Roll your own diploma

It doesn’t take much to get a high school diploma from Beach High School in Soquel. Wes Beach, a former public high school teacher, requires only an essay, a letter of support from an adult and $240. Is he running a diploma mill? Or giving bored teen-agers a chance to move on to community college or a job? The answer isn’t obvious.

Beach’s son started taking college classes when he was 10 and earned a bachelor’s degree by the age of 17. The father started with programs for gifted youth, but soon branched out. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports:

The criticism mounted after he left Soquel High in 1993 to focus on Beach High — a one-room green shed, overflowing with books, next to the proprietor’s rural Soquel home.

Beach — who earns $20,000 to $30,000 a year and depends on his second wife, De Anza College English instructor Judy Hubbard, to be the chief provider — says he is offering students who have struggled in traditional school settings with an opportunity to pursue a more productive path.

But critics say there are better alternatives for nontraditional students: charter schools, continuation schools for at-risk youth and other programs that offer more reputable diplomas than Beach High.

Many districts offer “Middle College,” a program that lets high-school-age students earn credits at a local community college; it can work well for motivated, self-disciplined students. But most alternative programs have very low graduation rates.

Beach says employers who bother to read his transcripts will learn what a student has and hasn’t studied.

But his larger response to critics is philosophical.

“There are dancers, there are musicians, there are plumbers, there are carpenters,” he said. “They don’t need to study trigonometry.”

Beach “grads” have no trouble going on to community colleges, which are open to everyone with a pulse. Employers can’t tell Beach High isn’t a traditional school unless they look at a transcript; most employers don’t bother. But the Army and Air Force no longer take Beach grads.

On Daryl Cobranchi’s site, commenter Laura Derrick says Beach has worked with the Homeschool Association of California on creating transcripts for home-schooled students and getting into college with a non-traditional education.

Some of the (Beach High) diplomas he awards are to kids who have done a pretty traditional curriculum. Others are very non-traditional, and their transcripts reflect that. Here’s a paragraph that he includes on his non-traditional transcripts:

“Beach High School exists to support students who want to gain an education outside of a traditional high school setting. We award diplomas to students who convincingly present themselves as ready and able to move on beyond high school and who have established a direction for the next part of their lives. Our experience over many years has taught us that people succeed in wonderful ways, including through academic work in college, whenever they make deliberate, informed, and deeply personal decisions to move on. Our students have accomplished a great deal in practical crafts, the arts, business, and the professions, and they often reach the highest levels of formal education. It is their recognition of their genuine interests and talents and their confidence and wholeness that carry them where they want to go.”

Many students leave high school at 18 with a traditional diploma and very meager academic skills. But I don’t think a high school diploma should mean merely that the student is sick of high school and eager to try something else. Middle College provides some structure and access to academic classes while letting students be independent learners in an adult setting.

About Joanne


  1. How strange – I graduated from Soquel High in 1994, and I have no memory of this Beach fellow at all.

    That having been said, one of the few things I thought Soquel did right was encouraging students to take classes at the local community college while they were enrolled in high school. It was especially helpful since Soquel was markedly poor at attending to advanced or gifted students. Shipping us off to Cabrillo College to take a few classes a semester solved that problem nicely, I thought, and gave us a (small, low-key) taste of what college would bring.

    Plus you only had to be on campus for four periods a day, which was nice.

  2. Walter Wallis says:

    Plumbers and carpenters don’t need trig?
    Someone needs to take a look at the apprenticeship curriculum.

  3. Ohio offers a programme similar to the Middle College. If your grades and test scores are decent enough, you can take classes at most local colleges or universities at no expense. It was a great thing for me, as by grade 12 I was sick of high school. The fact I could leave high school by 10:44 am and didn’t have college courses everyday certainly helped. That made for open afternoons when I could whatever I damn well pleased. Also shaved a year off university, saving a great deal of money. More students really should take advantage of this opportunity.

  4. Most students can’t do well in either vocational or college tracks due to the totally inadaquate preparation which goes on in high school.

    I’ve found that students will take the path of least resistance, and as such, most of them wind up unprepared to work in the real world, go into a vocation, or attempt college (and usually fail due to the number of remedial courses they have to take, just to be ready to take English 101 and Math 12x (college algebra/pre-calc I/II)..


  5. Walter Wallis says:

    But if they have $240 to spare, perhaps they care more about a diploma than lots of grads.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    Four-year colleges don’t require a diploma; homeschoolers get into colleges all the time without one. Community colleges don’t require one either; as Joanne remarks, they’re open to anyone with a pulse. So what’s the point of buying the diploma? Is it just to fool employers?

  7. Walter Wallis says:


  8. Sigivald says:

    Geometry and Trigonometry (what little of the latter I’ve retained, at least!) are two of the most useful things I learned in High School. (My English was already just fine…)

    (And I’m a programmer! Someone doing mechanical work, like the aforementioned plumber or carpenter, or a mechanic of any sort, can really benefit from geometry and trig.)

  9. My ex-wife’s experience (at Santa Cruz, just up the road from Soquel) was very similar to Becky’s. But if “there are plumbers, there are carpenters” who “don’t need to study trigonometry” — well, that would explain some of the carpentry and plumbing I’ve experienced.

    (Though my own efforts at plumbing and carpentry have not been notably aided by my good grades in math.)