Unplugging to Reconnect: Homesteading and the Kids’ Higher Education, Part 2

Reader Contribution by John Atwell

Homeschool Field Trip to a Hawaiian Temple 

More than a decade ago, starting around 2004, my wife and I noticed the beginning of two trends in general interest, layman literature when the topic of higher education in the Union was addressed. Now, I’m not talking about esoteric publications; The Atlantic Monthly, Money magazine, U.S. News and World Report were just some of the publications in which we saw this.

Studies Backed by Real-Life, Personal Examples

The first trend was increasing numbers of solid high school graduates choosing to attend community colleges that have feeder programs to universities in an effort to knock out basic requirements (think English 101) before entering a baccalaureate program.

Why? Three reasons. The credits, fully transferable to universities and later applicable to four-year degrees, come at a deep per-credit-hour discount compared to the same courses taught in university settings. The courses are often held in settings that are more favorable to learning–better student to teacher ratios than large university classrooms and full fledged professors, not grad students, providing instruction. Finally, students can attend classes while still living at home–no costly dorm expenses or meal plans or plane tickets.  

This made a tremendous amount of sense to us and, when we reflected on this phenomenon, we realized that we both had real life, first hand data that supported the merit of such an approach.

First, looking back at our years at solidly ranked and costly institutions (Duke and University of Virginia), we realized that we knew or had heard of students around us who had transferred in after knocking out requirements at less costly colleges, to include the community variety; this was back in the 90’s. These kids emerged with the same degrees as us at a fraction of the cost. It was a higher education strategy enjoyed by many successful people years before it started becoming more acceptable, if not popular.

We also knew all too well from personal experience that basic courses in a university setting could easily have 100 students, that courses were often taught by graduate students in the relevant department (often foreign and sometimes heavily, almost imperceptibly, accented in their English), and that — in some disciplines — the professors were so focused on research and publishing that it ate into the quality of the instruction in basic undergraduate courses. Not so in the community college setting.

Finally, in the past decade, we witnessed the advancement and formalization of such a feeder program in the fast-paced high-society suburbs of the nation’s capital – where we grew up – and we learned that more and more accomplished students were taking this path.

More specifically, I am speaking of the Northern Virginia Community College and its feeder program into my alma mater (UVA), William and Mary (from where Thomas Jefferson graduated), George Mason University, James Madison University, Virginia Tech, and other fine institutions of learning in the Commonwealth.

First hand data?  With the entry into her college chapter of life this Fall semester, our eldest began her freshman year at Hawaii Community College and its feeder program into the University of Hawaii. Her community college credits, for required courses like Writing 101, cost one half of the price of the same course taught through the University, although the instruction often takes place on the University campus. There are only between 10 and 30 students in her freshman-level classes, and grad student teachers are unheard of.

She packs breakfast and lunch and gets all the free coffee she needs from dad’s stash, and we do not charge her rent or dorm fees. (Yes, she still hits the school’s cafeteria and snack bars and gets rides on occasion with class mates, like any other student, and she participates in “normal” college life — she just joined the women’s rugby team, guys (upstanding young gentlemen with noble intentions, no doubt) are buying her coffee, and she is getting invites to parties.)

Click here to read Part 1.

John Atwell and his family’s journey into sustainable living, organic food, and homesteading began while living in the San Francisco Bay area some seven years ago. Their current grand life experiment — detaching from a fast-paced, conventional, urban lifestyle to establish a sustainable, organic homestead, homeschool their kids, and become more involved in community and church — began in earnest in early 2014. Find them online at Sojourner Chronicle and read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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