Rutgers Honors College: A New Home–and a New Living/Learning Community

Beginning this fall, 530 first-year students will begin their honors experience in the brand new, state-of-the art Honors College Living/Learning Community (LLC). The facility is also the administrative home of the Honors College and provides classroom and conference space as well.

Dean Matt Matsuda tells us that “our new living/learning facility houses all first-year students in the Honors College as well as our administrative and advising offices, six seminar rooms, plentiful lounge and study areas for programming, and three live-in faculty apartments.”

Rutgers honors dormArts and Sciences and other honors programs at Rutgers will continue operations on various  Rutgers-New Brunswick campuses, but freshman entrants from now on will share the first-year residential experience at the new LLC, a fact that provides cohesion, mentoring, and lots of mutual reinforcement for the new students.

The Honors LLC is located in the heart of the College Avenue Campus, the oldest of the five New Brunswick campuses and site of the original university. The College Avenue Campus is home to the Student Union, Health Center, the school of Arts and Sciences, and many academic departments.

At at time when as many as 75 percent of applicants to the most elite colleges are capable of succeeding at those schools–while only 5-10 percent are accepted–public honors programs are an increasingly important option. (Arguments that as many of 80 percent of high achieving students can find a place in elite colleges are extremely suspect. Please see Is It True That 80% of Elite Students Are Accepted by Elite Colleges?)

Below are excerpts from a great piece on the new college and LLC, written by Adam Clark of NJ Advance Media.  One of the key points in the piece is that Rutgers, like many other public honors colleges and programs, is trying to give high achieving students in the state a public in-state option that takes into account the special abilities the students bring to the university.

By Adam Clark…

As an honors student in high school, Amanda Fraticelli loved the atmosphere of being surrounded by top students, she said.

Fraticelli, of Toms River, said she was motivated by the way students challenged one another to do better academically. While some of her high school friends went to Ivy League universities and Fraticelli picked Rutgers University, the incoming freshman doesn’t expect that challenging atmosphere to change too much.

“I like knowing that everyone else (here) cares as much as I do,” Fraticelli said as she moved into her dorm room on Thursday.

In Fraticelli’s residence hall, some students might care even more.

Thursday marked the official opening of The Rutgers-New Brunswick Honors College, an $84.8 million, 170,000 square foot complex where the best and brightest of New Jersey’s state university will live alongside some school faculty and the academic dean.

All 530 honors college stdents, with an average SAT score more than 600 points higher than the state average [of 1526], moved into the building that also houses the offices of their academic advisors and honors college administrators.

“It’s a transformational moment in terms of honors education here,” said Paul Gilmore, the honors college’s administrative dean. “It’s a way that we are making the state, the region, the nation aware of what an incredible resource Rutgers is.”

Rutgers is one of dozens of state universities nationwide investing in honors colleges as a way to compete with elite colleges to attract the state’s brightest students. The honors programs often offer upgraded housing, smaller classes and other perks to draw in top undergraduates.

In recent years, Rutgers has stepped up its efforts to recruit high-achieving students, starting a new scholarship program for applicants with top SAT scores and high school grade point averages. The efforts come as New Jersey remains one of the country’s largest exporters of college students — sending more freshmen to out-of-state colleges than most other states in the nation.

Rutgers has long had honors programs for students from certain campuses or schools. But the new honors college for the first time brings together the top students of all academic majors under one roof.

For some students, earning a spot in the honors college is simply a perk. They had planned to attend Rutgers anyway but like the idea of being surrounded by students with similar academic goals, they said.

The fact that the honors college is the newest residence hall on the College Avenue campus made the decision easier students said.

The double rooms come with the same amenities as other on-campus housing, plus carpeted floors and air conditioning. Some rooms at the end of the hall have a view of the Raritan River.

Unlike the large, group-style bathrooms in more traditional college dormitories, the honors college has smaller bathrooms throughout each floor.

On the ground floor, seminar rooms will host some of the first-year classes. An indoor-outdoor fireplace anchors a lounge and patio space.

Students have to pay slightly more to live in the honors college housing, which is only for freshmen, but they are also allowed to stay in their rooms over school breaks.

For parents, that fact that students will be living in a building with in-house academic advisors is a relief, they said.

“It gives us a better feel for how she is going to survive her first year,” said Fernando Fraticelli, Amanda’s father.

Administrators hope students not only survive but help make the honors college a showcase for the university, Gilmore said. Rutgers sees the program as a recruiting tool that will help attract the best student from New Jersey and beyond, he said.

SaraAnn Stanway, an Ocean Township High School graduate who scored a 2270 out of 2400 on the SAT, said she understood the honors college is beneficial both for the students and for Rutgers.

“It’s exciting that Rutgers made it for us, but what makes it ever better is that we get to make it for Rutgers,” Stanway said. “We have the opportunity to make the honors college prestigious and extraordinary, and I can’t wait to be part of it.”

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Honors News–August 11, 2015

August 11, 2015–Exciting news from Rutgers New Brunswick: a new Honors College, along with its own central living/learning community, is welcoming approximately 500 “of the highest achieving students from New Jersey,” according to Dean Matt Matsuda.

“Our students come from across the undergraduate schools at Rutgers-New Brunswick– Arts and Sciences, Environmental and Biological Sciences, Engineering, Business, Pharmacy, and Fine Arts,” the Dean reports. Membership in the Honors College is a four-year experience.

The new living/learning facility, “situated at the heart of the New Brunswick campus and opening this fall,” houses all first-year students in the Honors College, “as well as administrative and advising offices, six seminar rooms, plentiful lounge and study areas for programming, and three live-in faculty apartments. We are ready to welcome our inaugural class this fall as Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, celebrates its 250th anniversary.”

Building on the success of the SAS (Arts and Sciences) Honors Program, the new Honors College “expands honors education at Rutgers-New Brunswick, by redefining interdisciplinary education. While the school-based honors programs will continue as they have in the past, the new Honors College invites students from across the liberal arts and professional schools to live and work together to tackle global issues.

“The Honors College is a community where intellectual curiosity, hands-on knowledge, diversity, collaboration, and giving back are central to its philosophy.”

August 11, 2015–Although there are few hard and fast rules regarding honors programs, honors curricula and completion requirements are, as one might think, the most important components of an honors program. Here’s why: More honors classes, and the requirement that honors students must complete 25-40 hours of credits in honors, place students in a learning environment together more frequently, and reinforce their contacts with professors and research opportunities. Lower levels of completion, while still providing the advantage of replacing many Gen Ed courses with smaller honors sections, can (but not always) lead to a student’s declining interest in honors.

Living/learning communities, clubs, honors benefits (e.g., priority registration) and volunteer activities are also vital components of honors education–but in the end what happens in the classroom, and how frequently it happens, are the most important factors in sustaining the honors experience.

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.