U.S. News Publication: Honors Programs Are Good for “Families Too Rich for Financial Aid”

Public university honors colleges and programs continue to raise their profiles as “value” choices  in higher education, as evidenced by columns in the New York Timesattention from college consultants, and a separate focus piece in the 2015 U.S. News Best Colleges publication.

Now comes another U.S. News publication, the Path to College Guidebook, available for $.99 to Compass subscribers. Compass subscriptions are currently $29.95. (Note: we have no affiliation with U.S. News.)

One section by Farran Powell, titled “Strategies for Students Too Rich for Financial Aid, Too Poor for College,” is especially interesting. Powell describes the experience of a mother in Illinois whose daughter was accepted by Boston College, where the yearly price tag was extremely high.

“Our daughter got into Boston College at $68,000 a year,” says the mom, citing the total cost of attending without any need-based aid and paying in cash.

But she and her daughter chose UConn’s honors program because they gave her daughter a $15,000 a year scholarship, leaving about $30,000 a year in total yearly costs, much less than regular out-of-state expenses would have been.

“(The University of Connecticut charged out-of-state students $34,908 in tuition and fees along with $12,174 for room and board for the 2015-2016 school year – which is much lower compared with Boston College, which billed students $49,324 for tuition and fees and $13,496 for room and board for that same year, according to U.S. News data.”

“Households similar to [this] family from suburban Chicago are turning to honors programs and schools that hand out non-need-based aid…especially if they are ‘too rich for financial aid’,” Powell writes.

Powell quotes a Houston wealth adviser, who told her that for “our folks…those with income $150,000 or higher or $200,000 plus…it also depends on how many kids you have and other factors.”

“Many parents realize there’s a shortfall in funds available as the cost of college continues to climb,” Powell writes.

“‘Thirty years ago, putting your kid through school was like buying a car. Now it’s like buying a house,'” the adviser told Powell.

Powell writes that “Many National Universities, institutions that offer a full range of undergraduate majors as well as master’s and doctoral programs, offer these types of programs along with merit aid to attract high-achieving students to their campuses, college experts say.

The same wealth adviser says “his clients are turning down top-tier schools such as Rice University and Southern Methodist University for in-state honors programs at the University of Texas—Austin or Texas A&M University—College Station because it’s better value for the money.”

“People are making their own way in the world,” the suburban mom told Powell, “and I don’t think you need to spend $70,000 a year on college to get ahead.”

Top Honors Programs, Honors Components Only

So, what do we mean by “honors components only”?

In our 2016 ratings review, we listed the honors programs and colleges that received an overall five “mortarboard” rating. One component of the rating model used in order to determine the leading programs is prestigious scholarships–the number of Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, etc., awards earned by students from each university as a whole.

In most cases, honors programs at these universities contribute most of the winners of these awards, but not in all cases. So while the prestigious scholarship component is worth including, we do not want it to override the 12 other rating components used in the ratings. These components are “honors only” because they do not include awards earned by non-honors students of the university as a whole.

Therefore, we decided to do a separate rating, one that is not included in the new book, INSIDE HONORS. The new rating uses only the 12 components listed below. Farther down,  you can see whether the prestigious scholarship component had a major impact on the overall ratings of top programs.

Those 12 additional components are…

  • Curriculum Requirements
  • Number of Honors Classes
  • Number of Honors Classes in 15 Key Disciplines
  • Extent of Honors Enrollment
  • Average Class Size, Honors-only Sections
  • Overall Average Class Size, All Sections
  • Honors Graduation Rate-Raw
  • Honors Graduation Rate-Adjusted for Test Scores
  • Student to Staff Ratio
  • Type and Extent of Priority Registration
  • Honors Residence Halls, Amenities
  • Honors Residence Halls, Availability

Below is a comparison of the honors programs that received a five mortarboard OVERALL RATING (left side) and those that receive the same rating for HONORS COMPONENTS ONLY (right side), all listed ALPHABETICALLY.

OVERALL FIVE MORTARBOARDS HONORS ONLY COMPONENTS, FIVE MORTARBOARDS
Arizona St Clemson
Clemson CUNY Macaulay
CUNY Macaulay Georgia
Georgia Houston
Houston Kansas
Kansas New Jersey Inst Tech
New Jersey Inst Tech Oregon
Oregon Penn St
Penn St South Carolina
South Carolina Temple
UT Austin UT Austin

It is notable that the overlap is almost identical: Arizona State is not on the second list, while Temple is not on the OVERALL list but is on the HONORS COMPONENTS list.

We must add that Temple barely missed a five mortarboard overall rating, while ASU was similarly close to making the honors components list.