WASHINGTON – When it came time for Mike Somerville to choose a college, the Derwood teen wasn’t itching to go away the way many high school seniors do.
Somerville, who had been home schooled all of his life, chose nearby Montgomery College, largely because it offered him a complete two-year scholarship and it was conveniently close to home.
But he also weighed the fact that, at the time, he was two years younger than the average 18-year-old college freshman and “wanted to ease the transition” from being home schooled to going straight into college.
“It was a factor,” said Somerville, now 18. “It’s intimidating no matter how mature you are.”
Somerville is one of a growing number of home-schooled students choosing to attend community colleges across the state: Officials at all but one of Maryland’s 16 community colleges said they have seen a steady increase in home- schooled students on their campuses.
“The trend is on the rise,” said Patricia Schroeder, director of admissions at College of Southern Maryland. “We expect the population (of home schoolers) to continue to grow.”
While few colleges could cite hard numbers, most admissions counselors said they have definitely spotted a trend and some hope to track those students.
“Over the last five years we’ve certainly seen an increase . . . we’ve recently begun trying to track home schoolers, ” said Sandra Rajaski, the admissions director at Cecil Community College.
Because they do not require prospective students to “jump through as many hoops,” community college officials say their schools present a friendlier face to home-schooled students than four-year institutions.
Home schoolers agree.
Nora Jansen of Gaithersburg, who was home schooled for most of her life, said attending community college was a “no brainer.” She started out at Montgomery College while still in “high school,” earning 22 college credits before she enrolled there full-time and getting a leg up on graduation.
“Also, I just wasn’t ready to move away from home,” said Jansen, 20. “It was cheaper, close to home and it did what I needed.”
Maryland community colleges generally require students to be at least 16 to enroll in classes, but they may make exceptions if students can pass an entrance exam, said Kay Bienen, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.
Rajaski said that educators often find that “with home-schooled students, they’re taking classes under the age of 16.” School officials around the state said they have been seeing younger home schoolers — some as young as 12 — enrolling in college courses while they are completing their high school educations at home.
The “open-access policy” at community colleges, which lets students without a high school education attend classes part-time, provides a friendly environment for home schoolers, who have cited flexibility as a top priority when it comes to education.
The boom of home schoolers at community colleges comes as the growth in the overall number of home schoolers in the state has slowed. The state Department of Education reported recently that the number of home schoolers grew 9.4 percent last year, to 17,122, considerably slower than the 29.6 percent increase in home schoolers between 1996-97 and 1997-98.
Traditional educators often have concerns about the quality of education home schoolers are getting — or, more typically, the quality of education that untrained parents are able to give. Maryland only requires parents to show a portfolio of their child’s work twice a year, while some other states like New York have more stringent rules.
“My view is that most of them (home schoolers) do a fairly good job,” said Ron Gregory, the home-school liaison for Baltimore City schools. “But there are a small number that don’t do well.”
Gregory said he orders about 100 Baltimore home-schooled children back to public school in a typical year, because their portfolios are not up to par. Last year, he said, he reported about 150 such students.
But officials at community colleges say the home-schooled students they see “are the cream of the crop.”
“They’ve been above average, responsible and well-organized,” said Diane Gantz-Scheper, the faculty coordinator for the Montgomery Scholars Program at Montgomery College.