Honors ‘Completers’ or Honors ‘Partials’?

Our thanks to Dr. Lynne Goodstein, who heads the honors program at the University of Connecticut, for educating us on the best way to analyze the graduation and retention rates of honors students.

As John Cosgrove wrote in “The Impact of Honors Programs on Undergraduate Academic Performance, Retention, and Graduation” (Journal of the NCHC Council, 2004), honors “completers,” those who go through the entire honors core curricula and additional requirements, graduated with an average GPA of 3.76. “Partial honors students” who left the honors programs before graduation but still earned a degree, had an average GPA of 3.48, only marginally better than the 3.36 GPA of high-ability students who never entered the honors programs.

Dr. Goodstein argued, correctly, that we should focus on the retention rates of honors completers, since their significantly stronger performance was a better indication of the effectiveness of honors programs. Honors completers are a relatively small percentage of all honors entrants; in the Cosgrove study, the percentage of completers was only 27 percent. Some studies show the percentage of honors completers may range from 18-30 percent.

Unfortunately, not all programs/colleges are able to provide statistics for honors completers, in part because of the difficulty in tracking honors entrants who begin a university-wide program and then move along to departmental programs.

Therefore, we have asked for retention rates after the first and second years of honors programs, as that two-year period includes at least what is typically the core curriculum requirements. (If universities choose to provide the rate for program completers, then please do so.)

We have asked for six-year graduation rates for students who enter honors programs as freshmen (please do not include later entrants). The six-year rate is necessary in order to compare honors-related graduation rates with those of the student body as a whole.

Ultimately, what we will publish will be a hybrid of completers and partials, because approximately 25 percent of freshmen honors entrants will become honors completers. This means that our reported graduation rates will reflect at least part of the completion effect that was demonstrated in Cosgrove’s study, although that effect will not be as specifically quantified as it was in the study, which was able to use GPA data.

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