All You Need to Know About Homeschool Accreditation
Do homeschool programs need to be accredited? Do you need an accredited transcript to get into college? Or, are you, as a home educator, the Accreditor? Here’s everything you need to know about homeschool accreditation.
Like it or not, our culture places a high premium on credentials. We attach a lot of importance to things like training, licenses, insurance, certifications, degrees, and all the varied ways our society puts a gold star on something to deem it approved. Conversely, a lack of the proper credentials subjects one to immediate suspicion as an outlier, a fraud, or a mischief maker. Consider the emotional weight of words like “unlicensed” and “non-insured.” They conjure up images of sketchy contractors doing shoddy work in our home or a reckless driver hitting our car and then fleeing the scene. To be without credentials seems to put one outside the realm of commonly accepted business. Credentials serve a function in society by separating those who have a minimum amount of competence in a field from those who don’t.
We must also realize, however, that it is entirely possible to focus too much on credentials, especially when no credentialling is necessary to do a good job with something. And here, we get into the question of homeschooling accreditation. When planning your high schoolers’ homeschooling years, you may wonder whether you must sign them up for an accredited home study school. This is a question we get asked frequently at Homeschool Connections. The answer depends upon the family’s individual circumstances.
But before we get into that, let’s cover some basics.
What is Accreditation?
“Accreditation” is one of those words tossed around in academia to signify that an education program is legitimate. We’ve all heard the term used in advertisements for colleges or other study programs. But what does accreditation mean exactly?
Accreditation is a voluntary process initiated by schools and performed by private agencies to ensure the school meets minimum educational standards. It all began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a way for colleges and universities with high academic standards to distinguish themselves from institutions that claimed to be colleges but provided curricula closer to high school. Today, accreditation is also used for k-12 schools to help parents determine if a school is a legitimate educational institution, not merely a diploma mill or part of an educational scam.
However, it is essential to ask who bestows accreditation. Many people mistakenly think accreditation is conferred or regulated by the government. In fact, there is no central control of accreditation at all. Accreditation is offered through a patchwork of private agencies with no central control or government oversight.
Because there are both good and bad accrediting agencies, parents need to make sure the accrediting agency itself is legitimate. Accreditation alone does not assure that an educational institute is superior to a non-accredited institution. There are great schools that are not accredited. Conversely, there are bad schools that are accredited. The status alone means very little.
Why Wouldn’t a Homeschool Program Seek Accreditation?
Obtaining accreditation is an expensive and time-consuming process. It adds to the cost of classes and, therefore, puts an added financial burden on parents. Since Catholic homeschool programs are not large corporate entities with bottomless budgets, many are reluctant to go through the time, tedium, and expense of obtaining a credential that is not essential to their Catholic homeschool mission.
Regarding mission, accreditation can compromise a program’s ability to follow its educational vision. Accreditors may restrict an institution from offering nontraditional programs to be approved. A school that wants to offer an “out of the box” curriculum or give parents more authority in choosing curricula may find its hands tied by its accrediting agency. For Catholic homeschooling programs that already exist far outside the educational “norm” in the West, this is obviously a matter of grave concern. Many curricula providers—including Homeschool Connections—prefer to forego accreditation to maintain unfettered control over curricula offerings.
Finally, we should remember that accreditation itself does not create or develop a curriculum. It only gives a “stamp of approval.” Accreditation adds no inherent value to a program. However, it is often used primarily as a marketing tool. Accreditation possesses only so much importance as you attach to it.
To sum up, there are a whole host of reasons why a Catholic program would not seek accreditation. There is no practical benefit to doing so. The cost and complexity outweigh the benefits (which are marginal at best), and the academic independence of the program becomes compromised. Homeschooling is ultimately about you, the parent, determining what is best for your child, with or without the stamp of some agency.
Is Accreditation Ever Necessary?
Generally speaking, accreditation is not necessary for homeschool programs.
Most parents are concerned about college acceptance and assume that accreditation is necessary. Always check with prospective colleges, as requirements can change, but accreditation is rarely necessary. Colleges have a long history of accepting students from private schools and homeschools that are not accredited. They will base acceptance on evaluating the student’s application, the results of their SAT, ACT, or CLT scores, and their high school transcripts and grade point average (GPA). Again, it is extremely rare that a college requires an accredited transcript.
There are some cases, however, where an accredited transcript or diploma could be required. Even if you don’t anticipate needing accreditation, you should be aware of these situations just in case.
If you plan to put your child into a site-based high school after homeschooling for a few years, check entrance requirements with the prospective school. Some public and private high schools will require an accredited transcript before accepting your child. In most cases, the school will have an option of allowing your child to test into their grade level without an accredited transcript—if they require testing at all.
Children seeking scholarships from the NCAA (National College Athletic Association) used to be required to provide an accredited transcript. However, the NCAA has lightened up the rules over the past few years, and they have steps in place to present un-accredited transcripts.
Some elite military academies have traditionally required accreditation as well, but these cases are becoming increasingly rare.
It is good to be aware of all these situations, even if they don’t apply to you. However, the takeaway is understanding that mandatory accreditation is rare and changing.
What if I Am One of the Rare Cases Where Accreditation is Necessary?
If you do happen to need accreditation, that does not mean you must give up on your homeschooling aspirations! Several accreditation agencies are available that will review your course of study to issue an accredited transcript or diploma for a fee. These programs include, but are not limited to:
I also want to mention Kolbe Academy. Kolbe is a Catholic home study school in the classical tradition. Besides being an excellent program in its own right, Kolbe will also accredit Homeschool Connections courses. If you are utilizing Homeschool Connections classes and need to obtain an accredited transcript, I recommend doing so through Kolbe Academy.
There are more options out there beyond what is listed here. These flexible options allow you to continue to follow your own homeschooling vision even if you need accreditation. As always, do your research to find the best accrediting agency for you.
One of the issues newer homeschooler parents deal with is feeling like they need to replicate every element of institutionalized schooling in their own homes. The most significant mental shift after the initial decision to homeschool is when you realize that homeschooling isn’t just about educating in a different place but in a different way.
Yes, you have the freedom to homeschool to your child’s strengths and needs. You don’t have to follow the public school model, and you don’t have to sign up with a school to be successful.
Accreditation is an issue that unnecessarily burdens parents. In most cases, it is not required for k-12 education. As a parent, you are the ultimate authority regarding your children and their education. Homeschooling does not involve attending a school. The focus should be on providing the best education for each individual child. Sometimes, the best education will be enrolling in an accredited home study school; sometimes, it will not.
As private homeschoolers, parents are the ones who provide “accreditation” for their children’s education. The quality of home education should be assured by parents first and foremost.
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