BY MEGAN MCCALLA
COLUMBIA — Kayla Fox is a smart student. She is 17, lives in Columbia and is immersed in the process of searching for the right university.
Attending college fairs and receiving information in the mail from various universities, she will soon be making a decision that most high school seniors are eager to make: which school to attend.
But Kayla has never been taught in a school setting, and she is not a senior in any high school class.
Kayla has been home schooled her entire life.
Home schooling in the U.S. has begun to catch the eye of universities nationwide. In the past 10 years, the number of children home schooled has increased from an estimated 850,000 to nearly 2 million.
Many are bright, well educated and well socialized, and universities are courting them more rigorously every year.
Colleges in Missouri and elsewhere are beginning to realize the potential of bringing students like these into their institutions.
Columbia College hosts seminars to encourage home-schooled students to consider a university education and get a feel for what college life is like.
“I think the trend is growing to recruit this demographic,” said Kathy Monnig, admissions counselor and home-school liaison at Columbia College.
“Certainly, colleges are more home school-friendly now than 10 to 15 years ago,” Monnig said. “I think there will be an increase in colleges and universities that will make strategic plans for recruiting home-schooled students.”
MU also actively recruits home-schooled students.
“Mizzou averages 10 home-schooled students a year,” said Adam Barklage, an admissions representative at MU. Barklage said home-schooled students need to have scored 24 or higher on their ACT to be accepted.
MU offers a Quadrangle Scholarship to home-schooled students if they score a 30 or higher on their ACT. They can also apply for the Mizzou Scholars award given to 10 freshmen applicants each year who score a 33 or higher.
“The scholarship is highly competitive,” Barklage said. “This year, a home-schooled student was one of the 10 winners.”
The total number of home-schooled students, as reported to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, rose from 2,253 in 1998 to 5,409 in 2007, though the actual number may be much higher.
“There is only precious little information regarding home-schooled students in Missouri,” said Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Reporting is voluntary, and we encourage parents to notify the school districts,” he said.
This year, Columbia held the first Post-Secondary Education Fair for Homeschool Students at the Woodcrest Chapel. The fair brought more than 40 colleges to town to provide students with information packets, free pens and other souvenirs.
Ron and Brenda Crowe, parents of three home-schooled students, organized the event.
“We receive information from colleges but realize that tech schools have a hard time contacting home-schooled students,” said Brenda Crowe. “We found this an opportunity to connect students with tech schools.”
Kayla and her mom, Sheri Fox, attended the fair to learn more about college opportunities. Sheri has home schooled her daughter for 13 years.
“We had multiple reasons for wanting to home school,” she said. “Many people home school for religious reasons, and although religion was one of our reasons, it wasn’t the only one.”
Parents often want to be part of their child’s learning process, a major reason for deciding to teach them at home.
“We wanted to put our values into our children’s education,” said Sheri Fox, who also teaches her daughter Kelsey, who is in seventh grade.
“Around that time the curriculum was changing, so we thought it was a good time to try home schooling,” she said. “We did not say she was never going to a public school.”
Kayla Fox is a believer in the merits of home schooling.
“The class work on average takes me two hours, compared to what it would take in a typical classroom environment,” she said. “Sometimes four on days when I have a lot of tests.”
There are also the benefits of participating in the real world. Kayla has two part-time jobs, something that would be unlikely if she attended public school.
Although some may question whether home-schooled students get enough peer interaction, the Foxes and other families make an effort to involve their children in athletic and social events.
As the home-schooled population matured, parents began to see the need for wider networks to keep children from being isolated.
“I am very socialized,” Kayla said. “I have friends that I know through church that go to public school, as well as other home-schooled students.”
She also plays on a basketball team called the Central Missouri Homeschool Saints. They are No. 12 in the nation.
“I wanted to go to public school for my senior year to play basketball,” Kayla said. “But their requirements would have put me a year behind, so I decided to not do it. I don’t have any regrets. I’m really glad I was home schooled.”
Missouri does not have standards for home-schooled students to meet or required tests for them to pass.
“Missouri makes it easy to home school because their laws are favorable,” Brenda said. “The school systems are supportive of home schooling as well.”
The oldest of the Crowe siblings, Kristin, took classes during high school at William Woods University and said she had no problem adjusting to college life.
“It was not much of a culture shock. I did dual enrollment before I went to college,” she said.
She discovered when she went to college that she was sufficiently prepared.
“I found that I had good study and note-taking skills. I also wanted to get to know my professors, where I feel a lot of public school students did not seem to care about that,” she said.
Crowe finished with a degree in English and a minor in history and now teaches home-schooled students English and grammar lessons.
She plans to go back to school this year to get her master’s degree in education.
“I don’t think being home schooled has stopped me from doing anything,” she said. “If anything it has helped me in the real world.”
Home-schooled students typically come to college with the ability to be independent in their studies, and they’re motivated to learn, Monnig said. “They generally test above the national average on the ACT.”
The dean of academic affairs at Columbia College, Terry Smith, home schooled his children and remains an influence on the recruitment of future home-schooled students.
Most of the home-schooled students who come to Columbia College are from central Missouri with some students from Kansas City and St. Louis.
“There are no home-schooled students at Columbia College that haven’t excelled,” Monnig said. “They are all really involved, and most are on the dean’s list.”