Thursday, May 18, 2017

Advantages of Public University Honors Programs and Colleges

Last week I attended a stimulating and impressive panel of honors presentations by students at a small liberal arts college.  These inter-disciplinary presentations included such fascinating topics as a feminist analysis of Beyonce’s Lemonade and an investigation into environmental human rights’ abuses in the Philippines.  The panel was attended by supportive faculty and faculty mentors, fellow students and even parents.
If only students at public universities had such access to faculty mentoring and intellectually nurturing environments. . . .
Well, they do.  Many large public universities also offer honors programs designed to bring a more liberal arts college approach and curriculum to high achieving students. 
Editor John Willingham of Inside Honors: Ratings and Reviews of Public University Honors Programs  has rated (rather than ranked) 60 honors programs and colleges around the U.S. to evaluate their benefits and overall quality.  His website, “Public University Honors,” which updated the list of programs also includes a page of questions and criteria to consider when choosing among different programs. 
Another site to visit when comparing honors programs is Peterson’s, which differentiates programs from colleges, the latter of which are often, but not always,  better established and more fully developed integrated programs.
In my experience and background as a faculty member and academic advisor, I believe some of the most important criteria to look for in an honors college or program are:
*priority registration
*small classes taught exclusively by faculty members
*inter-disciplinary course offerings and projects
*honors classes offered all four years in the curriculum, not just to freshmen and sophomores
*a required capstone thesis or project
In our California University system the University of California campuses offer Regents Scholarships and acceptance into honors as part of admissions—no separate essay or application is required.  As the universities have become more selective over the past few years, so have the honors programs.
One program particularly well rated by Willingham is at University of California, Irvine, which has what is called a “core” program as it emphasizes interdisciplinary seminars for the first two years followed by courses in 15 key academic disciplines.
Though not rated by Willingham, the Weber Honors College at San Diego State University is also well regarded.  In addition to offering a wide array of inter-disciplinary courses, it requires a study abroad experience for all participants.  Honors housing is another attractive perk.  Applicants for this program send in an additional application and essay along with the regular CSU application.
Several other states offer strong honors programs as a means of recruiting top students.  The Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon is noted for its undergraduate research and thesis program, its study abroad opportunities and the number of merit scholarships awarded.
As you assemble your final college list this summer, be sure to consider the benefit of honors programs and colleges, as an important criterion of your search.

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