Honors Colleges

<p>Interesting article from CNN.com titled Honors</a> colleges raise concerns over priorities of public education - the reporter describes the proliferation of honors colleges, even at schools other than the typical flagship state university. There are at least 60 institutions claiming that title, and perhaps as many as 200.</p>

<p>They can have big appeal. I think the numbers from Arizona State are fairly amazing: "...today the university has 482 National Merit Scholars on campus, compared to four when the honors college opened in 1988."</p>

<p>The Honors College/Honors Program difference is definitely larger than many schools would like to have it appear. I've found from my research so far that many so-called "honors colleges" are really just special programs designed to lure NMS and do not provide the things like four-year housing, seperate administrators, etc. Concerns over honors programs being unfair are analogous to people complaining about honors classes and magnet schools in high school public education. Though the Honors students do get special privelages, these still pale in comparision to what athletes get. If state schools can recruit top athletes, why not top scholars?</p>

<p>The example of the student who chose Hendrix over the University of Arkansas was particularly interesting since I visited both campuses and found Arkansas' Honors College to be on par with Hendrix. Both schools did an excellent job of communicating with prospective students and seemed to offer great opportunities, but I found Arkansas to be more interesting and dynamic than tiny Hendrix. Like the other student in the article, I had visited a state school (Arkansas) on a whim and left thouroughly impressed by the honors college and the options avaliable. My investigations into other state Us also showed a suprising number of flourishing honors colleges (a number of which I'll be applying to) that could compete academically and perhaps best socially many of the top LACs, depending on what the student wants.</p>

<p>I think careful shopping is the key. My impression is that some universities have rushed to create an "Honors College", and the results are often more of a paper PR effort than a substantially different academic experience.</p>

<p>Speaking to students with a few years experience in honors colleges of interest would be a good investment of time. We checked out one program a few years ago that way, and were suprised to find that the features so glowingly described in the brochure weren't very special. Things like, "exclusive classes", "special events with visiting celebrities", and "direct access to top professors" all sound great, but also bear specific followup questions. Families should as for lists of classes actually offered each semester, actual honors-only events in the preceding semester, etc. With enough contact, it should be possible to distinguish the outstanding honors programs from the also-rans.</p>

<p>In the annual College Admissions issue of the Atlantic Monthly (October 2004), there's a discussion about how the honors colleges were instituted to bring up the public universities for inclusion at the "elite" level. The conclusion is that even an education from a public university's "honors college" is no where equal to an education obtained from one of the "elite" colleges.</p>

<p>I have had a lovely experience with my Honors College, though yes, it does vary GREATLY from school to school. Mine has separate requirements, classes, profs, etc. We also have a special "great books of the Western Tradition" course that all freshman are required to take. Our profs are generally open, engaging, and demanding. We also have the opportunity to do a special honors thesis.</p>

<p>Given that I go to University of Houston, the quality of the Honors College is much higher than the regular uni. People I know who go to nearby Rice have said that the honors courses are quite comparable to Rice's classes. You also get a lot of flexibility in what courses you take and many resources.</p>

<p>One issue is, though, that there are a limited number of honors sections, and often to get honors credit for a course, you just do a special project, like another term paper. The class format itself is the same as the basic university's. This is not terribly bad really, as in the upper levels the profs tend to be very good anyway, but in some cases I'm sure the quality suffers. I DO know that it is much better to be a liberal arts/social sciences person in my Honors College than a science person because there are more straight honors courses offered. Still, I'd definitely say my education thus far is the same quality as that in a good LAC, and for much, much less. Last year I paid 4,000 for my entire education, including room and board (taking into consideration my scholarship/grants), and National Merit Scholars don't pay a thing.</p>