Miami of Ohio Honors Program: Flexibility and High Achievement

In our continuing series of profiles on honors programs that we would have liked to include in our book, A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs, we will discuss in this post the well-known honors program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

An early post complimented Miami Honors for their up-front stats showing the achievements (in the form of placement percentages) of their most recent class of graduating honors students.   So before describing the details of the program, we are listing the Miami web site stats for placement rates for the 2011 class below:

Law School: 100% placement (national average 69%)

Medical School: 85% placement (national average 45%)

Acceptance to Grad School: 94% (national avg not listed)

Job Prior to Graduation:  86% (national avg <56%)

Four-year Grad Rate:  98% (national average <56%)

The Miami program does not list a rigid set of admission requirements, but the average test scores are SAT 1340/ACT 30/GPA 4.0.   A few students, however, are admitted with significantly lower test scores, if they have outstanding qualities in other areas, such as leadership, academic awards, and volunteer activities.

Like some other honors curricula we have reviewed, the Miami requirements are extremely flexible, with credit assigned for “honors experiences” rather than  honors courses alone, although honors courses are the basic elements of honors experiences.  And, following a trend in honors education, students have to prepare and submit for review annual online portfolios that organize and summarize what they have learned.

Honors experiences include small, interactive seminars, research, study abroad, undergrad teaching assistantships, graduate courses, leadership projects, and internships.  Honors portfolios must demonstrate progress in six areas: written communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, intercultural understanding, and reflection (self-understanding). Students must complete at least nine experiences.

Note: Readers may want to see our recent post on “College Learning Assessment (CLA): Rationale for Honors?” in which we discuss the ways that honors curricula already enhance critical thinking and writing skills that college reformers often advocate.

Honors housing is important at MU because students are required to live on campus during the first two years.

“Although members of the University Honors Program eventually move all across campus, most have one thing in common: they spent their first year living in Tappan or Emerson Hall,” one student reports.

Tappan Hall is located on South Quad and is close to Harris Dining Hall, an all you care to eat location, and Scott Hall, which houses Encore and Ovations food courts.  South Quad is not  the most central location on campus, but, as another student says, the “location is great…for all the ‘good stuff’ (Rec Center, Hamilton Dining Hall, Shriver  Center, Western Campus…”

Most rooms are corridor style with communal baths and shared double rooms.  It appears that at least some of the rooms are air-conditioned, and there are a few suite-style rooms as well.

Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA): A Rationale for Honors?

In a previous article, we wrote about philanthropist Bill Gates and his ideas regarding hybrid college courses that combine “superstar” faculty videos with classroom discussion groups. The Gates Foundation is also associated with the Council for Assistance to Education, which has developed the Collegiate Learning Assessment test used by some universities.

Gates has said that he does not want universities to turn into vocational institutions, and he  has maintained that students need to develop broader skills, especially the critical thinking and writing skills measured by the CLA test, not only for the students’ own benefit but for the benefit of employers and society functioning in a world where vocational training becomes outdated so quickly.

Honors curricula for decades have emphasized critical thinking and writing skills as a central component.  The writing requirements for almost all honors students are significantly more demanding than those for non-honors students, and the curricula develop critical thinking by engaging students in texts, research, and projects that demand sophisticated, in-depth analysis.

The CLA test is used to compare the skills of entering students with those of graduating seniors in a given institution.  The results of the test provide part of the statistical basis for the 2011 book Academically Adrift, which argued that students in American universities learn relatively little during their time in college and, moreover, do not work very hard in the process.

Critics of higher education, especially of public higher education, cite the book as evidence that universities over-emphasize research at the expense of undergraduate instruction and as confirmation that too many of the students now entering college are not sufficiently motivated or prepared to be there in the first place.

That argument aside, Academically Adrift and a more recent and detailed study by the CAE itself show that students in certain major areas do better than those in others.  For example, students majoring in science or the humanities score the highest in improving the critical skills between the time they enter a university and the time they graduate.  Business, education, and engineering majors do not show as much improvement.

Although some honors programs have a lot of engineering and business students, in general the focus is on the arts and sciences.  Under siege by reformers for not being vocational enough, the humanities and social sciences, as well as the natural and physical sciences, can now stake a claim to being leaders in developing “higher order” thinking.

The longstanding honors role in teaching to this end is generally accepted; but there are other roles, less noticed by the general public, that honors education has promoted critical skills in their universities as a whole.  Allowing non-honors students to enroll in some honors classes is a common practice, and of course all honors students take classes that are not directly a part of the honors curricula.

While it may cost more to educate an honors student than it does to teach non-honors students, the need for critical thinking skills is emerging as a priority.  Even gradual increases in the enrollment of honors students could, in the long run, be one of the best investments a university can make in its own future and the future of all its graduates.





Transfer to Honors: Delaware, Washington, UT Austin

In our continuing series on the transfer requirements of public honors programs, this post will list the requirements of the University of Delaware, the University of Washington, and the University of Texas at Austin.  A previous post discussed the transfer requirements for honors programs at Arizona State, Penn State, Georgia, UC Irvine, and Michigan.

Delaware: Transfer students with outstanding academic records from another institution apply for Honors through the University’s application for admission. For more information, call the Admissions Office at (302) 831-8123.

Students at UD who did not apply or who were not admitted to Honors as incoming freshmen are eligible to take honors courses on a space-available basis if they have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.00 or higher in at least 12 credits at UD.

For full admission to the honors program, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.40 and must also have completed at least two honors courses with a grade of B or better.  Two letters of recommendation from UD faculty are also required.  The committee reviews applications twice a year; the deadlines for submitting applications are October 15 and March 15.

Washington: Transfer students who have been admitted to UW and have either participated in honors programs at their previous institution or who have strong college academic records are eligible to apply to Interdisciplinary Honors. Transfer student admission to the Interdisciplinary Honors Program is selective, due to limited space availability.

“Because Interdisciplinary Honors requires students to complete 47 credits of general education coursework, students who have already earned an Associates degree, or who have fulfilled the UW’s Areas of Knowledge requirements through their transfer credits are not eligible to apply. In order to determine this, those interested in entering the Honors Program must wait until they have been admitted to the University of Washington and had their transcript evaluated for UW credit before applying to Honors. Those not eligible for Interdisciplinary Honors may instead be eligible to apply for Departmental Honors in their chosen major(s). Contact the Departmental adviser for admission information and requirements.”

Applicants may be able to enroll in some Honors courses before they are formally accepted into the Program. See an Honors advisor regarding which Honors courses might be available to you.

UT Austin Plan II: Unfortunately, over-enrollment issues have forced Plan II Honors to suspend transfer admissions for the last four semesters and onward.   There is a very strong chance that Plan II Honors will NOT reinstate transfer admissions.

If Plan II does reinstate transfer admission in the future, “it’s important for prospective transfer applicants to note that Plan II is, primarily a four-year freshman program.”  Therefore, any transfer policy would exclude students who have completed 45 or more (classroom) credit hours at the time they would begin Plan II if admitted.

“The 45-hour maximum is because Plan II Honors has a core curriculum which is front-loaded.  More Plan II requirements are scheduled in the the first two years of the program than the second two years.  Additionally, the core curriculum requirements progress from year to year and course to course.  We do not accept substitutes for our core courses.  That maximum applies to classroom hours, not to hours earned through testing.”

However, the separate Dean’s Scholars Honors Program at UT Austin and the Health Science Honors Program do consider a small number of transfer applicants each year.  Dean’s Scholars are extremely gifted students who want to study science and mathematics.

The Health Sciences Honors Program is for those interested in medical careers.   Both of these programs consider applications from second and third semester students.

Finally, the Business Honors Program at UT Austin admits a limited number of students who have completed their freshman year of college.  The BHP accepts applications from students currently enrolled in UT’s McCombs School of Business, other UT colleges (internal transfers), or students enrolled at a university other than UT-Austin (external transfers).

All students interested in applying as a sophomore transfer need to complete a BHP Sophomore Application.  External transfer applicants must also apply to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin.  Internal Transfer students must also apply for acceptance to the McCombs School of Business.

“The following criteria are used to evaluate sophomore candidates:

    • Number and academic challenge of courses taken (min. 24 hours)
    • Earned (non-placement) GPA for the first year courses
    • Evidence of college-level extracurricular activities and leadership
    • Personal statement
    • Professional resume
    • One letter of recommendation
    • Phone interview with BHP alumnus ( by invitation only throughout June)”



Bill Gates on College: More Hybrid Courses, Less ‘Marking Time’

In the most recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, philanthropist Bill Gates says that even though education “has not been substantially changed by the internet” thus far, the future is likely to bring fundamental shifts toward online instruction.

Gates advocates greater use of hybrid courses, defined by the Chronicle as those “in which students watch videos from superstar professors as ‘homework’ and use class time for group projects and other interactive activities.”

Even if such an approach might be effective for some colleges or programs, what applicability might online classes have for honors programs, which emphasize the interactions of students and professors in small classes?   Should honors programs be on the cutting edge of integrating online learning with instruction in relatively small classes?

But, if so, how would the effectiveness of such honors experiments be assessed?  Gates acknowledges (and laments) that there is a lack of evidence showing “where…technology is the best and where face-to-face is the best.”  One big problem, he told the Chronicle, is that higher education “is a field without a kind of clear metric that you can experiment [with] and see if you’re still continuing to achieve [increased learning].

“You’d think people would say, ‘We take people with low SATs and make them really good lawyers.’ Instead they say, ‘We take people with very high SATs and we don’t really know what we create, but at least they’re smart when they show up here, so maybe they still are when we’re done with them.’”

Clearly, “maybe” is not good enough for Gates and other reformers.  Here it seems that public university honors programs can help in developing curricula that improve measurable skills and that facilitate the transfer of those improvements to the larger university population, including some students who do not have “very high SAT’s.”

Honors curricula are recognized as being highly effective in developing and improving critical thinking and writing skills, both of which are emphasized by the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) tests used by some colleges to measure improvement in important skills between the freshmen and senior years.  (The Gates Foundation has connections with the Council on Assistance to Education (CAE), which develops CLA testing.)

Another advantage of honors programs is that the course work and activities of honors students are never entirely segregated from the larger university and inevitably have an impact beyond honors.  Therefore, honors programs are and have been a natural vehicle for the transfer of enhanced instruction  to the larger university.

A key element in this process would be the assessment of non-honors students who have frequent classes or projects with honors students in order to understand how the interaction is beneficial.  The next, and much more difficult, step would be to determine what parts of the process could be used with similar effectiveness in a hybrid context.

The hybrid model that Gates is exploring can sound a bit like the communication and training structure of an international high-tech company: we watch the CEO in a series of online videos; we note his insights and instructions; and we meet and discuss the ways in which they might be developed, used, and enhanced.  Then we are graded according to our progress.

But given the hard choices by some public universities, the use of more online instruction might make the advantages of an honors education more readily transferable to the larger university if online lectures and instruction were incorporated into the curriculum, provided that at least some of the assumed cost savings could then be used to fund more frequent small-group discussions and projects.

The founder of Microsoft also believes that many students are marking time in school because “if you’re trying to get through in the appropriate amount of time, you’ll find yourself constantly not able to get yourself into various required courses.”

The Chronicle asked Gates if, in response to this problem, he might “create pressure to make universities into a kind of job-training area without that citizenship focus of that broad liberal arts degree.”

“But I’m the biggest believer in taking a lot of different things,” he said.  “And so, yes, it’s important to distinguish when people are taking extra courses that broaden them as a citizen and that would be considered a plus versus they’re just marking time because they’re being held up because the capacity doesn’t exist in the system to let them do what they want to do.  If you go through the student survey data, it’s mostly the latter.”

Whatever effect online instruction may have on university curricula, Gates says that “…obviously, anything that has to do with the universities is going to be figured out by people who have worked in universities, and it’s going to be piloted in universities.”

And in that effort, honors learning innovations could lead the way.







Transfer to an Honors Program: Possible, but Be Prepared

Honors colleges and programs allow transfers from other universities, but high GPAs in challenging courses must be a part of the transfer plan. Some programs also require at least one interview for prospective transfer students.

We will write a series of posts on the varying transfer requirements, and the next edition of A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs may include transfer requirements as a part of each profile.

In this post, we will look at the transfer requirements of the honors programs at Michigan, Penn State, Georgia, Arizona State, and UC Irvine.

Michigan:  The LSA Honors Program does not list a required GPA, but based on GPA requirements for transfers at similar programs, we estimate that the GPA would need to be in the 3.75 range in challenging courses.  An interview, by appointment, with a representative in the major department is required.

“Students who transfer to University of Michigan and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) with junior standing (55 credits or more) may be considered for the Honors Program by their concentration (major) departments. You should contact the department early in your first semester in LSA and ask about making an appointment with a concentration advisor. Make sure you mention that you are interested in doing an Honors concentration.”

“During your appointment with the concentration advisor, you and the advisor will consider your background, academic preparation, and your interests and decide whether an Honors concentration is right for you. If you do declare an Honors concentration, you will be a member of the Honors Program, and we urge you toschedule an appointment with an Honors general advisor to discuss your academic plans and your opportunities as a member of the Honors community.”

Penn State Schreyer Honors College:  Transfers who have at least one full semester at Penn State may be eligible to apply to Schreyer through the college’s Gateway Program.

“The SHC requires Gateway applicants to have:

  1. at least one full-time semester of study completed at Penn State
  2. a minimum of four full-time semesters of study remaining before graduation
  3. a cumulative GPA of 3.70 or higher at the time of application
  4. an application-semester GPA of 3.50 or higher for rising juniors and 3.70 for rising sophomores

“The criteria stated here are minimums set by the SHC.  In some cases, additional criteria for Gateway entry have also been established by the academic unit (e.g., higher cumulative GPA, specific courses, declaration of major, etc).   The online application form includes additional criteria for your academic unit.  In all cases, the department or academic college reviews applications and makes decisions which are communicated to applicants by the SHC.”

Georgia:  “To be eligible for Honors, transfer students must have completed at least 30 transferable hours of graded academic credit and must have at least a 3.75 transfer GPA. Transfer acceptances will be determined on a space-available basis.

“Transfer students must apply to the Honors Program prior to their first term at the University of Georgia. Transfer students must submit a complete application by the postmark deadline specified on the application to be eligible for acceptance.”

Arizona State, Barrett Honors College: Transfers from other colleges should have at least a 3.60 GPA.   The average SAT for freshmen admits is 1310, and the ACT average is 29.

“Lower Division Entry is generally reserved for students who apply to Barrett during the fall of their senior year of high school seeking enrollment as incoming freshmen. Those individuals already in their first semester at ASU and students in their first semester at another university or college looking to transfer to ASU may also seek Lower Division Entry for the second semester of their first year. The Lower Division honors curriculum is designed for students spending four years at ASU and Barrett.

“Upper Division Entry is specifically designed for those individuals who have completed approximately half of their undergraduate degree program and is geared at enrollment during the start of what is traditionally considered the junior year. The Barrett Upper Division academic requirements are designed for completion over the course of a student’s final four ASU semesters, not including winter and summer intersessions.”

UC Irvine: The Campuswide Honors Program (CHP) at Irvine makes specific provision for the possible transfer of some community college students into the program.

“Students eligible for Honors to Honors must attend a participating community college, have a GPA of 3.7 or better, and have successfully completed their community college Honors Program. Participating community colleges in this pilot program are: Cerritos College, Citrus College, Cypress College, Fullerton College, Golden West College, Irvine Valley College, Long Beach City College, Mt. San Antonio College, Orange Coast College, Pasadena City College, Rio Hondo College, Saddleback College, Santa Ana College, Santa Barbara College, Santa Monica College, and Santiago College.

“All other transfer students are invited to apply to the CHP prior to matriculation at UCI, or after they have completed at least one quarter at UCI. To apply you must have a minimum overall GPA of 3.5. (Please note that students who are admitted to the CHP often have GPAs higher than the minimum required for consideration.)”