Wyoming, Northern Arizona U to Greatly Expand Honors Colleges

Editor’s Note: The creation and expansion of honors colleges is a major development in higher education. Below are two examples, each from the university’s public information departments.

Aiming to recruit more high-achieving high school graduates and enrich its undergraduate experience, the University of Wyoming is taking initial steps to expand its Honors Program.

The concept of transitioning the existing Honors Program to an Honors College was favorably received by the UW Board of Trustees last week, and the university administration plans to present a full proposal to the board at its May meeting.

“Our Honors Program has a long and rich history, and we see tremendous opportunity to make it an even more vibrant and influential part of the university,” Provost Kate Miller says. “Transitioning to an Honors College would raise its profile, allowing us to attract, retain and add value to the experiences of some of our finest students and faculty at an even higher level than we do now.”

Among the plans are moving the Honors Program from its current location to the Guthrie House — former home of the UW Foundation — on the south end of the UW campus; changing the position of Honors Program director to Honors College dean; and expanding honors enrollment and programming.

Slightly more than 900 UW students are currently part of the Honors Program, which provides coursework, advising and scholarships for high-achieving students who commit to take certain courses, maintain a grade-point average of at least 3.25 and complete a senior capstone project. Students graduate with an honors minor in a variety of fields.

The proposal expected to go before the trustees in May calls for changing the honors minor to a concurrent major or part of a major in all fields of study; gradually expanding the Honors College faculty and staff to accommodate more students; and, in general, developing a curriculum that would better prepare students for professional or graduate school success.

“The competition for high-achieving high school graduates in Wyoming and the region is becoming more intense, and most of our competitors for these students now have honors colleges, which is a national trend,” Miller says. “We feel strongly that this would be beneficial for the entire university as well as the state.”

The UW Faculty Senate is considering the Honors College plan, which stems from multiple reviews of the Honors Program and a steering committee report completed in December.

 

The Arizona Board of Regents approved construction of Northern Arizona University’s Honors College Living and Learning Community at its meeting in Tucson last week.

The 204,656-square-foot building, which is going up at University Drive and Knoles Drive, includes bedrooms, classrooms, a student advising center and study areas. It is a state-of-the-art building designed to be a place where Honors College students can live, study, congregate and collaborate with others who are passionate about learning and creating. The project will cost more than $56 million.

“We are pleased to see an increasing number of top-performing students choose NAU, and programs like the Honors College play a major role in attracting and engaging these students,” President Rita Cheng said. “This facility is an example of our commitment to make NAU home for the region’s best and brightest.”

The Honors College is the oldest honors program in Arizona, and it continues to grow; enrollment increased by 24 percent for the 2016-2017 school year. NAU recently changed the Honors Program into an Honors College, allowing for greater recruitment and retention opportunities for the top talent in the state.

Participation in the Honors College allows undergraduate students to take specialized courses, including a capstone course, access the Honors Writing Center and do research. Establishing classes specifically for Honors students provides them the opportunity to break out of traditional classroom settings and mentor their peers.

Wolf Gumerman, director of the Honors College, said students are put on flexible and rigorous pathways to help them achieve their educational and career goals, offering access to research and a thesis, internships, faculty mentors and more.

“For high-achieving students, the benefits are amazing,” he said. “Our classes are smaller and more discussion-based, and the new curriculum is really driven by the students’ interests.”

Preliminary work to address infrastructure began in the fall, with construction beginning this summer. With the addition of the Honors community, which is scheduled to open in fall 2018, and SkyView, which opens this fall, NAU will add nearly 1,300 on-campus beds in less than 18 months, allowing the university to remain in the top 1 percent of universities nationwide providing on-campus housing.

“I am excited to see the Honors Residential College move forward and break ground next week,” said Rich Payne, executive director of Housing and Residence Life. “This facility will help NAU recruit and retain highly motivated scholars to the Honors College and provide a new high-profile home to students, dedicated faculty and staff where students will enjoy rich in and out of classroom activities and interactions in state-of-the-art surroundings.”

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