Big Ten Is Rich in College Honors Programs

The Big Ten schools are famous for football, but they should also be famous for the number of honors colleges and programs at some of those schools that are among the best in the nation.

In our new book, A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs, no less than seven Big Ten programs are among the top 20. And even more impressive is that in the group of top large programs–those that enroll more than 1,800 honors students–the Big Ten has half the programs in the top ten, so to speak. This is important because it indicates not only the quality of the honors programs but also the institutional commitment required to sustain larger programs.

The book reviews the leading public universities in the nation, including those in the top 75 in the U.S. News rankings and/or those that belong to the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana are all in the top 20 in Overall Excellence among the 50 programs surveyed.

Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Indiana are on the top 10 list of large programs.

Other leading large programs are Arizona State, Georgia, Arizona, Delaware, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.

For Students, Parents, and School Counselors

By publishing A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs, we hope to reach students, parents, and counselors who want and need more detailed information about the leading public honors programs in the country.

For students, we not only show stats about graduation rates, curriculum, and prestigious undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, but we also discuss the academic strengths of each university and important information about honors housing and other honors benefits, such as priority registration.

We also enable parents, who are understandably very concerned about cost and value, to consider our Excellence Impact data, which show the extent to which the honors program in a given university enhances the value of the university as a whole. Another term for this data is “value-added impact.” It is a fact that many universities that do not rank highly in major national surveys also have some of the best honors colleges and programs in the country. Parents need to have some way of assessing the profound impact that honors education can have.

School counselors have the enormous responsibility of advising students and parents on the suitability of a university, based on matching test scores and academic records with the admission requirements of prospective colleges. The Review, therefore, places each of the fifty programs in a category that fits SAT/ACT and GPA requirements. The Review also has a separate listing of programs that are within universities with a strong focus on engineering, business, and agriculture. Most of these programs are relatively new to honors education, so our information should be even more helpful to counselors trying to understand the sometimes confusing world of honors education.

Honors Colleges vs. Honors Programs

The work we have done over the past six months has yielded a few insights into the differences between Honors Colleges and Honors Programs. As it turns out, there isn’t much difference until we come to the “value-added” implications, called EXCELLENCE IMPACT in our review (see below).

In our category of OVERALL EXCELLENCE, which includes a metric for prestigious undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, the mean score for Honors Colleges was 67.82 out of 100; the mean score for Honors Programs was 68.16. This very small difference is statistically insignificant. Even though we show statistical differences as small as .01, we do so because we are presenting rankings within rankings…within rankings. But in terms of OVERALL EXCELLENCE and HONORS FACTORS only, a difference of 2-3 whole points between programs is still small.

Our METHODOLOGY page has an expanded discussion about interpreting our results. We urge readers to refer to it.

In the sub-category of honors housing, the Honors Colleges have a slight but real edge, in this case with an average score of 8.07 versus the 7.44 average score for Honors Programs. Since the maximum score in honors housing is 10.0, this small difference is somewhat significant, although three honors programs do not offer separate honors housing, and their scores in this sub-category reflected that fact.

When it comes to HONORS FACTORS only, the Honors Colleges do better, averaging 57.04 out of a possible 75.0 versus the Honors Program average of 55.77. Again, however, this small difference is not too significant

But when we consider EXCELLENCE IMPACT, or the difference between the national rankings of a university as a whole and our evaluation of each university’s honors programs, there is a significant difference.

Only 24 of the universities under review had honors evaluations that bettered their national rankings. Half of these were honors colleges, and half were honors programs. But…the honors colleges that showed “value added” for their universities as a whole had an average value-added (EXCELLENCE IMPACT) rank of 9.83–a top-ten performance, on average. The honors programs, on the other hand, had an average value-added rank of 14.33.

It must be said that many of the “public elites,” such as Michigan, North Carolina, Washington, and Virginia, offer honors programs instead of maintaining separate colleges, and their relatively high rankings in many surveys make it almost impossible to register any impact through their honors programs.

But the honors colleges do seem to perform somewhat better if the task is to provide a body of excellence within a larger university that does not start out with the resources of the public elites.