Last summer, Zion Utsey extended his home schooling by a year to accumulate more college credits in the University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) dual-enrollment program while working and saving money. He said that decision would eventually lead to an offer of a full ride to the institution.
However, Utsey and at least one other home-school student, as he would later find out, wouldn’t be able to acquire UDC’s Presidential Scholarship without a GED. Believing his home-school diploma to be more than sufficient, he opted out, choosing instead to enroll in Prince George’s Community College’s new music education program this fall.
“I had a relationship with teachers. I was doing extra-credit assignments,” said Utsey, a 19-year-old Northeast resident and lifelong home-schooler, adding that he also spoke with a UDC admissions representative at a college fair.
Last spring, Utsey graduated from the Sankofa Homeschool Collective, a local homeschooling community for families of color that a group of mothers, including Utsey’s, founded in 2004.
For several years, Monica Utsey immersed her son and his younger brother in a variety of academic and extracurricular activities that reinforce skills and knowledge deemed necessary for higher education.
In addition to his course load at Sankofa and UDC, Zion attended classes in an engineering-focused homeschool community, played several sports, engaged in enrichment activities at a local Boys & Girls Club, learned West African drumming under the tutelage of the Adinkra Group, and sharpened his hip-hop lyricism.
Matriculating to UDC with 12 credits under his belt, he said, would’ve allowed him to grow as a musician in the city that became his classroom.
“I wanted to continue drumming and making music in D.C.,” Utley said. “There’s a lot of culture here, and I’m trying to bring it out.
“[The admissions representative] said I was a perfect candidate,” he said. “She said it was even better that I was home-schooled. They told me they would help me get in this [scholarship] program, but I didn’t see any action.”
This summer, attorneys from the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) sent a letter to UDC on behalf of Utsey. A spokesperson for UDC didn’t return The Informer’s inquiry about the specifics of his admission and its policy as it pertains to home school graduates.
Utsey’s family counts among nearly 50,000 families in the D.C. metropolitan area, and more than 83,000 across the country, that have decided to educate their children outside of public, charter, parochial and private school systems. In total, an estimated 2 million children in the U.S. are home-schooled. The D.C. metropolitan area, along with Atlanta, boasts some of the most vibrant African-centered home-school communities in the country.
The home school movement grew in the 1980s and 1990s when states, at the behest of parents, increasingly recognized one’s right to educate their child at home. This has especially been the case for families of color, many of whom home-school their children to avoid culturally insensitive curricula and what’s described as the school-to-prison pipeline. Today, parents of home-schooled students have to report to state education agencies with transcripts documenting their child’s completion of a course load meeting state academic requirements.
While UDC hasn’t reportedly followed suit, state colleges and universities across the country, including those in Wyoming and Florida, recognize home-school diplomas and award scholarships to graduates. Additionally, home-school students are eligible for federal loans acquired through FAFSA.
Dan Beasley, staff attorney for HSLDA, said policy changes over time speak to the increasing appeal of home-school education to colleges. During the latter part of last month, HSLDA highlighted Utsey’s situation on its website.
“We’ve explained to [UDC] that its [rule] is archaic,” Beasley said. “We used to find it pretty regularly across the country, but we’ve been working on this for decades. We’re getting [colleges] to change their policies slowly but surely.
“Home schooling is an excellent alternative to traditional education,” he said. “Colleges want home-school students. They recognize [their home-school education] as sufficient.”