How Many of Those Honors Classes are Restricted to Honors Students Only?

Editor’s Note: Thanks to honors Deans and Directors from across the country, we received more data than ever before in 2016. Most of the data appear in our new book, but periodically we will report on other discoveries that we did not have time to include.

We have written about honors classes several times, having reported on average class sizes and the various types of honors class sections–honors seminars, honors-only classes in the disciplines, mixed honors classes (honors and non-honors students), and contract sections, in which honors students do extra work in a regular class for honors credit.

Before presenting data that show the percentage of class work honors students do in the various class types, here is a brief recap on the average class sizes of honors sections, based on actual, detailed data from 50 major honors programs:

  • Honors-only class section size= 19.0 students
  • Mixed sections for honors credit= 51.1 students
  • Contract sections for honors credit= 60.1 students
  • OVERALL average size of class sections for honors credit= 26.3 students

But now for the additional, unpublished data.

Since class sizes vary significantly according to the type of class section, here is a summary of the percentage of classroom time that honors students spend in the different section types:

  • In 22 of the 50 programs we rated, all honors credit sections were “honors-only” sections (no mixed or contract sections).
  • Across all 50 programs, 83.1% of enrollment time was in honors-only sections.
  • 13.6% of enrollment time was in mixed sections that included both honors and non-honors students. Many of these sections had separate honors-only breakout or lab components.
  • The remaining 5.1% of enrollment time was in contract sections, in which students in regular classes had to complete extra work for honors credit.

Honors-only classes may be seminars that are generally interdisciplinary, or more discipline-specific classes.

  • Our findings show that 45.8% of honors-only classes are seminars are interdisciplinary sections, which are typically offered through the honors college or program itself.
  • The remaining 54.2% of honors-only classes are centered on the academic disciplines, many offered directly by the academic departments.

 

 

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Inside Honors: Class Sizes, Classes by Discipline, Sections Per Student

By John Willingham, Editor

I thought it was time to raise my head from the ocean of data I am crunching for the 2016 edition of our Review.

Since we have much more–and much better–data this time around, the book itself will be even more data-driven than its predecessors. We will still have narrative profiles for each program/honors college under review, but it’s likely that within each narrative there will be a table that summarizes our findings.

Here is some of what readers will see in the new edition:

Class Sizes–Instead of reporting only the average class size for honors-only classes, we will show, in addition to honors-only class sizes, the average class sizes for mixed sections (classes with honors credit but including some or many non-honors students), and even the class sizes for honors contract sections (regular classes in which honors students do extra work for honors credit). What I can say at this point is that the total class size metric will be based on a combination of the above. This change alone could result is some significant changes in our ratings.

Contract Sections–In the past, we have focused on regular honors sections, and we are somewhat tardy in giving some attention to a fairly widespread practice in honors education: contract sections. These are sometimes called honors options, honors enhancements, etc. As noted above, these sections generally feature an agreement between the honors student and instructor (as approved by honors staff) according to which the student does extra work to earn honors credit. In a few programs, honors contracts may account for more than 30% of the total honors class enrollment in a given term. The 2016 edition will present views on the relative value of these types of classes. There are many pros, as well as some cons. Stay tuned.

Course Offerings, by Academic Department–In the 2014 edition, we tried to give readers an idea of the general range and type of honors classes offered by each honors college or program. Although we did approximate estimates of honors classes by academic discipline, I thought that that aspect of the 2014 ratings was surely the most subjective. This time around, the number of classes by discipline will be strictly quantified so our readers can know how many honors sections are available, and in a ratio to total honors participants.

Courses in “Key” Disciplines–It goes without saying that one person’s choice of “key” academic disciplines will probably not be the same as another person’s choice. What we plan to do is emphasize the classes in disciplines that we believe should be offered by honors programs, regardless of how popular the discipline might be as a major. For example, relatively few college students major in philosophy and many students (and parents) might not place much “value” on courses in that discipline. But honors students are supposed to be different–more motivated, more curious, more open, and more capable of in-depth critical thinking. From the more obviously practical perspective, we also place speech and communications classes in the key group. (One reason we favor small classes for honors students is that those classes typically require students to develop argumentation and group communication skills.)

Other “key” disciplines that we will quantify are biology; business and related disciplines; chemistry; computer science and related disciplines; economics; English; engineering; history; math; physics; political science; psychology; and anthropology/sociology.

So, if you want to know how many honors chemistry sections a program offers, or how many of those relatively scarce honors polysci, econ, or physics sections are available, we will tell you how each program stacks up.