By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Jaron Tubbs remembers his mom trying to navigate the admissions process. As a homeschool parent, she was his teacher, his principal and his high school counselor, all rolled into one.
“You traditionally would have that college counselor that would be there. In this case, it was my mom who would try to figure it out and wear a bunch of different hats. Fortunately, there’s a really good team here that was able to help her through that process — and help me through that process,” said Tubbs, who graduated from Grand Canyon University with his bachelor’s degree in 2020, is pursuing his master’s in leadership and is now the coordinator for the K12 Educational Development team.
But one memory sticks in his mind about navigating the college world: “We always had people reaching out to us," he said.
One of them was Sheila Jones, Executive Director of Homeschool Academic Alliances.
"Sheila actually met with my mom one time at a Starbucks," Tubbs said. "She was like, ‘OK, show me all the papers you have.’”
That kind of attention to the unique needs of homeschoolers is part of the reason why GCU was named recently to the Top 20 Homeschool-Friendly Colleges list by Homeschooling Teen Magazine, an e-zine written by homeschooled teens. GCU made the list along with such campuses as the University of Alaska, Dallas Baptist University and Azusa Pacific University, to name a few.
“It is our goal to be known as the MOST homeschool-friendly university in the world, and we won’t quit until we achieve that,” said Jones.
She has a big heart for home-educated students. She believes they haven’t always received the kind of attention they deserve.
“They weren’t sought-after kids,” Jones said. “People thought, ‘Oh, they’re homeschooled. Maybe they’re not as well-prepared.’ ‘Their mom makes their transcript,’ and so on. … They’re used to really having to defend themselves and stick up for themselves.”
Jones has discovered the opposite about the home-educated students who have called GCU home.
“We’re finding these kids are killing it. They’re above and beyond prepared and are just phenomenal kids. They’re coming in with a Christian worldview. They’re self-starters. They’re used to handling things independently, and they are phenomenal at finding and utilizing resources.
“Once we fully understood them and looked beyond what the common homeschool myths are, we realized what a catch these kids are and what a gift they are to our campus.”
One way GCU serves the homeschool community is through inexpensive dual-enrollment online classes — college-level courses students can take during high school that count for college credit. They also have access to dual-enrollment strategic counseling.
Those courses are a “huge draw” for home-education families, said university admissions counselor Sarah Margason. And because of the flexibility in their schedule, many of those taking those dual-enrollment courses are homeschool students, added Jones. Depending on how many dual-credit classes students take, they can shorten their time in college, graduating in three years instead of four.
For Arizona residents, there’s also GCU’s STEM Scholars program, in which qualified Arizona high school juniors and seniors can earn a year of college credits in science, technology, engineering and math — for free.
“That’s a big deal for our homeschool kids, whose parents are often operating off of one income,” Jones said.
The University has connected to the home-education community in other ways.
In 2017, K12 Educational Development partnered with the GCU New Business Development Center to offer a seven-week business training course for 13- to 17-year-old home-educated students. It helped entrepreneurial-minded students evolve their ideas into more developed business plans.
K12 Educational Development also has been a flagship sponsor of the New and Used Curriculum Sale, hosted by the Arizona State Ambassador Team for the charitable arm of the Home School Legal Defense Association. The annual event features much sought-after educational supplies for homeschool families, which can be quite an expense.
And in 2021, the GCU campus was the venue for the Arizona Families for Home Education convention.
Besides those initiatives and events, GCU offers trip reimbursement to campus for a homeschool student and accompanying parent. The University touts a homeschool-specific scholarship, too, and homeschool-specific admissions counselors.
“They (the counselors) know homeschoolers, they understand their transcripts. Things like that mean a lot to these families,” Jones said.
What also boosts GCU as a homeschool-friendly campus, Margason said, is that “we take homeschool transcripts at face value, no need for a book list or defending their education.” Neither does GCU require ACT or SAT scores. The University accepts CLEP (the College Level Examination Program), concurrent enrollment and “often accepts more classes than other universities.”
Margason added that GCU connects with the home-education community with free live lessons, free tutoring, college-preparation workshops and transcript review and help.
Weston Smith, who graduated from GCU earlier this year with his master’s degree and whose business, LUX Longboards, has an office in the University’s business incubator, Canyon Ventures, himself was home-educated while growing up in Flagstaff.
“There’s actually a HUGE Flagstaff homeschool community that comes to GCU,” said Smith. “They have a devoted university admissions counselor for homeschoolers in Flagstaff.”
His parents started their family’s homeschool journey with his older sister, whom they felt was ready to begin first grade but was too young, according to public school requirements. Rather than hold her back a year, they chose to homeschool.
Smith, who also took engineering-related public school classes once he reached high school age, appreciated the one-on-one attention he received and remembers one of the boons of his home-education years: “We’d be learning about the Revolutionary War and we would go out to Virginia and go to all of the sites, go to Williamsburg, stuff like that. That’s how we did our education — a lot of hands-on.”
His creativity was allowed to flourish, he said.
He has found a lot of the same qualities at GCU, helping him to continue to flourish: that one-on-one attention from the smaller-campus environment, the focus on hands-on work and the dedication to faith that’s integral to many homeschool families.
“The opportunity to be with other like-minded people — people who are grounded that have a faith basis — having that core value is great,” Smith said.
But most of all, he really did find that homeschool-friendly sense of community.
“There’s no judgment,” Smith said. “Sometimes there is a stigma behind homeschooling — ‘Oh, you’re homeschooled, you’re weird.’ That’s happened. Instead, you get here and it’s, ‘Oh, you’re homeschooled. Cool!'”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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