Honors “Contract” Courses Can Be Valuable if…

Occasionally, we report on the developing scholarly research related to honors colleges and programs, much if it published by the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council (JNCHC).

As we have been analyzing honors curricula and course offerings for the next edition of our book, we have again observed that most honors programs give students the option to “contract” with a faculty member to do more in-depth work in a non-honors section in order to receive honors credit.

In her 2005 JNCHC article, “Contracting in Honors,”Kambra Bolch, then with the Texas Tech Honors College, sought to answer this question: “Does contracting really measure up to the expectations of the honors experience?”

Now well established, the Texas Tech Honors College dealt forthrightly with this question a decade ago, and Ms. Bolch deftly recounts the experience and then offers answers that should be of interest to prospective honors students and their parents, who should inquire about the frequency and quality of honors contract courses.  (Please see “Solutions” below.)

“Despite a significant growth in the college’s resources and a corresponding increase in its ability to offer stand-alone honors courses, a number of students, particularly in the engineering and science disciplines, still had difficulty completing the required 24 hours of honors coursework to earn an Honors College designation on their diploma,” she wrote.

Another factor leading to more honors contracts was that dual credit and advanced placement credit gave many honors students a chance to apply those credits to general education requirements instead of taking honors courses.  These students then had to find ways to meet the 24-hour requirement, and the use of contract courses increased.  (Now, the college does not allow advanced placement test scores to replace honors courses.)

But the increase in contract courses carried a series of problems.  The typical honors component of non-honors classes was an extra paper, but these were often turned in at the very end of the term, with little previous contact between the professor and honors student, “a situation that seemed antithetical to the expectations of an honors experience.”

Then even more serious issues arose.  Some students submitted plagiarized papers at the last minute, leaving little time to discover the dishonesty.  The quality of legitimate contract work was also uneven.

Accepting that honors contracts had to be retained in some form, the college began a series of meetings, including faculty.   In the end, they came up with the following steps to ensure that honors contracts did in fact meet “the expectations of the honors experience.”

SOLUTIONS…

To ensure the quality of contract credits, the college alone certifies the contract work as worthy of honors credit even though faculty retained the authority to issue whatever grades they thought appropriate.

More importantly, the contract forms themselves became much more detailed and specific.

The information sheet “emphasizes three components of the additional work required for the contract: 1) that the student complete a substantial paper or project (15-20 page research paper or a project of equivalent time/effort); 2) that the student share the knowledge/skills/experiences gained through the paper or project with an audience of some sort; and 3) that the faculty member and student have regular contact outside of class to discuss the student’s progress and answer questions regarding the paper or project.”

In addition, the student is “required to state specifically on the contract form how he or she will meet each of the three requirements. At the midpoint of the semester, the faculty member is asked to provide a brief report on the contact he or she has had with the student and to assess the student’s progress to date.”  An honors college staff person, or persons, is designated to work with all contracts and professors, thereby developing valuable knowledge about courses, grading, requirements, and the range of disciplines open to contracts.

Finally, the college began allow honors students to enroll in graduate courses for honors credit.  Because the courses almost always feature seminar engagement along with rigorous reading and research requirements, they definitely meet the expectations of the honors experience.

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Choosing an Honors Program: Twenty Questions to Ask

We have noticed that many students apply to prominent public universities and then, almost as an afterthought, begin to wonder if the honors program at University A makes that school a better choice than regular admission to the higher-ranked University B.

A far better way to look at honors is to evaluate programs in some depth at the earliest stages of the college application process.  Otherwise, students realize too late that the honors application or scholarship deadlines have already passed, or find themselves searching for anecdotal evidence with little time to spare.

Honors colleges and programs differ greatly in size, quality, curricula, housing, overall philosophy, and financial aid opportunities.  Working through the maze of differences can be a daunting prospect, especially when time is an issue.   When it comes to honors programs, many of the most important questions can be answered only by consideration of those all-important “details.”  Below are twenty steps that should be very useful in helping you make the best decision regardless of whether you want a public or private university honors program:

1. Match basic admission requirements with your test scores, GPA, and essays.

2. Request actual average admission statistics.  These may vary greatly from basic (minimum) requirements.  In general, honors students will have average test scores 6-10% higher than the 25th percentile of accepted students for the university as a whole.  The 25th percentile scores are available from U.S. News and other sources.  If there is a wide gap between the basic and average stats, and your stats are much closer to the basic stats, then you can probably find a better option.  That said, if the admissions requirements are more holistic and less stats-driven, you may be fine.

3. Determine the size of the honors program (mean size in major public universities is ~1,700, but programs may be as small as 140 or as large as 6,000).

4. Ask the fish-to-pond question: Are honors students big fish in a small pond or is the pond full of sizable fish?  The more selective the university as a whole, the bigger all the fish.   Some parents and prospective students might prefer an honors program that stands apart on campus, while others might like a program that is more expansive.  Perhaps if you are not sold on the overall quality of the university, you might choose the former; if you think the university as a whole has a strong student body or you simply prefer a non-elitist atmosphere, then you might like the latter.

5. Assess the quality of the city, surrounding area, and climate.

6. Determine the curriculum requirements as a percentage of graduation requirements. Generally, the number of honors hours should be at least 25% of the total required for graduation.

7. Determine the number of honors sections per semester/quarter.

8. Evaluate the reputation of university in preferred or likely areas of study.

9. Ask whether there are special research opportunities for undergrads and if an honors thesis is required.

10. Ask about staff size, the number of advisers, and availability to students, as well as special freshmen orientation programs.

If the above check out, then:

1.  Ask about the number of honors sections, by discipline, per semester or quarter and try to verify; determine the average enrollment in honors seminars and sections.  The average class size can vary greatly among honors programs, from fewer than 10 students per class to more than 35.  Most seminars and all-honors sections should have around 25 students or fewer, although in almost every case you will find that there are a few large classes, notably in first-year sciences and economics.  Some honors programs have few or no honors courses in certain disciplines.

2.  Ask about the types of honors sections: all-honors seminars; all-honors sections offered by honors or a department; “mixed” sections of honors and non-honors students; and the percentage of honors contract/option/conversion courses per average student at time of graduation.

Mixed sections may be small or, more often, large sections that can have more than 100 total students in 3-4 credit hour courses.  Of these students, maybe 10-20 could be honors students, who then meet for one hour a week (rarely, two hours a week) in separate “discussion” or “recitation” sections.  These sections can be led by tenured professors but are typically led by adjunct faculty or graduate students.  Ask how many sections are mixed, and of these, ask how many of the main section classes are large.

Contract courses are regular–and often larger–sections with both honors and non-honors students, mostly the latter, in which honors students do extra work or have their own discussion sections.  While most programs have some contract courses, they are generally more prevalent in large honors colleges and programs.  There are advantages and disadvantages associated with contract courses.  They can speed graduation, offer more flexibility, expand the influence of honors in the university as a whole, and foster contacts with mentoring faculty. But their quality and size may vary greatly.

3. Ask about tuition discounts, scholarships, continuing financial aid, including special recruitment of national merit scholars.

4. Determine if there is priority registration for honors students and, if so, type of priority registration.

5. Research the types of special honors housing for freshmen and upperclassmen, if any, including basic floor plans, on-site laundry, suite or corridor-style rooms, air-conditioning, location of nearest dining hall, proximity of major classroom buildings (especially in preferred disciplines), and availability of shuttles and other transportation on campus. If there is no special honors housing, it is often a sign that the honors program does not want to foster the big fish in a small pond atmosphere.  The absence of priority registration may be an additional sign.

6. Research the study-abroad opportunities; some universities have a separate division for study-abroad programs.

7. Ask about the presence and involvement of advisers for prestigious scholarships, such as Goldwater, Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, etc., and program success in achieving these awards.

8.  Ask about additional fees for participation in honors and ask about the percentage of honors “completers.”  These are honors students who actually complete all of the honors requirements and graduate with some form of honors.  There are many programs that have completion rates as low as 25% and a few with completion rates higher than 80%.  (This is different from the graduation rate, which, for freshmen honors entrants, is anywhere from 79%–99% after six years.)

9. Now, try to assess the quality of the honors program versus quality of university as a whole.

10. VISIT the college if you have not done so and try to question current honors students.  Some of the information mentioned above can only come from a personal visit or be learned after a student has been accepted.

Surprise: Public Universities Have the Best Academic Departments

We have completed an analysis of academic departmental rankings published by U.S. News, and one result may be a surprise: of the top 56 universities with the best academic departments, 34 are public.   After the top dozen or so universities, including familiar names such as Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, the list is dominated by public institutions.

Part of the reason is that the public universities below are leading research institutions, while a few of the elite private schools that show up in the top 25 of the U.S. News rankings are not really research-intensive.  Examples are Dartmouth, Georgetown, and Notre Dame.  Yet most of the other elite private schools do have a research focus along with many respected graduate courses of study.

Prospective honors students, more than most other students who are considering college, should pay close attention to the rankings of the academic departments in the schools they are considering.  Why do we believe that this is so?

1.  As the somewhat surprising departmental statistics below demonstrate, some of the strongest academic departments in the nation are at public research universities, where the disadvantages of large schools are mitigated by offering honors students relatively small honors communities and classes.

2. Conventional national college rankings often emphasize financial resources, selectivity, small class size, and graduation rates to the point that the actual quality of academic departments can be obscured.  But public university honors students typically have smaller classes and much higher graduation rates than those for the university as a whole.

3. Honors students interested in post-graduate research options should know that there is a strong correlation between highly-rated academic departments and the number of National Science Graduate Research Grants as well as the number of Fulbright Student awards.  Both of these awards are allied with careers in research and academe.

4.  Strong academic departments and an emphasis on undergraduate research, which is often a component of honors programs, also promotes high achievement in earning undergraduate awards, such as Goldwater scholarships.

Having listed the points we above, we also advise prospective honors students to ask honors staff about the reach of the honors curriculum and whether the best professors in strong academic departments are available to teach at least upper-division honors sections.

The departmental rankings below may include up to 15 departments from each university: undergraduate business, undergraduate engineering, and graduate rankings for biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, earth science, economics, education, English, history, math, physics, political science, psychology, and sociology.

Universities whose stats do not include all 15 of the departments above may not do so because (1) they might not offer undergraduate or graduate degrees in the subject (e.g., business, education, engineering); or (2) the ranking of the department is in the lower third of the rankings and are not listed at all.

On the left is the cumulative ranking of academic departments, by institution.  Next we list the number of departments included in the analysis.  Then the actual rating is listed, with, for example, the 2.71 rating for Stanford indicating that of the 14 ranked departments, the overall average was 2.71 on a scale of 1 to 200, with 1 being the best national ranking a department can receive.  Thus the “average” department at Stanford is in the top 3 nationally.  The final listing is the 2014 U.S. News rank of the university as a whole.  Please note that if you are a student of the U.S. News rankings, the cumulative academic department rating is not the same as the “peer assessment” used in the rankings, though there is some correlation.  Public universities are in bold type.

 Dept Rank                   #Depts        Rating                 US News                     

1-Stanford

14

2.71

5

2-UC Berkeley

15

3.13

20

3-MIT

12

4.58

7

4-Harvard

14

5.57

2

5-Caltech

8

5.63

10

6-Princeton

13

5.77

.

1

7-Michigan

15

9.47

28

8-Columbia

13

10.85

4

9-Cornell

14

11.64

16

10-Chicago

12

11.92

5

11-Yale

13

12.00

3

12-Wisconsin

15

12.73

41

13-UCLA

14

12.86

23

14-UT-Austin

15

14.27

52

15-Penn

15

18.53

7

16-Northwestern

14

19.00

12

17-Illinois

15

19.33

41

18-Johns Hopkins

14

19.36

12

19-Washington

15

21.67

52

20-Duke

13

22.38

7

21-Minnesota

15

23.07

69

22-UC San Diego

14

23.29

39

23-Ohio State

15

25.47

52

24-North Carolina

15

25.80

30

25-Penn State

15

25.93

37

26-Brown

13

27.08

14

27-Maryland

15

27.40

62

28-Indiana

14

29.07

75

29-Wash U

13

29.08

14

30-UC Davis

14

30.57

39

31-Virginia

15

32.47

23

32-Georgia Tech

9

32.78

36

33-Emory

11

33.00

20

34-Vanderbilt

14

33.29

17

35-Rice

12

33.83

18

36-UC Irvine

13

34.31

49

37-UC Santa Barb

14

35.64

41

38-Colorado

15

37.00

86

39–USC

15

37.73

23

40-Arizona

15

38.20

119

41-Purdue

15

40.33

68

42-Dartmouth

8

42.75

10

43-Michigan State

15

43.20

73

44-Texas A&M

15

43.80

69

45-Rutgers

15

43.87

63

46-Florida

15

44.00

49

47-Pitt

15

46.00

62

48-Iowa

15

46.93

73

49-Stony Brook

14

47.08

82

50-Arizona State

15

47.27

142

51-Oregon

14

49.36

109

52-Massachusetts

14

52.14

91

53-Notre Dame

13

52.23

18

54-Virginia Tech

12

57.58

69

55-Illinois Chicago

15

58.07

128

56-Georgetown

6

59.33

20

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.

CURRICULUM

 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.