Honors College, Honors Program? Prestigious Scholarships, By Category

Of the fifty public universities in our survey, 19 have honors colleges (38%), and 31 have honors programs (62%). Below is comparison showing the number of prestigious undergraduate and graduate scholarships awarded, by category.

For purposes of the comparison, we are using the whole history of Rhodes scholarships; Gates and Marshall scholarships since 2001–2011; Churchill Scholarships since 1963; and all Truman Scholars since 1977. Fulbright scholarships are not included in the comparison because those totals have been adjusted for the size of the undergraduate population and raw numbers would be misleading in this comparison. They will be considered in the final review of programs and colleges.

We considered looking only at awards during the last ten years or so, but decided on a combined approach, using all Rhodes awards, for example, because of their prominence in the public mind and because they are the most difficult to earn, given the small number (32 this year) that are awarded to U.S. students. However, we are only counting more recent Marshall awards, as noted above. Postgraduate awards for UC campuses have been adjusted to take into account the dates on which they commenced operations.

The figures reveal that universities with honors programs have a higher proportion of prestigious scholarship winners than do universities with honors colleges, although the latter come close to proportional equality in the category of undergraduate scholarships. One possible explanation for the greater proportion coming from honors programs is that honors colleges are typically a more recent development in honors education; in some cases, the universities of which they are now a part did not have an existing pattern of receiving a large number of prestigious scholarships before the inception of the honors colleges.

On the other hand, the Goldwater Scholarships (1989) and the Udall Scholarships (1996), both for undergraduate research, are relatively recent additions that have given the newer honors colleges an opportunity to prove their value by over-performing in Udall Scholarships and holding their own in Goldwater Scholarships.

Here are the figures, bearing in mind that Honors Colleges are 38% of our Fifty, and Honors Programs are 62% of the Fifty:

Honors Colleges, Udall Scholarships, 44.1% of the total.
Honors Programs, Udall Scholarships, 55.9% of the total.

Honors Colleges, Goldwater Scholarships, 35.2% of the total.
Honors Programs, Goldwater Scholarships, 64.8% of the total.

Honors Colleges, Postgraduate Scholarships, 31.8% of the total.
Honors Programs, Postgraduate Scholarships, 68.2% of the total.

Do Rhodes Awards Tilt More Now to Private Elites?

The Rhodes Scholar list for 2012 includes what may appear to be a disproportionate number of awards to students in elite private institutions, especially Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. And this year, ten of the institutions with award winners are private, versus six that are public. Is this typical?

Most awards historically have gone to private institutions. But what are the recent stats, say, for the last ten years, and how do universities among the “Fifty” perform during this same period?

The year in which the public/private ratio of sponsoring institutions was most balanced was just last year, 2011, when the awards were distributed among ten public and ten private universities. (These figures do not include awards to national military academies.)

The recent year with the greatest imbalance was 2004, when nineteen private universities and only three pubic universities were listed.

Overall, during the past ten years, private universities are listed 130 times, while public universities are listed 64 times, a ratio of almost exactly 2 to 1. So 2012 is not that bad, at least when institutions rather than individual scholars are counted. When it comes to individual scholars per institution, the private universities have more than a 2 to 1 advantage.

Twenty-two universities among the Fifty in our survey account for 41 of the 64 public university sponsor listings during the past ten years:

North Carolina (6), Pitt (4), Washington (4), Georgia (3), Kansas (3), Minnesota (3), Virginia (3), Indiana (2), and UCLA (2) are the multiple winners. Those with one Rhodes scholar during the last ten years are Arizona, Auburn, Delaware, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio State, Texas, Texas A&M, and Wisconsin.

What About Berkeley and William & Mary?

Submitted on 2011/11/16 at 10:26 am

Why aren’t the University of California at Berkeley and the College of William & Mary included in the list of fifty universities whose honors programs are under review?

Berkeley considers itself an honors university as a whole, and even though it has departmental honors and other programs, it does not offer a separate honors college or program with its own curriculum and separate requirements. Having said this, a prospective student should be confident that Berkeley without an honors program remains the nation’s leading public university. Of the fourteen subject areas (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, business, etc.) being listed in the narrative portion of our guidebook, Berkeley is one of only four public universities that have elite rankings in all fourteen subject areas. (The other three universities, which are covered in the guidebook, are Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin.)

William &Mary is a unique case. With fewer than 6,000 undergraduates, it is by far the smallest of the major public universities in the country, and it is certainly among the best. Even though William & Mary has special honors offerings, the fact that the enrollment is low makes the distinction between being in honors and not being in honors relatively minor. A big part of the appeal of a public honors program is that it makes a big campus seem smaller, more like a liberal arts college planted in a large research university. William & Mary is not, primarily, a research university, and its small size already yields the benefit of more collegiality. W&M, though certainly larger than Wesleyan or Colgate, probably resembles them more than it does the typical research university/liberal arts hybrid.

Finally, if a visit to either Berkeley or William & Mary feels “right” for you, and you are accepted, either one is an excellent choice, regardless of honors programs.

The Importance of Prestigious Scholarships

Submitted on 2011/11/16 at 10:36 am

How important are prestigious post-graduate scholarships to the process of evaluating honors programs?

The purpose of a strong honors program is to give the brightest students the best possible education so that the students can achieve at a level commensurate with their high ability. The nation’s leading private universities excel at producing Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Fulbright, Gates, and Churchill scholars, and the academic world associates excellence in academic achievement with the attainment of these prestigious awards. If strong public honors programs hope to make good on the promise of an elite-level education within a large state university, then one measure should be the number of high-profile awards won by students at these universities.

The University of Illinois leads the universities listed among our fifty in awards for Gates Cambridge Scholars and Churchill Scholars. The 90 annual Gates Cambridge awards can be won by students in almost any field of study, but the majority appear to go to scholars in the STEM subjects, education, public health, and law or criminal justice. The Churchill Scholarships, also for study at Cambridge, are only for students in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. The Churchill Scholarship is valued at $45,000 to $50,000. The Gates Scholarship has about the same value, but it can be granted for the length of time necessary for the degree sought, usually no more than three years (Ph.D).

The University of Virginia ranks first among the fifty in the extremely prestigious Rhodes Scholars category. The University of North Carolina ranks ahead of UT Austin and the University of Virginia in Truman Scholars. Truman scholarships have a value of up to $30,000. Recipients must be “change agents” who will work in government, non-profit, or educational organizations for at least three of the first seven years after completion of a Truman-funded degree. About 60 scholarships are awarded annually, and usually each state has at least one resident who is a recipient. The recipient does not have to be a student at the university within the state of residence, but most are. Seventeen of the fifty universities in our guidebook are Truman Scholarship Honor Institutions, and all over-perform in the scholarship rankings.

The ranking guide to be published in the Spring of 2012 also considers Fulbright awards, although the measure for that award is not in raw numbers but in a proportional figure based on the size of a given university’s undergraduate population. The University of Michigan, however, not only ranks first in the number of Fulbrights granted but also ranks first even after the university’s sizable undergraduate population is taken into account. UCLA and Wisconsin rank second and third, respectively, after raw numbers are adjusted for the size of the undergraduate population.

So does this mean that universities outside the orbit of public elites will not rank highly in the prestigious scholarship category? Actually, the category is most useful in assessing these other universities, especially the extent to which they “over-perform” in relation to their overall ranking in U.S. News or elsewhere. For example, there are universities among the fifty who rank 100 or lower in the U.S. News survey but rank in the top half of the fifty we are reviewing in the prestigious scholarship category. Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, and Arizona State are examples.