New College Set To Welcome Home-Schooled Students in the Fall

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Michael P. Farris plods in his cowboy boots through the sticky yellow mud, picks his way up a bald hill, and enters the skeleton of a building that will soon be the center of Patrick Henry College, the nation's first institution devoted to providing higher education to students home-schooled in grades K-12.

—Benjamin Tice Smith

The home school movement has grown up, and Mr. Farris, the college's president, is providing a place where such students, many of whom come from religious conservative backgrounds, can continue their educations within an evangelical Christian context. Next fall, some 70 students are expected to enroll as government majors—the first and only major offered by the college in 2000-01—at what he promises will be one of the most rigorous college programs in the United States.

"Our mission is to train leaders in areas of impact [such as lawmaking, business, and journalism] in a Christian worldview," said Mr. Farris, who is also the founder and president of the Home School Legal Defense Association here in Purcellville, Va., the leading advocacy organization for home schooling. "Home-schooled students—they're our base."

Those students and their families have long been searching for such an opportunity, added Bradley Jacob, the college's provost. "A lot of what happens in higher education is remedial," he said.

The legal-defense association estimates that some 200,000 students who were home-schooled are enrolled at colleges and universities around the nation. The group projects that 1 million will be enrolled by 2010, though statistics on home schooling are hard to nail down.

The institution fills a niche and has a sense of mission, two advantages that will make it successful, said Brian Ray, the president of the National Home Education Research Institution, a nonprofit organization based in Salem, Ore., that studies the field.

"I've already bumped into a lot of 16- and 17-year-olds who have their sights set on it," Mr. Ray said. "They say, 'It looks like what we've been dreaming about.' "

The curriculum at Patrick Henry College will require that students work in jobs to earn half of all the credits they need in their academic majors. Mr. Farris—who himself once ventured into politics as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia— envisions students completing research for lawmakers on the Capitol Hill and student journalists who cover stories for Internet news services.

Real, or Lacking Depth?

"I was attracted to Patrick Henry College because it is the only college [where] you can get the experience rather than pure theory," said Matthew Thornton, an 18-year-old from Warner Robins, Ga., who will enroll in the first freshman class and hopes to enter politics after graduation.

Several higher education experts praise the college's administration for innovative efforts, but some wonder whether the students will take enough core classes to make work experiences meaningful.

"It's like saying, "Ready to go to Spain?' when you haven't had any Spanish-language classes," said Allen Splete, the president of the Council of Independent Colleges, a Washington-based membership organization.

Patrick Henry College will not accept federal or state funding, Mr. Farris said, thus ensuring that administrators can control academic content and other aspects of college life.

The annual expense for full tuition, room, board, and fees is set at $15,000, Mr. Farris said. Students will not allowed to accept federal financial aid, but may receive need-based and merit-based aid supplied by the college. To date, seven faculty members have been hired, and the state of Virginia accredited the college in December.

In keeping with the college's Christian orientation, students will be required to obey an honor code inspired by the Bible. Students must have parental permission to date, and will be encouraged to date only if they are interested in marriage, Mr. Farris said. All dormitories will be off-limits to members of the opposite sex, and the classroom dress code will be "corporate casual."

Students accepted for admission—about 80 students have applied so far—say they're not fazed by the rules and are going to college for an education rather than to socialize.

Mr. Farris points out the boundaries of the 44-acre campus and the details of the $7 million project with all the joy of a 7-year-old boy. Soon, construction will begin on Colonial-style dormitories. A chapel will be built to hold 1,000 people, and a gym will be added to the landscape.

Vol. 19, Issue 29, Page 5

Published in Print: March 29, 2000, as New College Set To Welcome Home-Schooled Students in the Fall
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