grade through college graduation. You have to take on the role of guidance counselor – Each employee has their niche, but the only common thread is YOU! No one cares about the efficiency or cost or time or completion of your teen’s college degree more than you. There are a lot of moving parts in the process. BUT, with a bit of planning and adjusting as your teen advances, they’ll get out the other end with a degree.
High School (Grades 9 & 10)
So, first things first, grades 9 & 10 must be academically robust enough that your teen can test into College Algebra and into College Composition. In North Carolina, our high school students all have access to a state-wide dual enrollment program called Career & College Promise. Each of the 58 community colleges has programs (called Pathways) available to your teen, some starting in 9th grade, but most start in 11th grade. To complete the $2000 Bachelor’s degree, your teen needs to start taking courses in their AA Transfer Pathway or AS Transfer Pathway in fall (August) of 11th grade.
What age? In NC, dual enrollment isn’t based on age, it’s based on grade. The homeschool parent gets to decide when their teen is ready for 11th grade.
For teens headed to a 4-year college, taking advantage of the AA Transfer Pathway or the AS Transfer Pathway is a tuition-free way to earn unlimited college credit in high school. (you read that correctly- unlimited) This is the key component of the $2000 Bachelor’s Degree. In NC, students choosing one of the Transfer Pathways must meet placement test benchmarks (this requirement is reportedly being removed for fall 2019). If your teen doesn’t meet the benchmark, they can still take college classes, but they won’t be able to follow the plan in this post.
(Note: if your teen has already taken the PSAT, SAT, Pre-ACT, ACT, Compass, Asset, PLAN, or NCDAP, your teen’s score may already be high enough to meet this benchmark- ask your local community college’s Career & College Promise coordinator for more help.)
High School (Grades 11 & 12)
Grade 11 (FALL) is when your teen must begin their pathway courses. Your teen will have access to 3 semesters as an 11th grader (fall, spring, summer) and 3 more as a 12th grader (fall, spring, summer). A pathway consists of about 30 credits and will fit inside of their associate degree, which will fit inside a bachelor’s degree. Use this for visual reference:
AA Transfer Pathway (30) –> AA Degree (60) –> BA Degree (120)
AS Transfer Pathway (30) –> AS Degree (60) –> BS Degree (120)
No matter which community college you use for Career and College Promise classes, the pathway requirements are set at the state level, so “where” they take their classes doesn’t change the process. Note that your teen is allowed to take pathway classes at any college, it doesn’t have to be your closest campus. And, the entire AA and AS pathway can be completed online as a distance learning student – so they don’t need to go to campus to take their courses!
“We used two different community colleges and almost a third. One had stronger English and math instructors while the other’s strong suit was history and sociology. The third – CPCC – has a phenomenal online program.”
-Yvonne, Homeschooling for College Credit North Carolina Facebook Moderator
An important point when planning your teen’s courses, it is possible to complete the full AA or AS degree in high school, however, your teen can’t take courses “off-pathway” until they’ve done the entire pathway. That means, no matter how much your teen wants to take a second psychology course, they won’t have access to the college catalog until every course on the Transfer Pathway has been “checked off.” The goal is to get off-pathway as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Pathway courses can be completed using community college courses, AP exams for college credit, or CLEP exams for college credit. Not all NC community colleges apply exam credit the same way- shop around!
If you’re aiming for the most efficient schedule, your teen should enroll accordingly:
- FALL 11th GRADE: 12-15 credits (4-5 pathway classes)
- SPRING 11th GRADE: 12-15 credits (4-5 pathway classes)
- SUMMER between 11th/12th GRADE: 3-6 credits (1-2 pathway/degree classes)
- FALL 12th GRADE: 12-15 credits (4-5 degree classes)
- SPRING 12th GRADE: 12-15 credits (4-5 degree classes)
Parents often consider ways to use CLEP or AP exams to either lighten a teen’s course load or accelerate the pathway/degree process. Keep in mind that CLEP and AP exams cost just under $100 each, so there is an added cost to using these, however, the benefit may be worth it to your family in other ways. When CLEP and AP credit is earned inside an AA or AS degree that will be used at an NC public university, the exam credit is locked into the transfer agreement and won’t be thrown out – even if the NC public university doesn’t normally award CLEP / AP credit.
“My son took and passed 7 CLEPs during 9th & 10th grade. The AA pathway consists of 11 courses the student must complete before moving on to other classes, his CLEPs knocked out 6 of those classes. I HIGHLY recommend keeping a spreadsheet to track what your child’s CLEP exams will come in as and what classes they have to complete on the pathway so that you can plan each semester accordingly.”
-NC Homeschooling Parent
If you think 4-5 courses per semester may be too much for your teen, consider enrolling them in the “short” versions of each course. Most courses come in 2 schedule options, 8 weeks or 16 weeks. By using 8-week options, you can “stack” 2 courses into a single time slot.
FALL 11th GRADE
- ENG111 (weeks 1-8) 3 credits –> first half
- ENG 112 (weeks 9-16) 3 credits –> second half
- SOC210 (weeks 1-8) 3 credits –> first half
- PSY150 (weeks 9-16) 3 credits –> second half
- MAT161 (weeks 1-16) 3 credits –> full semester
Observe that this student is taking 15 credits, but at any given time will only be taking 3 classes at a time (English 1, Sociology, and College Algebra) for 8 weeks, and then (English 2, Psychology, and College Algebra) for 8 weeks.
What’s on the AA or AS Pathway?
Off Pathway- On Degree
At some point in the 11th or 12th grade school year, your teen will be eligible to go “off-pathway” and start checking boxes toward their associate’s degree. It’s important for me to emphasize that even if your teen can’t finish their entire associate’s degree in high school, that they keep plugging away and finish their degree before matriculating into their target university. In order to get that “transfer guarantee” offered by our state, your teen must complete the full degree. Even just one credit short means that their target university will evaluate each and every class, AP, and CLEP exam- which could mean credit being lost in the transfer. You don’t want that! This whole plan is based on the protected right we have to get a full and perfect transfer.
While working a degree plan, the community college advising team should be included in course selection and guidance with your teen. You’ll want to be sure that each course brings your teen one step closer to their degree, and that there are no missteps. Double check that your teen is following the correct degree plan: AA or AS TRANSFER DEGREE. Degrees with other titles (Associate of Applied Science, Associate Degree in Nursing, etc.) can transfer too, but the planning is not as cut and dry as AA/AS, and the nuances of planning go beyond the scope of today’s post. If your teen is pursuing anything other than an AA or AS, they need to check in with their college advisor each and every semester before choosing classes.
High School and College Graduation
If you worked the plan, your teen will be ready for their high school diploma (issued by you) and will walk across their community college stage to receive their associate’s degree. Double win!
The entire process of exiting a community college with an AA/AS degree and transferring into a public university is HEAVILY REGULATED and standardized by our state. It’s called our Comprehensive Articulation Agreement, and the contents are public information. This is a huge advantage because you can learn everything there is to know about the process- just like an academic advisor. In fact, traditional high school guidance counselors do not advise students on coordinating high school and college graduation simultaneously – it’s beyond their scope of practice.
Don’t be surprised if you encounter the occasional College Admissions Representative who doesn’t know or understand the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement policy as well as you do. What you’re planning to do is extraordinary.
Tuition Cost for AA / AS Degree: $0
Onward to the Bachelor’s Degree
To take full advantage of what NC has to offer, you’ll want to tap into their newest program that went into effect FALL 2018 called North Carolina Promise Program. The Promise Program has selected 3 colleges in NC that will allow your teen to enroll for a tuition cost of $500 per semester. This means, your teen can complete their last 2 years of college (4 semesters) for only $2000. Note that even if your teen doesn’t choose a Promise school, their AA / AS degree is still a guaranteed perfect transfer- but you’ll pay tuition at the rack rate.
You should budget in costs of textbooks (renting or buying used is often a big cost saving) as well as fees. Most colleges have hidden fees or insurance costs. You can find these out in advance, and use them as you calculate costs. EVERY COLLEGE DIFFERS in their fees, so be sure to check all three.
Through NC Promise, the state will significantly reduce student tuition cost at three UNC system institutions – Elizabeth City State University, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Western Carolina University – beginning in Fall 2018. The plan will increase educational access, reduce student debt and grow the state’s economy. -NC Promise
To keep costs to a bare minimum, you’ll have to address housing. If you’re fortunate enough to live within commuting distance (Pembroke, Elizabeth City, or Cullowhee) you can avoid the cost of student housing (between $2,000-$4,000 per semester!) by keeping your teen at home. For two years of housing, this impacts your overall budget by $8,000 – $16,000! Add in meals, and the “housing question” is no small decision.
What if you don’t live near one of the 3 campuses? 2 of the colleges (UNC-P and WCU) offer a selection of degrees that can be completed as a distance learning student! Of the three, WCU offers the most online programs, UNCP is a close second, and ECSU offers next to no distance programs. While not “every” major could (or should) be completed as a distance learner, but some of the degrees are offered both ways- so distance learning allows your teen to live at home, avoid transportation costs, and save travel time to and from campus.
What about the stigma? Distance learning is now mainstream! In 2018, the US Department of Education reported that 98% of all public colleges and universities offered distance learning courses, and in almost every case, no distinction is made on the transcript or degree- in other words, the degree from either of those three state schools is identical whether earned online or on campus. (EDIT to add: in 2020 due to COVID, even colleges that didn’t offer distance learning were left with no choice. Now as we slowly return to normal, most colleges are keeping some version of remote or distance learning as an option for students. In other words, the “stigma” has never been lower!!)
What about fees or other costs? All colleges add in fees, the million dollar questions are “what kind of fees- and how much are they?” Some fees you can control, for instance, a parking pass isn’t required if you’re not attending classes on campus, at Western Carolina University that saves you $350 per year. Elizabeth State also has an $80 laundry fee you won’t have to worry about, but bouncing a check will cost you no less than $25 at each school, and if your teen doesn’t have health insurance through a parent, you’ll pay another $2,000 per year for mandatory coverage.
Fees that you should expect no matter which learning option you choose includes:
- Technology Fees ( about $300/year)
- Activity Fees (about $600/year)
- Books (about $1,000-$2,000 per year)
Note that fees for residential (staying on campus) students and distance learning (not staying on campus) students are usually different. Be sure you’re looking at the correct classification.
Distance Learning Bachelor’s Degrees at NC Promise Schools (2019)
- Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC (Link to all WCU degree options)
- Birth-Kindergarten Teacher
- Business Administration
- Criminal Justice
- Emergency Medical Care
- Emergency and Disaster Management
- Engineering Technology (Off-site/Hybrid Program)
- Innovation Leadership and Entrepreneurship
- RN to BSN (Nursing)
- The University of North Carolina, Pembroke, NC (Link to UNC-P online degree options)
- Criminal Justice
- Interdisciplinary Studies (Applied Professional Studies, Applied Information Technology, Criminal Justice, or Public and Non-Profit Administration)
- Business Administration (Finance, Management, or Marketing.)
- Elizabeth State University, Elizabeth City, NC (Link to ECSU distance learning info)
Elizabeth State didn’t offer entire degree programs via distance learning when this post first appeared in 2019 but they do now!
- Criminal Justice
- Business Administration
- Homeland Security
- Interdisciplinary Studies
Tuition Cost for AA / AS Degree in high school: $0
Tuition Cost for BA / BS Degree: $500 /term x 4
BA / BS Tuition Total: $2,000
If you’re homeschooling for college credit and live in North Carolina, you’ll want to get the inside scoop by joining our NC HS4CC Facebook group! Readers from other areas of the country can find their state’s Facebook group here.
In closing, even if you don’t take advantage of the new Promise program, every homeschooling teen in NC can take advantage of the AA/AS option. More encouragement from the North Carolina Homeschooling for College Credit Facebook group:
“My daughter graduated in 2016 with her AA, she transferred to UNCC, moved into her major after taking 2 classes that were needed for it over the summer, and will be graduating with her BS in May ’18 and early admitted to a master’s program and will be graduating that May ’19.”
–Denise W., NC homeschooling parent
“My daughter transferred to Chapel Hill with her associates in liberal studies. She does have to take three semesters of foreign language and one life fitness class as part of the general requirements to graduate from Chapel Hill, but her Associates fulfilled the rest of the requirements for general ed and she is on track to graduate in two years.”
– Jennifer Brauns Anthony, NC homeschooling parent
“Western was great on transferring my daughters credits even before she committed to attend (which she did not) and if you had a AA or AS completed you were automatically in as a junior”
-Jackie P., NC homeschooling parent