FAQ about the Purdue University Honors College Curriculum

Editor’s Note: This FAQ explaining Purdue’s revised honors curriculum is from the Purdue Honors College site.  We are constantly touting the importance of honors curriculum, and this is a good example of a clear and concise explanation of a solid curriculum.

Q: Why are 24 credits required to graduate with honors?

A: 24 credits represent a significant investment of time and intellectual energy in honors coursework. The number of credits—which amounts to an average of a single 3-cr. honors course per semester for 8 semesters—is sufficient to distinguish the honors degree and to allow for the completion of that degree within 4 years.

 Q: Why are HONR courses required?

A: The 5 credits of required HONR courses specify a minimally enhanced breadth of study, which can be further enhanced through elective Honors courses. HONR courses also build community and identity among honors students across the disciplines.

Q: Why must 9 credits of honors electives be taken after the first year of college enrollment?

A: To ensure that some of the additional breadth and depth is not just at the introductory level. This requirement is also intended to keep the Honors College students involved in honors activities during the time between their first year and the beginning of their thesis research. 

Q: Why are up to 12 credits specifiable by individual colleges?

A: To allow the Honors College curriculum to comply with the accreditation requirements of some colleges while not extending the major curriculum significantly beyond 120 credits.

 Q: Why is a thesis or scholarly activity required?

 A: The thesis requirement specifies a minimally enhanced depth of study, which can be further enhanced through elective Honors courses. The thesis demonstrates that a student has distinguished himself or herself in the chosen field of study and can help prepare a student for professional or scholarly life after graduation.

 Q: Is the thesis requirement different from college to college?

 A: Yes. The implementation of the thesis requirement is left to the colleges—with the option to delegate this to departments—which both simplifies its administration and leaves the experts within each college or department to judge the quality and appropriateness of student work.

 Q: Will students in every college be able to participate in the new curriculum?

 A: Yes. It is designed to allow students from every college across the university to be able to follow—and to graduate within normative time.

 Q: What are the differences among HONR courses, H courses, and H contract courses?

 A: HONR courses are interdisciplinary courses offered through the Honors College; H courses are honors sections of existing courses offered by the academic colleges; H contract courses are non-honors courses in which the instructor and student do an independent honors project together in addition to regular coursework.


Western Kentucky Honors College: Regional Excellence, International Impact

The Honors College at Western Kentucky University came to our attention while we were doing our regular review of the number of prestigious national scholarships won by public universities, such as Truman, Goldwater and Fulbright awards.  For this and other reasons, the honors college at WKU is the third we will profile from among the increasingly important regional state universities.

We follow Goldwater awards closely because they are awarded to undergraduates only, and only to students in the STEM subjects.  The undergraduate focus points to the level of research and faculty support that students receive in order to win the highly competitive Goldwater scholarships.

Since 2008, WKU students have earned 15 Goldwater scholarships or honorable mention.  This would be a high level of achievement even for a top flagship university.

We also commend the honors college at WKU for its extensive curricular offerings, along with the association of the college with the Chinese Flagship Pilot Program, one of only 11 such undergraduate programs in the nation and the only one centered in an honors college.

Students in the Chinese Flagship Program receive intensive language instruction, regardless of major, and achieve very high levels of fluency.  In addition, the college reports that “in the past 3 years, our Flagship students have received 2 Fulbright Grants to China, 9 U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarships, 2 David L. Boren Scholarships, 3 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships, and 3 Foundation for Global Scholars Awards.”

The college is also affiliated with the Gatton Academy of Math and Science, the only state-funded residential high school in Kentucky for students in the STEM subjects.  This unique partnership allows gifted STEM students to take as many as 70 hours of college credit while they are in the academy, including many honors courses.  Graduates are able to pick and choose among top colleges in the nation, and about one-quarter decide to remain at WKU for the remainder of their undergraduate work.

Freshman entrants to the college are required to complete 33 hours of honors work, including a six-hour capstone experience/thesis.  A slightly different track is also available, requiring the same 33 hours but substituting honors seminars for the capstone/thesis.

Transfer students with 45 or fewer hours can still complete the 33-hour requirement.  Those with more than 45 hours of work behind them are eligible for the 18-hour honors in the major option, which includes a thesis.  All transfer students must have at least a 3.5 GPA.

Freshman applicants compete for 300 places in the college.  The minimum requirements are a 27 ACT or a 1210 SAT or high school graduation in the top 15 percent of the class.  But the average entrant has an ACT score of 29, SAT score of 1300, and a 3.86 high school gpa.

Another strong feature is the structure of the honors college.  It is our opinion that honors colleges and programs work to their fullest and best extent when they are also the focal point for mentoring students with the potential to win national prestigious scholarships.  The Office of Scholar Development at WKU is a part of the honors college and has three full-time staff members involved in the recruitment and support of high-achieving students.

The college has three honors residence options.  Freshmen may live in Minton Hall, a traditional, corridor-style facility that is the only coed freshman hall on campus (with gendered floors).  Bates-Runner Hall is a hotel-style dorm for sophomores and juniors, with shared rooms and private baths, while McLean Hall is a similar facility for juniors and seniors.  All three halls are centrally located.

There is also the brand new WKU apartments on Kentucky Street, each with a private room and bath.

Another benefit for honors students is priority registration for classes and, even more important, students can actually design their own majors with help from small faculty committees.  Class size is limited to 25 students, and many have 16 students or fewer.  Continuation requires maintaining at least a 3.2 gpa.  About 55 percent of honors students also study abroad, many in England and China.

In January 2014, the college will break ground for a new Honors/International Building, a $22 million, 67,000 square foot complex that will cement the relationship between the honors college and the university’s heightened focus on international studies.

As for financial aid, “all WKU students who are awarded the university’s top two scholarships: ‘Henry H Cherry Presidential Scholarships’ and the ‘1906 Founders Scholarships’ are required to be in the Honors College.

“On average, the 300 Honors College first year students are awarded over $2 million in renewable scholarships for WKU… over 66% of our incoming first year student are awarded at least a renewable tuition scholarship.”

WKU is located in Bowling Green, the third largest city in Kentucky behind Louisville and Lexington.  The campus is on top a large hill overlooking the city of about 60,000 people and the entire Barren River Valley.   There is a GM assembly plant in the city, making Bowling Green the home of the Chevrolet Corvette.  WKU is the second largest university in the state and has the only honors college in the state.

Iowa State to Enhance Engineering Honors Curriculum

The following story is by Mike Randleman of the Iowa State Daily: mike.randleman@iowastatedaily.com,

Beginning in the fall of 2013, an overhaul to the requirements for students in the College of Engineering honors program will be enacted.

Current prerequisites will remain the same to gain admission into the program, but requirements for graduation will change to provide a more diverse experience for students.

University-wide honors requirements of maintaining a 3.5 GPA and completing an honors research project will remain in place.

“What’s really new, and what hopefully will be more appealing to students is that we ask that students in the program illustrate excellence in three categories,” said Amy Kaleita-Forbes, chairwoman of the engineering honors committee and associate professor in agriculture and biosystems engineering.

The three categories include breadth, depth, and community and professional development.

“Breadth means we want them to take some other courses outside of engineering; depth involves really digging into your chosen area of study. Community and professional development can include outreach programs or working on non-technical skills to develop yourself as a professional,” Kaleita-Forbes said.

Within each category, a student is required to either achieve one intense expression, or two moderate expressions.

An example of an intense expression could be the addition of a second minor or major in a science or engineering field.

A moderate expression includes working as a supplemental instruction tutor.

The new system will replace the current points-based system, one that Kaleita-Forbes described as confusing, and limiting students’ ability to branch out without sacrificing honors credits.

“When we talked to alums, a lot of what we heard was they would say they studied abroad and that was amazing, or they took a 400-level psychology class and it was fascinating. The old system didn’t prevent you from doing any of this stuff, it just didn’t credit you for doing it,” Kaleita-Forbes said.

Under the new system, a student can now progress in meeting their requirements by participating in study-abroad opportunities or becoming a learning community peer mentor, among other options.

“What we would like is for the plan of study requirements to credit them and value all the things they already want to be doing,” Kaleita-Forbes said.

While making the changes, which will be officially set this summer, the College of Engineering honors committee reached out to past and current students.

“We talked to students, we talked to alums, we looked at requirements at other universities’ honors programs and decided to rework the requirements to hopefully be more aligned with the things that students are already doing that make them so excellent,” Kaleita-Forbes said.

Some engineering honors students find the current requirements to be confusing and overly rigorous as well.

“The current engineering honors requirements to me do seem more challenging, especially compared to other majors,” said Sam Eastman, freshman in mechanical engineering.

After reviewing the proposed revisions, sent to current honors students earlier this spring, the new requirements “seem doable,” Eastman said.

Students who favored the current points system have the ability to complete their honors degree using the system, but must have their plans of study approved by semester’s end.

Most who have begun under the current system will be accommodated so as not to be at a disadvantage.

“I don’t know that there are a whole lot of students for whom this is definitely harder to accomplish. In fact, I’ve seen numerous students who are clearly meeting these requirements who would’ve really been challenged to squeeze in everything under the old system,” Kaleita-Forbes said.

Students interested in joining the program or who want to receive more information are urged to contact their adviser or their department’s honors adviser, as the website is currently under revision to reflect the new changes and will be fully reflective of the new requirements by this summer.


University of Iowa Revises Honors Curriculum

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to the honors staff for providing this update:

The curriculum for University Honors has been revised, effective for students entering The University of Iowa Summer 2013 and after.

Students who complete the new University Honors requirements will have a notation on their transcript and diploma stating that they have graduated with University Honors. Indication of this award will be part of graduation ceremonies.

General Requirements

  • Students must opt into the program after being invited to do so.
  • First-year first-semester students must attend an Honors Program orientation session in the summer; other students must attend an informational session (e.g. Welcome to Honors) during a regular semester.
  • All students in their first semester of Honors Program membership must take at least one Honors course. First-year first-semester students must complete a 1 s.h. Honors First-Year Seminar during the fall semester. Other students may choose any offered Honors course or may develop an Honors Contract course.
  • Students must maintain a cumulative UI GPA of 3.33.


 Level One Requirement:  Building Knowledge

  •  Students must complete a minimum of 12 s.h. of Honors course work by the end of the fourth semester of fulltime Honors Program membership.
  • A maximum of 3 s.h. of Honors Contract courses may be applied to the level one requirement except in the case of new members with significant General Education credit. These students may apply up to 6 s.h. of honors contract credit.

 Level Two Requirement: Learning by Doing

Students must complete an additional 12 s.h. (or the equivalent) of Honors experiences.

Experiential learning for honors credit can take many forms, including research, study abroad, or internships; work completed for honors in the major, usually resulting in a thesis or creative project, also counts as experiential learning for honors credit.

Students choose from the options below, with some options completely satisfying the requirement and others requiring a combination of activities:

  • Honors in the major (as required by a department) completely satisfies the level two requirement.
  • Mentored research (practica, paid, or as a fellow with the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates).
  • Study abroad with project.*
  • Internships with project* (may satisfy up to 6 s.h. of the level two requirement).
  • Honors and graduate level course work (may satisfy up to 6 s.h. of the level two requirement).

*Study abroad and internships require a pre-approved, independent project with a poster presentation or paper facilitated by Honors.

(*Engineering students have alternative requirements; please visit the Honors Program web page for information.)

For questions on the new curriculum and requirements, contact Holly Yoder at honors-advisor@uiowa.edu.

Temple University Honors Program: Great Housing, Strong Curriculum

We are long overdue in writing a profile of the Temple University Honors College in Philadelphia, but what from what we have learned, we can say it is well worth writing about and considering as an honors option.

The college falls into our largest category, which includes programs with average SAT’s in the 1300’s.   The actual average score at Temple Honors College is 1334.  The college admits about 350 freshmen each year and has a total enrollment of 1,592, including some transfer students and non-freshman entrants.

As we have written in several profiles and in our book, we continue to believe that the quality and extent of the honors curriculum is the most important attribute of a program, not least because it provides a continuing focal point for honors contacts among students and faculty.

The Temple honors curriculum requires 10 honors courses and establishes yearly benchmarks that students must reach in order to avoid probation.   We believe this is an excellent policy, as it ensures the continuing involvement that sets the best honors programs apart from those that see students losing interest after the first year or two.

At the end of the freshman year, honors students must have completed at least three honors courses.  As sophomores, they must have completed six honors courses.  After their junior year, they must have at least eight honors courses under their belts and be able to work on honors projects, theses, and additional courses in the final year.

The other outstanding feature of the college is its living/learning community for honors students, the “1300” residence hall on the south side of campus.  The 1300 includes about 90 percent of freshman honors students, a very high percentage and one that likely contributes strongly to honors retention rates.

The 1300 is also outstanding because it houses more than 1,000 total honors students, including upperclassmen in apartment-type accommodations.  The other rooms are suites, and all are air-conditioned.   Many honors residence halls cannot house students across all four years, and most of those that do cannot match the amenities of 1300.

So along with Penn State Schreyer, Delaware, UMass Amherst, Pitt, and UConn honors, students in the northeast have another solid public option for honors education.

Apply as soon after January 1 as possible to be considered for the best scholarships, which are awarded by February 15.  The final application deadline for the university is March 1.

OU Honors College Works with Student to Develop MOOC Pilot Program

Note: this excellent piece by Max Janerka, is from the Oklahoma Daily.  A great story about an honors dean collaborating with a student…

Starting this coming semester, OU will be offering an experimental program of MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses.

This pilot program will be made available exclusively through the Honors College at first, and it will not count for OU credit, said Jake Morgan, a microbiology sophomore and the mastermind behind the program.

Morgan, who also is a reporter for The Daily, said the pilot program will begin a few weeks into the semester and function like the Honors College reading groups, where students involved in the online courses meet in informal groups once a week to discuss what they learned and study together.

This would make up for the lack of community sentiment that is regarded as the greatest pitfall of MOOCs as a whole, Morgan said, and it will allow students to work together in pursuit of knowledge.

Morgan said he got the idea when he attended an educational symposium called “NextEd” at the Oklahoma Creativity Festival. One of the speakers there was Ken Parker, founder of NextThought, which is an innovative start-up focused on improving the quality and accessibility of online education, according to Creative Oklahoma’s website.

At the festival, Parker talked about online education and discussed MOOCs and the dangers and pitfalls of studying online and relying on the Internet, Morgan said. The question that bothered Morgan was how to create a learning community while still being involved in the MOOC, so he decided to try to resolve the biggest problem of a lack of interaction here at OU.

After coordinating with Honors College Dean David Ray, Morgan came up with a plan.

The program will encompass four online courses over three platforms: Game Theory and Critical Thinking in Global Challenges from Coursera, How to Build a Startup from Udacity and a course on artificial intelligence from edX. Morgan said it was important for the pilot program to be spread over multiple platforms and different types of programs in order to have a wider base from which to build the MOOC program in the future.

The artificial intelligence course is, according to edX’s website, an upper-division course originating from UC Berkley that is taught by Pieter Abbeel and Dan Klein and introduces the basic ideas and techniques underlying the design of intelligent computer systems.

How to Build a Startup is a business course focusing on instructor Steve Blank’s Customer Development process, according to Udacity’s website. The key steps of this process include identifying and engaging the first customers for a product and gathering, evaluating and using customer feedback to improve the product, marketing and business model.

Game Theory from Coursera is taught by Matthew O. Jackson and Yoav Shoham of Stanford University and Kevin Leyton-Brown of the University of British Columbia and focuses on “representing games and strategies, the extensive form (which computer scientists call game trees), Bayesian games (modeling things like auctions), repeated and stochastic games, and more,” according to the website.

The Coursera website also describes the course Critical Thinking in Global Challenges as one which will help students to “develop and enhance [their] ability to think critically, assess information and develop reasoned arguments in the context of the global challenges facing society today.” This course is taught by Mayank Dutia and Celine Caquineau, both of the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

Morgan said the program is still in its planning stages. Meeting times, resources and student involvement are all still being worked on.

“We are planning on starting small,” Morgan said. “That way, if there is a problem, whether in the program or in logistics, we will be able to tackle it.”

Miami of Ohio Approves New Pre-Med Co-Major with MCAT Focus

Although this new program is not limited to honors students, we thought it would be of interest.  The excellent piece about the program by the campus editor follows.

By Allison McGillivray, Campus Editor, The Miami Student

Miami University Senate approved the creation of a pre-medicine co-major at its meeting Monday Nov.19. The major will allow students who plan to apply to medical school to major in pre-medicine in addition to their chosen major.

The new co-major will require students to take all courses that are required by medical schools and that will be covered on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which recently added to the material that test-takers are required to know, according to Dave Pennock, professor of zoology.

In addition, pre-medicine co-majors must take a course in their first-year where they plan their studies at Miami. Students must also take a medical school application preparation class in their third year.

The Senate’s approval of the major makes Miami the first school in Ohio to have a pre-medicine co-major, according to Pennock.

Senator and Professor of political science Philip Russo said the co-major should be approved since it institutionalizes a program that Miami already has and will make a difference in recruiting pre-medicine students.

“You can bet that there are several university senates around the state discussing this right now, given the political economy for competing for these types of students in the state of Ohio, there will be several coming down the pike,” Russo said. “So we might as well get out in front on this and institutionalize what we already have.”

Editor’s Note: The Miami Student is the oldest campus newspaper in the U.S., having been established in 1826.

East Tenn State University: Exemplary Honors Coordination

It is a dream of many honors deans and directors that their offices might one day be able to coordinate honors curriculum, undergraduate research, internships, and study-abroad under one roof.

That day has already arrived for the Honors College at East Tennessee State University, located in Johnson City, right on the border between Tennessee and Virginia.

Although the bedrock University Honors Scholars program was established in 1993, the advent of the Honors College in 2005 brought with it two more honors options along with the consolidation of all the above functions within the college.  Dean Rebecca Ann Pyles reports that graduation rates are high among the more than 400 students enrolled in all honors options–86–88 percent of students graduate in honors.

The University Honors Scholars program enrolls only about 22 students a year.  Minimum entrancement requirements include an SAT of 1290 and GPA of 3.5.  The UHS program extends across all four years and, like the other two options at the college, requires the completion of an honors thesis.

UHS students complete four year-long seminars, two in the freshmen year and two more as sophomores.  The freshman seminars focus on English and philosophy.  Students consider alternatives to their own views, often from global perspectives, and then reflect on how their own perspectives might be seen by others.

In the sophomore year, much of the emphasis is on the interrelationships of the sciences and the broader culture.  Students not only learn about the most significant scientific concepts but also the ethical responsibilities that accompany many scientific advances.

Sophomores also take a turn toward the creative side.  Students study and participate in studio and performing arts, learning the importance of aesthetics to all elements of human culture.

Juniors participate in the unique Honors Appalachian course, where they study the history, arts, economics,  and politics of the region.

Senior honors work focuses on research and the completion of the honors thesis.

The Midway Scholars option enrolls transfer students with an associate’s degree or at least 30 hours of credit, and with a minimum GPA of 3.5.  Midway Scholars take three honors or honors option courses and must complete a research course and write a thesis.

The Honors in Discipline (HID) option also requires honors or honors option coursework along with a thesis in the major, or “discipline,” of the student.  Currently, seventeen departments are involved in the HID program.

All honors students can take advantage of Washington internships coordinated by the honors office, and can participate in international study, also through the honors college.

Honors students at ETSU also have the option of living on the sixth floor of Governors Hall, new in 2007.  The hall includes space for more than 500 students who share double rooms with private baths.




NCHC Conference: The ‘Revolution’ in Learning Is about ‘Things that Matter’

Taking inspiration from the prominent role of Boston in the America Revolution, faculty from the University of Maine who made presentations at the National Collegiate Honors Council annual conference in Boston sought to define what makes honors education “revolutionary” in contrast to many college courses that have a more instrumental focus.

One answer: the revolution occurs within bright students who are seriously evaluating their beliefs in light of great texts and new experiences, and who share their thoughts, concerns, and criticisms with faculty and with other students who are going through the same process.

Most of what they discuss is the result of a process one professor referred to as “thinking hard about things that matter.”  Ironically, classes that explore and challenge religious beliefs or explore humanity’s relationship with nature or reflect on previous cultural and political revolutions are often dismissed by those who believe that instrumental, or vocational, learning is the thing that matters.

What, more specifically, can honors learning mean for a student.  One young woman in the Maine honors college said that she had come to the university as a “diehard relativist” who was convinced that there was no such thing as objective truth.  Now at the end of her honors career—but not her intellectual commitment—her vocational interests may not have changed, but her basic attitude toward the world—her values—have been dramatically affected; she has discovered, if not absolute truth, then true conviction.  To what extent would this have occurred in a business management class, or a calculus class?

Is this a risk, not only to students, but to parents who send their young men and women to college?  Yes, but honors education embraces an element of risk, subscribing to the idea that young people grow by putting themselves “out there” in the company of peers who are part of the same process of internal and mutual discovery.

Successful honors instructors, therefore, have to extend themselves, to join in the effort to “push the envelope beyond the instrumental.”

One Maine economics professor took on the challenge of teaching an honors course on how we define nature, in the process leaving the “dismal science” behind him along with some of his accustomed hard logic.  Before he was done, he and his class had followed Thoreau’s path in the Maine woods, subjected themselves to an orienteering challenge, and emerged from both the literal and figurative forest of humanity’s relationship with nature filled with new questions, new insights, and deeper understanding.

A professor who taught a course about the Sixties’ revolution found that his students experienced the hope and optimism of “the movement,” saw its impact (especially on white Americans), recognized the “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King as one of the most eloquent expressions of the times—but then had to come to terms with the disillusionment that followed that particular revolution.

What does this teach students who are thinking hard about things that matter?  They may come to believe that each generation needs to dream its own dreams, let them emerge, learn from them, and accept a due portion of disappointment themselves.  It may not be calculus, but it really matters.


NCHC Annual Conference: High-Impact Programming for Honors Residence Facilities

Dr. Lynne Goodstein has a wealth of experience in honors education, having directed the program at the University of Connecticut for many years.  The UConn program has more than 1,600 students, and about half of them live in honors residence halls; another quarter live elsewhere on campus.

Even though Dr. Goodstein is leaving honors to return to the classroom, she shared her insights into developing effective, high-impact programs for honors residences and facilities during a session at the National College Honors Council annual conference in Boston.

Below please see her “top ten” recommendations.  Parents and prospective students should find these useful as they visit honors colleges and programs across the country.

  1. The programming for residence halls should have clear goals and learning objectives.
  2. Variety is extremely important; the “menu” should include community service, along with social, academic, and professional development and opportunities to meet with faculty.
  3. The programs should be tailored to match the changing needs of students across four years.  This means offering a wide variety of activities in the first two years, including many social programs to develop a sense of community.  During the last two years, programming becomes more closely-related to specific professional and academic interests.
  4. Programming benefits from partnerships with cultural centers on and off campus, with academic departments, and with the university office of residential life.
  5. Residential assistants (RA’s) should be well-trained and understand the connections between their programs and honors goals.
  6. Incentives to students are important, but should not be excessive.  Students should not be required to attend too many programs—about five in the first two years is recommended.
  7. Honors staff need to focus on online and other means of communicating meeting the topics, dates, and times of program events..
  8. Honors staff should solicit and read student response forms for use in future planning.

At UConn, one of the most successful programs is the “Lunch Bunch,” a series of luncheon meetings during which honors students have informal discussions with faculty, whom they get to know on a more personal basis.

The Honors in the Arts programming allows students to develop or expand an interest in the arts and meet new people in small groups.  Book clubs are another way to expand student interest and promote positive associations.

Leadership programs and alumni presentations tailored to specific majors and professions are also
successful and help to sustain ties between generations of students.