There is no question that interest in public university honors programs is intense. As fewer highly-qualified students can afford elite educations at Ivy League institutions or at Stanford, Chicago, and other prestigious private universities, public universities have tried and, in many cases, succeeded in providing a strong alternative.
Much of the discussion about honors programs, not surprisingly, concerns universities that are well-known nationally, especially as a result of the popular U.S. News Best American Colleges report. Therefore, the guidebook will include all public universities ranked in the top 75 by the 2012 U.S. News survey, except for UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and the College of William & Mary. (UC Santa Cruz is in the process of developing an honors program. For a discussion of UC Berkeley and William & Mary, please use the Search function and go to the “What About Berkeley and William & Mary?” post.)
In addition, we will review honors programs from all public universities that are members of the research-oriented Association of American Universities except, again, UC Berkeley. As it is the mission of most public university honors programs to combine the advantages of a research university with those of a much smaller liberal arts college, we believe the focus on the AAU members is appropriate.
Finally, again as a result of monitoring the comments on college sites, we have included a relatively small number of universities that do not fall into one of the above categories but that have nonetheless received recognition as having exceptional honors programs. Among the universities’ honors programs in this category are the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi, and the Honors College at the University of South Carolina.
In the book we do not claim that the fifty programs we have evaluated are the “top 50″ in the country, but we do rank the fifty that met our basic criteria.