Should Honors Colleges Charge Extra? If So, How Much?

A recent, excellent piece in Inside Higher Edby Rick Seltzer, explores the pros and cons of public honors colleges’ charging extra fees (or differential tuition) in order to enroll and serve increasing numbers of honors students.

(Here we can pretty much confine the discussion to honors colleges because honors programs rarely charge significant fees for attendance.)

At the end of this post is a list of honors colleges that have significant honors fees, and the fee amounts.

Much of the piece involves Barrett Honors College at Arizona State, and Barrett Dean Mark Jacobs is a proselytizer for charging the extra fees and is proud that Barrett has been successful, telling Inside Higher Ed that “when you’re an educational institution, the best you can talk about in terms of the effect outside your own institution is hoping that good ideas you have might be copied and used by other people, or translated to fit their context.”

Ten years ago, Barrett enrollment cost each student $250 a semester. Now, the fee is $750 a semester, or $1,500 per academic year. With the cost of in-state attendance at ASU now at $28,491, the honors fee adds about 5% to the total cost.

One of Jacobs’ arguments mirrors those of almost all public university honors deans and directors: The “liberal arts college within a major research university” model is a bargain for students who would pay much more to attend a good liberal arts college or a strong private elite research university. So, even with the extra charge, public honors remains “a smoking deal” and “an absolute steal.”

Jacobs is in a position to know whereof he speaks; he has bachelors with high honors from Harvard, a Ph.D. from Stanford, and he had an endowed chair in biology at Swarthmore.

Another argument is that state funding cuts have put public universities in a bind, and the extra fees for honors help expand those and other programs at the universities. In addition, public honors colleges (and programs) give highly-talented students in-state options that are in great need given the increased selectivity and arbitrary admission standards of elite universities.

One thing not in doubt is whether the practice at Barrett has helped financially. “In 2017,” Seltzer writes, “the college draws 36 percent of its budget from general operations and 4 percent from endowment income. A whopping 60 percent of the budget comes from the fee.”

On the other hand, Bette Bottoms, dean emerita at the University of Illinois Honors College and a longtime leader in honors education, maintains that universities should value their honors colleges enough to put institutional money into them and not ask students to pay the costs.

“Now, if you tell me that Arizona [State] has some way of waiving the fee for lower-income students, that makes the model more palatable, but I still don’t agree with it,” she told Seltzer. “Do incoming students know this? We never charged a fee, and I found that prospective students and their families often expected it anyway — I’m sure this kept some students from even considering applying.”

“Arizona State must set aside 17 percent of its honors college fees for financial aid,” Seltzer writes, and, according to Jacobs, “Barrett students can receive need-based and non-need-based aid from the university’s central financial aid office. Students can also receive aid from the honors college in the event their financial aid packages are not enough to allow them to pay the fee for being honors students.”

The Barrett model has influenced at least a few other honors colleges. The new Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky will charge a $500 annual fee. The namesake of the LHC, Tom Lewis, donated $23 million to his alma mater to create the new honors college. He is also an Arizona resident and longtime supporter of Barrett, who likely believes the Barrett model is a good one to follow.

But not entirely. Dean Christian Brady, formerly dean of the well-known Schreyer Honors College at Penn State, recognizes the good work of Dean Jacobs at Barrett, but believes honors colleges should not be so physically separated as Barrett is on the ASU campus. He wrote at length about his philosophy on this site two years ago.

The issue of elitism at honors colleges (and programs) is also a factor. Even though Barrett goes out of its way to connect hundreds of ASU faculty, honors students, and non-honors students through the extensive use of honors contract courses, the physical separation of the honors campus can be a negative for some while it is a positive for others.

Our own view is that the extra fees can have an overall positive impact if they do not exceed, say, 5% of the in-state cost of university attendance and if the honors colleges have resources to assist students for whom the fee is a burden.

Another way to measure the impact of the extra fees is to analyze the extent to which they might discourage students from completing the full honors curriculum.

The honors college that charges the most in extra fees (actually differential tuition) is the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. There, students face an extra charge of $4,192 per year, which amounts to a 15.8% increase in tuition. Some scholarships to offset the very considerable charge are available after the first year.

It may be noteworthy that Barrett and Clark have similar student profile stats, though Clark students have somewhat higher test scores (new SAT 1410 to new SAT 1350). The six-year grad rate for Barrett honors entrants was 89% and for Clark entrants, 82%.

Oregon State Honors College has a differential charge of $1,353, not too much below the fee at Barrett. Oregon State honors entrants had a six-year grad rate of 87.6%, with a sizable portion of engineering students. The average (new) SAT at the OSU Honors College is about 1430.

While this is not definitive data, it only makes sense that the greater the differential cost, the more honors students will be forced to balance the value of their honors education against the cost or simply conclude that they cannot afford honors at all.

University Annual Fee
Oregon 4192.00
Arizona St 1500.00
Oregon St 1353.00
South Carolina 1150.00
Colorado St 1000.00
Massachusetts 600.00
Kentucky 500.00
Arizona 500.00
Houston 500.00
Auburn 437.50
Clemson 437.50
Purdue 200.00
Utah 150.00
Virginia Commonwealth 100.00
Penn St 50.00

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Q & A with Inaugural Honors Dean at Kentucky’s Lewis Honors College

Editor’s Note: The following detailed Q & A is between editor John Willingham and Dr. Christian M.M. Brady, the inaugural Dean of the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky, where almost half of the inaugural class is receiving full tuition scholarships or greater awards. Dr. Brady is the former longtime Dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. [Emphases below are added.] Please see earlier post, Kentucky to Open New Honors College with Gift of $23 Million.

Dean Christian M.M. Brady, Lewis Honors College

Editor: Can you say what the expected test score and GPA requirement will be, at least approximately at LHC?

Dean Brady: This year’s incoming class has an average unweighted GPA of 3.86 and an average ACT of 31.4. Please note that these figures are determined after the fact. The LHC does not use standardized test scores, but rather has an holistic selection process. The formal statement on the website currently reads*: “Applicants to the Lewis Honors College typically have at least a 28 ACT or 1310 SAT (M + EBRW) and an unweighted GPA of 3.50 on a 4.00 scale.” These minimums are not guarantees of admission to the program, but act as a benchmark for consideration. All applicants should be aware that Honors admission decisions are made independently of Competitive Academic Scholarships and applications will not be reviewed until a student has been admitted to the University….[A]n applicant’s essay responses carry a large amount of weight in the admission process….The deadline for submission of the application and all required documents is December 1.

*These minimum requirements are likely to change.

Editor: In what ways will the LHC differ from the previous honors program? In what ways the same? Will the number of honors sections be significantly increased?

Lewis Hall

Dean Brady: Honors was created at UK in 1961 and has taken on various forms in its nearly 60 year history. With the establishment of the Lewis Honors College we will continue the more recent progress of a university-wide honors program with certain key features. The development of a foundational course and experience that all Lewis Honors College Scholars will participate in, the expansion of departmental honors courses, and the strengthening of the honors thesis or capstone requirement. Students are also required to do 6 credits of “honors experience,” which can be accomplished via study abroad, service learning, and research. The LHC will have up to ten lecturers who will teach the Foundations Seminar and other honors courses through the relevant departments. We will also have two endowed lectureships: one in the area of organizational behavior and the other in entrepreneurship. There is a new Career Advising Center being created, with a staff of four advisors. There will also be five Academic Advisors. These new staff positions, along with other student programing positions, will all be in place by the end of fall 2017. Staff will be housed in the new Lewis Hall.

Located directly across from the WT Thomas Library and next to “The 90,” a dining and classroom space, Lewis Hall is one of three Honors residence halls and includes 346 beds. It also has over 20,000 square feet of office and meeting space, including four classrooms and a café. There is a spacious outdoor patio venue as well. One particular concern that I think will come to the fore is the commitment to helping students from their earliest moments on campus to discern their pathway forward. (E.g., they might have always thought they should be an engineer because they are good at numbers and like creating things, but they might actually be more of a business person. Or vice versa.) This will be determined and elaborated later in this semester, once we have the opportunity to meet with students and faculty.

Editor: What is the size of the class of 2021, and anticipated size thereafter?

Dean Brady: The incoming class is predicted to be 540 and our target is to maintain 10% of total student population, roughly 2,200 LHC Scholars.

Editor: What is your personal vision for LHC, building on your long experience at Penn State and contacts in the honors community?

Dean Brady: I believe firmly that every honors college and program should reflect what is distinctive and unique about the larger university community of which it is a part…. [W]e should also have a particular distinctiveness that reflects the Kentucky identity. This does not mean that we are regional, quite the opposite. The traits I have already seen in terms of work ethic, humility, and commitment to community are those that we should seek to inculcate in all students. Over the next 5 to 10 years we will build one of the strongest honors colleges in the nation. Founded upon the strength of excellent faculty, great breadth of offerings at UK (it is one of the most comprehensive research universities in the nation, with every professional school, aside from veterinary, within 1 mile of the honors complex), and developing men and women to understand and meet their own potential while benefitting their communities. As some have put it, “doing well while doing good.” The LHC will also become a standard within the nation and the world for innovation….With over thirteen years in the honors community, I look forward to working with our colleagues around the world to continue to learn from their best practices, develop exchange opportunities for our students, and help establish new standards for honors education. We will be submitting a proposal to host the [Honors Education at Research Univerity] HERU meeting in 2019 and I look forward to working with my SEC colleagues, many of whom I have already met through HERU and Big Ten conferences.

Interior view of Lewis Hall

Editor: What are the amounts and availability of merit scholarships, and do LHC students automatically qualify for university scholarships? Does the LHC offer its own merit scholarships?

Dean Brady: I am still learning where exactly all funds reside, but this is certain: the LHC has more than $8MM in scholarships each year. Almost half of all incoming students will have a scholarship at least cover full tuition. We are also preparing to enter into a capital campaign in which developing further scholarship and grant funds (for research, study abroad, and internships) will be a priority.

Editor: Can you tell us more about the honors residence halls and the LHC administration building?

Dean Brady: I referenced the new Lewis Hall earlier. There are also two other Honors residence halls, all built within the last 5 years, that are beautifully appointed with learning spaces for the students on each floor, ground floor lounges, and located next to the library and the new, $112MM Jacobs Science Building.

Another view of the Lewis complex

Editor: Can you tell us more about the size of the LHC staff and their assignments; are any staff dedicated to prestigious awards?

Dean Brady: When fully staffed we will have over 30 staff members including an associate dean for academic affairs, a director of academic affairs, five academic advisors, and up to twelve lecturers. We will have a senior director of student affairs who will oversee a director of career advising and 3 career advisors, a director of recruitment, a director of the Residential College (student programming), and an administrative assistant for student affairs and receptionist. We will also have a budget officer, director of communications, and a philanthropy officer.

Editor: What are the levels of honors completion and the semester-hour requirements for each level; is there a thesis required; is there a limit on honors conversions (contract courses?

Dean Brady: There are some adjustments being made, but the basic requirements beginning in 2018 will be:

• Total of 30 honors credit hours

• Writing, Reading, and Digital Studies/CIS (accelerated two-semester course)

• 2 first year courses + foundational seminar

• 2 upper level courses + directed elective (“Honors students must choose at least three credit hours in HON 301 [an honors ‘pro-seminar’] or departmental Honors sections outside their general discipline of study, including declared majors, minors, and certificate programs at the time of course enrollment.”)

• 6 cr Honors experience study abroad, experiential & service learning, research

• Senior Thesis

Former Schreyer Dean Christian Brady Is First Dean of UKY New Lewis Honors College

Editor’s Note: The following post is from the University of Kentucky.

University of Kentucky provost Tim Tracy announced today that the former head of one of the most highly regarded honors programs in the country will be the first dean of the Lewis Honors College.

Christian Brady for 10 years — from 2006 to 2016 — served as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University. Previously, he directed the honors program at Tulane University. At Penn State, Schreyer — under Brady’s leadership — raised more than $80 million to enhance honors education, developed a renowned leadership academy, and tripled applications to the college while also increasing selectivity.

Christian Brady

Brady’s permanent appointment is subject to approval by the UK Board of Trustees. He begins his work at UK Aug. 1.

“In Christian Brady, we have someone acknowledged throughout the country as a leader in honors education, who at the same time, has maintained an active career as a scholar in his field,” Tracy said. “This combination of skills, background and leadership is precisely what we have been looking for in our inaugural Lewis Honors Dean. Our students and staff are excited about the potential of growing this program into one of the leading Honors Colleges in the country under Christian’s leadership. The Lewis Honors College, I’m confident, will quickly become one of the distinctive programs at UK, one that helps prepare students for what President Capilouto often refers to as lives of meaning and purpose.”

Brady is a scholar of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature. He has written two books and has a third one in progress. Brady also is the author of numerous scholarly articles and papers.

“It is a great honor and responsibility to be the founding dean of the Lewis Honors College. Honors education is not an exercise in elitism, rather it is providing UK honors students with an enhanced educational experience that will also benefit the entire university. Our goals are nothing less than building the best honors program in the nation and developing women and men who will transform this world in a positive way.”

In October 2015, the University of Kentucky received the largest single gift in its history — $23 million — from alumnus, longtime donor and successful entrepreneur Thomas W. Lewis and his wife Jan to create the Lewis Honors College from the previously existing Honors Program. The dean of the Lewis Honors College is a full-time appointment, reporting directly to the provost and serving on the Deans’ Council.

The dean serves as the academic and administrative head of the Lewis Honors College and is responsible for the leadership and administration of all aspects of the college.

Penn State Schreyer Dean: Honors College is a Gateway and Incubator for ALL Students

Editor’s Note: The following guest article is from Christian M.M. Brady, Ph.D., Dean of Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University. The College is a recognized leader in honors education, and one of only seven to receive a five mortarboard rating in A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs.

“Honors programs and colleges are each as distinctive and unique as the college or university of which they are a part.” This is how I begin every presentation I make to prospective students and their parents. There is no one set definition of what an honors program is, other than that all programs have the general goal of enhancing and enriching a student’s academic experience. The mission, vision, character, nature, and experience of each program or college will vary widely even as they all achieve that single goal.

I have had the great pleasure to be the director Tulane University’s Honors Program and I am now in my tenth year as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University. I have also been a part of and led reviews of numerous other honors programs and colleges around the country. This combination of intimate working experience and the opportunity to survey the national landscape has led me to the personal conviction that honors education should be built upon two pillars resulting in an “osmotic incubator.”

Osmotic

“Accessibility,” “permeability,” and “leaven” are all terms I have used to describe this attribute. I remained a pre-med student long enough to know that “osmosis” is the process by which molecules can pass through a membrane from one region to another. Honors education may be thought of in these terms, to a certain extent, taking in students at different stages while at the same time the college should be making contributions to the rest of the university.

In the Schreyer Honors College (SHC), as in all programs, resources are limited and therefore so is the number of students we can enroll. At Penn State we are able to enroll up to 300 first-year students as Schreyer Scholars. The total first-year enrollment at Penn State [all campuses] is nearly 20,000 students so this represents a very small percentage of the whole. It is the nature of honors programs that they are small in size so that the impact upon the students can be maximized, but that makes it all the more imperative that they be a mechanism for taking in students after their first year.

The “Gateway” entrance to the SHC was already in place at Penn State long before my arrival and it is an excellent solution to the challenge of finding the right size for an honors college. Students who have achieved a minimum GPA of a 3.7 may apply for admission into the SHC and in this manner those students who only “hit their stride” once in college can also have access to the benefits of an honors experience.

Aside from financial concerns, the primary constraint for any honors program is ensuring that our students will have the faculty support and direction they need. The Gateway selection is determined by the student’s major department; thus the department is able to ensure that they do not accept more students than they can supervise and support through their academic career, which culminates in an honors thesis.

I also believe that this egalitarian approach is in keeping with the ethos of Penn State, a land-grant institution that remains committed to the mission of providing access to education for all citizens of our commonwealth. Through the Gateway process we are able to recognize those students who have had a stellar academic career since arriving at Penn State and give them an opportunity further to excel.

This osmotic property of honors education should not be limited to enrollment. We also strive to have a positive impact in the Penn State community, moving outwards into the rest of the university. I believe that honors education should never be a “cloistered” community, set aside with few coming in and even less going out. Rather we seek to collaborate with colleges, institutes, programs, and student organizations to make a real and positive impact on our community. When we invite major speakers, such as last year when we hosted Earvin “Magic” Johnson for our Shaping the Future Summit, we set aside a dinner or reception for a smaller group of students and faculty, but the primary event is always for the entire community, both within Penn State and our geographic region.

The same is true in terms of pedagogy. Small honors courses with committed students allow for faculty to try out new and different learning and instruction techniques. We also make sure that once our honors students have enrolled in courses, any available seats in honors classes are available to all students at Penn State. They have to meet the same standards as our honors students, but they also receive the same education in the classroom. This is often how many of our Gateway Scholars begin their honors path at Penn State. Honors classes are also often the site of great innovation that benefits the entire university. This role of being a test-bed leads to my second pillar of honors education: we should be the incubator of innovation within the university.

Innovative Incubator

The concept of a tech or business “incubator” is known to most by now. These are programs, communities, or groups that provide the resources and capital necessary for entrepreneurs to move their ideas to products. We have a student organization at Penn State that strives to be just such a place for our students, Innoblue. I am their adviser, but a number of Scholars, both alumni and current students, are a part of this exciting enterprise. This concept is also how I view our role in education, “to improve educational practice and to be recognized as a leading force in honors education nationwide” (from the SHC Vision statement).

Honors education is a place where we, our students and faculty, can experiment, try different teaching methods, subjects, and curricula. This can happen because we have a great combination of engaged and creative faculty and highly motivated students. Our small size means that we can be nimble. Our faculty can try something new, knowing that our students will be able to give them instant, critical, and valuable feedback. If it works, great! We have a new course or program. If not, that is OK as well. We will have the information needed to know whether we can simply tweak it and get it right or if it really is not going to work after all. Finally, if it really works and is scalable we can take that to the rest of the university and everyone will be enriched.

This is what I believe honors education should be, an “osmotic incubator” that allows for great ideas and people to flow through enriching not only our students but our entire community. It makes for an exciting environment, full of new and nimble minds with committed and excited participants. In other words, it is why I love my job.

Thoughts on NY Times Letters about Honors Colleges

Honors News: August 25, 2015

Below are excerpts from two letters to the editor published by the New York Times in response to Frank Bruni’s positive August 9 column about honors colleges and programs. Again, our thanks to Mr. Bruni for his kind remarks about A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs and for his support of honors colleges and programs as a strong option for talented students. Our comments follow both excerpts.

To the Editor:

“Frank Bruni argues correctly that honors colleges at many public universities give students the chance to get a superb education at a moderate price (“A Prudent College Path,” column, Aug. 9). But he might have expanded his argument further in addressing the value of honors colleges as they have evolved in recent years at private as well as public universities.

“Contrary to the general belief that an honors college is an elitist program for only the best students, many honors colleges now offer an array of intellectual and cultural resources to all students who choose to take advantage of them…

“Some of our programs are open only to the highest-achieving students, but others — involving research, fellowship mentoring and interdisciplinary coursework — are open to all. These programs allow students to receive a wide-ranging liberal arts education while still completing a focused major and preparing for the workplace or graduate school.”

PAULA MARANTZ COHEN
Dean, Pennoni Honors College
Drexel University
Philadelphia

To the Editor:

“Honors programs for a select few at public universities institutionalize blatant academic elitism and hypocrisy rather than diminish them. All college courses should be ‘honors courses,’ demanding and providing rigorous academic and intellectual experiences for everyone who attends college…

“Rather than casting 80 percent of the student body overboard into an intellectually mediocre classroom environment, reel back these students so that they, too, can experience what the university considers the best for the best.”

PHIL AVILLO
York, Pa.
The writer is emeritus professor of history at York College of Pennsylvania.

Responses:

Dean Cohen is correct in saying that many honors colleges and programs in private universities such as Drexel are essential for giving talented students an opportunity to participate in honors-specific courses and experiences, while also providing access to undergraduate research, fellowship mentoring, and even access to some honors classes.

The same is true of honors programs in public universities. An outstanding example is the University of Georgia Honors Program, which oversees the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO), a highly effective vehicle for promoting research excellence for all undergraduates, not just honors students. It is no coincidence that UGA, mainly through its honors program and research emphasis, is one of the national leaders in producing Goldwater Scholars. These outstanding undergraduates in the STEM disciplines are often selected later on for prestigious postgraduate scholarships.

Professor Avillo suggests that honors colleges and programs are guilty of “blatant elitism” and take resources away from the overall student population. This is a familiar attack on honors programs, and of course he is correct in saying that honors programs require extra university resources to provide smaller class sections for honors students, honors residence halls, and other special programs. And in some cases, honors students may be considered “elite” in a negative way. The question is: are these extra efforts justifiable?

(Here’s a great article on our site by Dean Christian Brady of Penn State’s renowned Schreyer Honors College. Dean Brady describes how honors programs can become more egalitarian and benefit the whole university.)

It is our view that the two main justifications for honors colleges and programs:

1. Most public and private honors programs at major universities require applicants to have very strong high school gpa’s along with standardized test scores in the top 8-9% nationwide. Our research suggests that in the current battle among colleges to enhance their selectivity profiles, many of these bright students are not finding places in the most elite private institutions.

In order for these students to find a learning environment that, in some ways, offers classes and other experiences that resemble those in elite colleges. Without the thousands of slots for these students in both public and private honors programs, the students would likely succeed anyway–but would they be challenged, or find a group with similar interests as freshmen, or go on to the best graduate and professional schools?

2. If you are one of the students described above and find that your dream private college has rejected you for whatever mystical reason, would you want to travel hundreds or thousands of miles and pay higher tuition to find a college that will offer you the challenges and opportunities you need, indeed deserve based on your qualifications? If given the right option, would you stay in your home state, or at least nearby?

Most students would say yes. And, sometimes, their state legislatures would like for them to stay in-state in order to avoid the “brain drain” that occurs when such students cannot find the type of education they desire in their home state. The fact is that no state right now, and probably in the foreseeable future, can magically create a UC Berkeley, Michigan, UCLA, UVA, UNC Chapel Hill, or a William & Mary. Or a UW Madison, Washington, UT Austin, or Illinois. But a state can, with additional support from donors, build honors colleges and programs.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.