Biola programs court coveted homeschoolers


LA MIRADA, Calif. — Years before most colleges would even consider the viability of admitting homeschoolers, Biola University was already treating them as stars.

While still in their early to mid-teens, Lydia Knopf, a talent scout of sorts, and her staff took them under their wings, training them in the way they should go and pampering them with resources to ensure their success.

And thus a STAR was born.

STAR, an acronym for Supplemental Tutoring of Academic Requirements, was implemented by Biola in 1997 as a way to reach out to homeschoolers.

Knopf, the director of Biola Youth, oversees STAR and several other programs including the Torrey Academy and Summer Theatre Camp.

The emphasis on recruiting homeschoolers followed an extensive research effort lead by Knopf during a down tick in the campus' enrollment numbers.

"I found out a lot of great things," Knopf said of the homeschool movement. "We determined that homeschoolers were likely a strong match for the university and that recruiting ought to be accelerated."

She said many of the homeschoolers were from committed Christian homes, where their worldviews were similar.

"Our faculty, staff and students profess a faith in Jesus Christ, and parents appreciate our commitment to spiritual development and career preparation," Knopf said.

In addition to the biblically-centered education of homeschoolers and their parent's commitment to matters of truth, Knopf said her research showed that homeschoolers were also well trained in self-directed education, another vital element for a successful college career.

The match between the two seemed perfect. The program helps teens and their parents prepare for college, while giving them a taste of the Biola experience. The university benefits by developing strong student candidates who are already prepared academically, spiritually and emotionally.

"I believe the Lord gave us a vision for that time. Homeschooling was the fastest growing educational system in the United States," she said, noting that California boasted the second highest population of homeschoolers behind Texas.

When the new department was launched, Knopf said college administrators could only identify about 17 co-eds , about 2 percent, that were homeschoolers. This fall, 340, at least 10 percent, are enrolled at the university.

"It went beyond what I could have imagined, what I hoped for it," she said.

Coursework assistance
This year, the Biola teen program will offer 160 academic classes to 760 students, with at least 1,000 students enrolled.

The program—Knopf emphasizes START and Torrey are not schools—offers what she described as a buffet approach to assist parents. STAR's focus is to offer resources that supplement biblically centered college preparation instruction that is done in the home. Parents must also assist in the Biola-sponsored coursework, which is offered at six Southern California sites—Yorba Linda, Temecula Garden Grove, La Mirada, South Bay, South Orange County and in La Mirada, the home base of Biola.

"We are partners together with them," she said.

The coursework assists in such areas as science, humanities, mathematics and the arts.

In addition to STAR, Biola also offers the Torrey Academy, a more holistic and classical approach that incorporates the arts through online distance learning, residential summer camps, and on-site classes. The Biola Youth Theatre offers arts education for homeschoolers ages 6 to 18.

"It helps the students take the gospel with them on the stage," Knopf said.

Over the past decade interest in homeschoolers has increased in colleges across the country as administrators realize that, for the most part, students learning in home environments can not only compete, but can exceed their public school peers. Other universities have expressed an interest in the Biola program, its administrator said.

"I have a vision that this would happen across the country, especially at Christian colleges," she said. "The bigger picture is the Kingdom."

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