HSLDA News
June 17, 2002

Victory Over College Discrimination

Over the past year, many families have contacted Home School Legal Defense Association concerning various roadblocks their home school graduates are facing in college. Baylor University in Texas, for example, decided at the last minute to deny entrance to six home school graduates, even though they all had been formally accepted and had scored high on their SAT exams.

One of these students was from an HSLDA member family. She already had her room reservations and travel plans set when she was notified that she could not enter the college because her home school diploma was not sufficient. HSLDA immediately went to work on her behalf, faxing letters and legal memorandums to Baylor's general counsel. Finally a truce was reached—although Baylor refused to change its policy, it agreed to allow this one-time exception.

In another case, Syracuse University in New York refused to give the son of an HSLDA member federal financial aid because he only had a home school diploma.

In a more widespread situation, the whole University of Maine system misinterpreted the law and declared that home school graduates could only be admitted if they had a diploma recognized by the state. Since only one state out of fifty even has a process for home schoolers to obtain recognition of their diplomas, this absurd rule caused problems for home schooled graduates across the nation.

New York's Jefferson Community College told the 15-year-old son of the Thomas family (name changed) he could not become a regular student nor receive financial aid since he only had a home school diploma. Initially, the college was going to admit the student and provide federal financial aid, but a U.S. Department of Education financial aid officer inaccurately informed the school that it could lose its institutional eligibility (disqualifying it for federal higher education aid).

Both Mountain Empire Community College and Strayer College in Virginia refused financial aid because the home schooled graduates did not have GEDs.

The 1998 Higher Education Amendment

Fortunately, many other home school graduates found admissions an easier process, thanks to a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act allowing home schoolers access to federal financial aid.

Prior to 1998, colleges were often confused as to what requirements applied to home schoolers. Working with former Chairman Bill Goodling of the House Education and Workforce Committee, HSLDA Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka drafted legislation specifying that a student "who completes a secondary education in a home school setting" is eligible for federal financial aid. Home schoolers no longer had to obtain a GED or take the federal "Ability to Benefit Test" in order to obtain federal money for college.

HSLDA also worked with House and Senate Education Committees and federal regulators to enable home school students to simply "self-certify" eligibility. There is no federal requirement that a home school graduate prove his diploma is state-recognized.

In addition, Klicka helped draft language to accompany the Higher Education Act, spelling out Congress' intent that

requiring additional testing [GED or SAT II exams] of home school students . . . could reasonably be seen as discriminatory . . . The Committee believes that college admissions should be determined based on the academic ability of a student, not on the accreditation status of the school in which he or she received secondary education."

Colleges also receive federal money directly in the form of "Institutional Eligibility Funding." A college is only eligible for federal financial aid if it accepts students who have high school diplomas, GEDs, or are beyond the compulsory attendance age of the state in which the college is located. Since many 16- and 17-year-old home schoolers who wanted to attend college were below the compulsory attendance age, they were not technically included in any of the listed options.

In 1998, this did not seem to be a problem. Once the law was passed, nearly 95% of colleges freely accepted home schoolers based on admissions criteria supplied by HSLDA that did not include GED, an accredited diploma, or the taking of SAT II exams.

Bureaucratic Mishap Throws Colleges into Confusion

In spite of the clarity of the law, bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Education under former President Clinton issued a new student financial aid manual, the Federal Student Handbook, which was distributed to colleges at the beginning of the 2001 school year. In January 2002, HSLDA obtained a copy this manual and determined that it is the source of today's confusion regarding aid for home school graduates.

The manual only recognizes a home school student as eligible for federal financial aid if "the student's home state recognizes their certificate as an equivalent of a high school diploma." This is inaccurate. The manual also stated, "Note, however, that these students must be above the age of compulsory attendance in order for your school to enroll them without jeopardizing its institutional eligibility." Also false.

Over the last several months, Chris Klicka had been working with the Department of Education and the House Education and Workforce Committee to obtain a comprehensive solution to these bureaucratic misinterpretations. HSLDA has requested three repairs:

Solution 1: Have the Department of Education Send a Clarifying Letter

First, HSLDA persuaded the Department of Education general counsel's office to draft a "guidance letter," which we received on April 19, 2002. All higher education institutions that receive federal funds must follow the letter, effective immediately. It states:

A home school student can be admitted to a post-secondary institution as a regular student without jeopardizing either the institutions eligibility to participate in federal student assistance programs or the students' eligibility to participate in such programs.

In essence, the inaccurate instructions in the Federal Student Handbook must be ignored.

Solution 2: Correct the Student Financial Aid Manual

Secondly the Department of Education promised that the Federal Student Handbook would be corrected. HSLDA has already helped draft language for the new edition and the Federal Rule Negotiating Committee for Higher Education has approved the proposed changes.

Solution 3: Pass a Technical Amendment to the Higher Education Act

Finally, HSLDA requested a technical amendment to the Higher Education Act further clarifying the law so that bureaucrats could not misinterpret it. The Department of Education's deputy counsel promised to personally assure colleges that they would not lose their institutional eligibility if they accepted home school students.

HSLDA continues to work with Congress to make these changes more permanent in the federal Higher Education Act. Some of these changes have already been added into House Bill 4854, which is expected to pass before the end of this session.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

We praise God for this long-awaited victory. HSLDA has already been able to resolve many of the situations described at the beginning of this article. HSLDA is also sending out a copy of the guidance letter to over 6,000 institutions of higher learning. (See http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/hslda/200204301.asp.)

We urge any HSLDA members who experience trouble with federal financial aid or college admission to contact us so we can assist you.