Honors Colleges vs. Honors Programs

The work we have done over the past six months has yielded a few insights into the differences between Honors Colleges and Honors Programs. As it turns out, there isn’t much difference until we come to the “value-added” implications, called EXCELLENCE IMPACT in our review (see below).

In our category of OVERALL EXCELLENCE, which includes a metric for prestigious undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, the mean score for Honors Colleges was 67.82 out of 100; the mean score for Honors Programs was 68.16. This very small difference is statistically insignificant. Even though we show statistical differences as small as .01, we do so because we are presenting rankings within rankings…within rankings. But in terms of OVERALL EXCELLENCE and HONORS FACTORS only, a difference of 2-3 whole points between programs is still small.

Our METHODOLOGY page has an expanded discussion about interpreting our results. We urge readers to refer to it.

In the sub-category of honors housing, the Honors Colleges have a slight but real edge, in this case with an average score of 8.07 versus the 7.44 average score for Honors Programs. Since the maximum score in honors housing is 10.0, this small difference is somewhat significant, although three honors programs do not offer separate honors housing, and their scores in this sub-category reflected that fact.

When it comes to HONORS FACTORS only, the Honors Colleges do better, averaging 57.04 out of a possible 75.0 versus the Honors Program average of 55.77. Again, however, this small difference is not too significant

But when we consider EXCELLENCE IMPACT, or the difference between the national rankings of a university as a whole and our evaluation of each university’s honors programs, there is a significant difference.

Only 24 of the universities under review had honors evaluations that bettered their national rankings. Half of these were honors colleges, and half were honors programs. But…the honors colleges that showed “value added” for their universities as a whole had an average value-added (EXCELLENCE IMPACT) rank of 9.83–a top-ten performance, on average. The honors programs, on the other hand, had an average value-added rank of 14.33.

It must be said that many of the “public elites,” such as Michigan, North Carolina, Washington, and Virginia, offer honors programs instead of maintaining separate colleges, and their relatively high rankings in many surveys make it almost impossible to register any impact through their honors programs.

But the honors colleges do seem to perform somewhat better if the task is to provide a body of excellence within a larger university that does not start out with the resources of the public elites.

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