Editor’s note: We have published an updated version of our review of public university honors programs. It features a mortarboard rating system (similar to five-star rating systems) rather than numerical rankings, and it is based on unique data about honors graduation rates, class sizes, course range and type, honors dorms, and other honors benefits, including merit scholarships.
Public University Press published A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs on April 18, 2012, and the second edition on October 8, 2014. The Press grew out of a project to write only a series of articles that compared published rankings and summarized their findings. Yet we soon discovered that even though the scholarly literature about honors education is growing, the programs themselves had not been evaluated, except in some cases by in-house staff and faculty or by visiting reviewers from other schools. So, instead of reporting on what others had found, we realized that we had to find “it” ourselves.
Or, we should say, try to find it. Among other things that we have stepped into during the project, one big thing is skepticism that anyone, much less someone outside of academe, could begin to compare honors programs in a meaningful way, given their many unique features. That skepticism is understandable, and our first attempt was tentative–though it was the result of many months of total focus on just these fifty programs. The second edition, however, is a comprehensive and extremely detailed publication based on exclusive information. Of the 50 programs under review, 44, or 88 percent, have returned our data questionnaire and/or provided the data we need upon request. For the remaining 6 programs, we have made an extra effort to research and analyze class sizes, the range of offerings across departments, the number of seminars, and many other elements that go into our reviews. One important category of the second edition is that it, like the first edition, will show whether an honors program or college is relatively stronger or weaker than the university as a whole, except for a few “public elites” whose honors and university-wide rankings often vary insufficiently for this measure. (On the Methodology page of this site we provide a description of the data. We urge you to read the page.)
The editor of Public University Press is John Willingham, who is also the editor of publicuniversityhonors.com. For the second edition, John worked with an assistant editor and the same Ph.D. statistician who was involved with the first edition of the Review. In the summer of 2012, John completed a training session offered by the National Collegiate Honors Council on how to conduct external evaluations of honors colleges and programs.
A full-time writer and editor, John is a former regular contributor to the History News Network (hnn.us) and is the author of a historical novel on the Texas Revolution. Much of his work for HNN focused on education issues in Texas, especially the curriculum wars that occurred in 2010-2011 over the adoption of the state’s history and social studies curricula. Another essay for HNN explored the relationship of historical fiction and the teaching of history, especially in the university.
His own novel, The Edge of Freedom, A Fact-Based Novel of the Texas Revolution, has been used as a reading supplement in college. It received positive reviews in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, the major historical journal for the state of Texas, and from several Texas historians. His work has also been published in the former Texana Quarterly, Religion Dispatches, San Antonio Express-News, Texas Observer (online piece), and in the Southwest Review (SWR), one of the nation’s leading literary journals, which recently celebrated 100 years of continuous publication under the auspices of Southern Methodist University Press. A long essay on prominent Texas writers will appear in the SWR later this year.
John became interested in the history of education, especially higher education, when he was a graduate student in American history at the University of Texas at Austin, earning an M.A. before deciding to pursue a career in journalism and public administration in Texas. Earlier, John had received a B.A. from UT Austin, with honors, majoring in history. His minor fields in graduate school were education and journalism. He now spends most of the year in Portland, Oregon.