A generation ago, educational paths were predictable: students graduated with a high school diploma, then attended a university or trade school immediately. Today’s homeschool students are not so typical; besides redefining secondary education, they are also questioning the need for higher education.

Even here at Home School Enrichment, we often debate the pros and cons of college for today’s homeschool graduates. I attended Bible college for two years but did not finish my degree before leaving to marry and start a family. My oldest son celebrated his homeschool graduation last spring and left for a private Christian university. Our senior editor Jonathan Lewis, on the other hand, chose to pursue entrepreneurial experience instead of classroom training. What’s the right choice? We decided to let you in on our discussion.

Lea Ann: Why do you think the issue of college education has become controversial amongst homeschoolers in the last few years?

Jonathan: I think there are two main reasons. First, homeschoolers are an independent bunch. We’ve already forged our own path by choosing to teach our kids at home in the first place, so that independent, we-don’t-need-the-system mind-set can easily transition to the college years as well. Second, I think a lot of moms and dads in my parents’ generation recognized that sending an eighteen-year-old student off to live on their own—particularly at a secular university—was an open invitation for spiritual or moral disaster. (I’m not saying it has to be, just that it has been in many cases.) Combine all of that with the high cost of college, and you’ve got a lot of motivation to explore alternatives. But the question then is, have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater? Have we gone too far in embracing alternatives, and have some of our students suffered for it? I think those are questions we need to be looking at.

Lea Ann: That’s a valid concern. We all bemoan the lack of character in the political arena, the rampant humanism in the sciences, and the decline of higher education in our country, but are we preparing our own students to be the solution? I worry that if we don’t prepare our students for higher learning, we become part of the problem instead of the salt and light we need to be. Yes, we need godly entrepreneurs and craftsmen and stay-at-home moms, and many ministries are ripe for godly adults right out of high school. But there’s a wide field of careers and ministries that require more education, too. I’d love to see more homeschoolers and Christians stepping into that gap.

I am somewhat concerned, too, by the oversimplification of homeschooling in the past decade. When you and I were students, there was a huge push to excel academically, to prove that homeschoolers were as good or better than those educated in institutions. Now that homeschooling is legal everywhere, it seems like the trend is the opposite. Parents are asking how little they can do and how easy they can make the assignments. My daughter was bemoaning her friends that get an automatic 4.0 on their transcripts no matter how much or little they study (while she is spending hours trying to master her science course for a B). Are we robbing our students of the opportunity to dig deeper and go further? And in the end, how will that affect their opportunities or ministry as adults?

Jonathan: There’s no doubt that we as homeschoolers still need to pursue academic excellence whether our children plan to attend college or not (or if they’re still unsure about that). The question of college specifically, however, can be a complicated one. There are a lot of factors involved, and I’m certainly not in a position to prescribe the right answer for every family or student.

My own views on college have evolved over the years. At one time during my teen years I intended to go to a traditional college and pursue a law degree. But before that could happen, my brother and I started a business, and then eventually we teamed up with our parents to start Home School Enrichment Magazine. That was in late 2002 when I was nineteen years old. For a period of time I was a fairly hardcore proponent of nontraditional approaches to the post-high school years, but more recently I’ve been rethinking that. I’m still not in the “all students should definitely go to college” camp, but I’m certainly more open-minded about it than I once was.

Lea Ann: And I’m softening my own stance too. My oldest son is pursuing a math degree at a large Christian university, and my teen daughter expects to move away to pursue a Christian liberal arts degree. But with my other children, I can definitely see the Lord developing different interests and talents that may not lead to traditional higher education.

So the questions for homeschool parents, ultimately, are how do we know what’s right for our student and even how do I prepare my student if I don’t know his future? What do you say to them, Jonathan?

Jonathan: I would say a few things. First, God tells us not to boast about the future—we don’t know what tomorrow or next year holds for us or our students. So that means we can have hopes, dreams, and desires, but we need to leave those things in God’s hands and not hold on to them too tightly. We need to be willing to let God change our plans.

The second thing I would say is, be careful about being too dogmatic in this area of higher education. Be careful about having an attitude that says “My child will never go to college” on the one hand, or “My child absolutely must go to college” on the other hand. There may be biblical principles that apply to this decision, but ultimately there’s no biblical directive here. We don’t need to make it into an issue where there’s one universal right or wrong answer, because there’s not.

Third (and this is something you’ve mentioned in our conversations, Lea Ann), I think it’s wise to avoid limiting your children’s options by failing to prepare them. Find out what basic college requirements are, and aim to prepare your students academically on at least an entry-level basis. If they decide to go to college, they’ll be ready. If not, that’s fine—a few extra high school courses probably won’t have hurt them!

I think we also need to realize that we need to remain flexible, because we don’t know what the world of higher education is going to look like in the future. I have no idea what college will look like in fourteen years when my oldest son is ready to make a decision. Technology is going to continue disrupting the status quo, and the rapidly rising cost of college is going to have an impact as well. I was reading an article just the other day about how Georgetown University—a top-25 school—is trying to reimagine what a typical degree looks like. Something they’re looking at is combining a liberal arts bachelor’s degree with a vocational master’s degree, which a student could still earn in four years. We may see new, creative alternatives cropping up as various industries adapt to the changing needs of the workplace. And so those of us with young children will need to stay abreast of the trends as time passes so we can be aware of the options and prepare accordingly.

As to how we know the right choice for our children: counsel, evaluating the options, looking at the trajectory of our child’s life in terms of strengths, interests, etc., and then prayerfully helping our child arrive at a decision. I know that’s fairly open-ended, but I don’t think it’s possible to get more specific than that. Ultimately, it’s like any other major decision where the Bible doesn’t provide a universally right answer: we have to seek God and understand His will on an individual basis.

Lea Ann: Those are such great principles for all of us to remember, Jonathan. It’s quite a challenge for parents of teens to balance flexibility with strong preparation. We all want to educate our children with the end in mind, but we sometimes wonder what the end result even is!

For my teens, we try to walk them through some long-range planning gently through their high school years, encouraging them to identify what subjects and ministries and vocations most fit their unique gifts. Then we ask them to research for themselves what Christian universities offer training in those areas and what schools appeal to them. We also encourage them to start regular jobs so they can learn how to pay some of their own bills, balance their budget, and save for college expenses while gaining work experience.

In our family, students are responsible for their own college tuition. However, we will pay for their room and board if they attend a Christian university. Since our children have been homeschooled their entire lives, my husband and I felt that attending a Christian university away from home was a good “training wheels” experience for living on their own. They’ll get biblical counsel and sound advice while they practice adulting in a safe environment.

What advice would you also give parents sorting through these issues with their teens?

Jonathan: Since I don’t have teens yet, that’s a hard question to answer! But looking back at my own life, I would encourage parents to know and trust that God has a plan for their teens and that He can work that plan out despite our foibles and shortcomings. That doesn’t mean our choices don’t matter, but God is greater than we are, and He can get your teens where He wants them even if we—or they—make some missteps along the way.

I look back at my own life, and I don’t think anyone would have predicted the career I’ve had so far. I’m an introvert who hated to write and was never known for great creativity. Yet I’m a public speaker, writer, and self-taught graphic designer. Go figure! God worked things out in His own way.

So trust God. Encourage your teens to seek Him, and be confident in His ability to guide their steps. He’ll be faithful!  

This article was published in the January/February 2017 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.

Lea Ann Garfias is a freelance writer whose words have appeared in a plethora of ebooks and websites. She would not say plethora if she did not mean plethora. A homeschool grad and homeschooling mommy of four, Lea Ann drinks a lot of coffee, reads a lot of books, and plays a lot of Bach in Dallas, Texas.

Jonathan Lewis is a homeschool graduate, husband to Linnea, and daddy to Patrick, Timothy, and another on the way. He is one of the founders of Home School Enrichment Magazine and enjoys writing and speaking from his perspective as a homeschool graduate. If you would like to invite Jonathan to speak to your group - or get in touch with him for any other reason - drop him a note at jonathan@HomeSchoolEnrichment.com.