HOMESCHOOLED AT A CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: A Comparison with Public and Private Schoolers

Record: Marc Snyder, “An Evaluative Study of the Academic Achievement of Homeschooled Students Versus Traditionally Schooled Students Attending a Catholic University” in Catholic Education (March 2013): 288-308. [Available Here]

Summary: Snyder, who has spent many years teaching in the Catholic school system, here summarizes in a single article the results of his doctoral dissertation, which I have previously summarized here.

Snyder begins with a brief lit review and historical introduction to homeschooling, both of which are solid.  He then lays out his five research questions, all of which seek to compare home educated college students with those who attended private schools and public schools:

1. Is there a difference in SAT score by school type (homeschoolers, private schoolers, public schoolers)?

2. Is there a difference in overall GPA?

3. Is there a difference in GPA within various majors?

4. Is there a difference in the core general education courses?

5. How much academic value do homeschoolers bring to a Catholic university when compared to their public and privately schooled peers?

To address these questions Snyder studied the entire first-time college population at “a private, liberal arts, Catholic university located in south Florida.” (p. 294)  The total N was 408, and the students were fairly equally divided into a third who had been homeschooled, a third who had attended private (mostly Catholic) schools, and a third who had attended public schools.

Given that the sample was the entire population, Snyder feels comfortable generalizing from it to “future students attending the same institution as well as other similar Catholic institutions.”  (p. 294).  And what did he find?

In short, homeschoolers outperformed both public and private schoolers on every variable.

For the ACT, the homeschooled group scored higher than both the public and Catholic school groups.  The homeschooler mean score was 26, while public and Catholic were 24.22 and 24.53 respectively.  Deviations from the mean were comparable for all groups, so this isn’t a case of a few outliers inflating the overall score.

For the SAT the story is similar.  Homeschoolers won, with a mean score of 1864.94.  Catholic school students came in second with a mean score of 1761.04, and public schooled kids were last with 1706.76.

And how about college GPA?  Homeschooler mean GPA was 3.14.  Catholic was 2.88.  Public was 2.66.  Homeschoolers win again, and when you look at the students who had the very highest GPAs, homeschoolers totally dominated.  Snyder found this hierarchy to be consistent from freshman to senior year, though it did wane every year a bit.  Interestingly, when it came to specific courses in the college core program and in the students’ majors, the differences in GPA were less pronounced.  Overall GPA difference was statistically significant, but core and major GPA differences, though they existed, were not large enough to be statistically significant.

Snyder concludes with three points.  First, he’d like to see more research on the socialization of these homeschoolers as compared with their public and privately schooled peers. Second, he’d like to see studies that make inter-group comparisons among homeschoolers according to the type of homeschooling they received.  Finally, he encourages the institution he studied as well as other similar Catholic colleges to redouble their efforts to recruit graduates of homeschools, for they clearly make very good college students.

Appraisal: Snyder’s methodology in this study is far superior to most studies of college students who were homeschooled.  The typical study uses small convenience samples of homeschooled undergrads recruited by the researcher from his or her home institution and compares that sample with either another convenience sample of non-homeschoolers or with overall campus averages.  Snyder’s population-wide data, and the fact that his selected institution was so evenly divided into the three types of secondary schooling, makes for ideal comparisons.

There is a profound limitation, however.  Snyder is very careful when he generalizes to say that his results only obtain for this institution and other similar ones.  He never explicitly tells us which institution he’s studying.  It is Ave Maria University, which is a very unique school.  Founded only a few years ago by Domino’s Pizza mogul and conservative Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan, Ave Maria is one of a small handfull of young schools founded to provide a theologically conservative alternative to historic Catholic institutions like Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Boston College–schools that many conservative Catholics consider to have lost their way.  Snyder is probably right that schools similar to Ave Maria would have a similar result, but there are very few similar schools.

Why might a place like Ave Maria have such outstanding Catholic homeschoolers in attendance?  The same reason a place like Patrick Henry College would have a large number of outstanding Protestant homeschoolers.  High achieving children from public and Catholic schools have many, many other schools they would be more likely to attend than Ave Maria, an upstart, low-status school that has had difficulty with the accreditation process.  But Ave Maria’s outspoken conservativism is completely in line with what many conservative Catholic homeschooling families desire.  That’s why a third of its student body are from Catholic homeschools.  Snyder’s study does not demonstrate anything at all about whether or not homeschooling better prepares one for college.  It demonstrates that Ave Maria is able through its aggressive branding of very conservative Catholicism to recruit talented Catholic homeschooled children who would have been able had they so desired to get into schools with much higher prestige.  But many committed Catholic homeschooling families are more interested in fidelity to a religious vision than to worldly prestige, so they send their children to Ave Maria.

Nevertheless, while Snyder’s results lack generalizability even to most other Catholic institutions, much less to the broader world of higher education, his methodology is a shining example of how quantitative comparative studies at colleges and universities should be done.  Similar studies at other institutions comparing the entire populations of students from various secondary education backgrounds would be most welcome.

Milton Gaither, Messiah College, author of Homeschool: An American History.

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