Leading Public Universities for Undergraduate Research

We are about to head out to Boston for the annual conference of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), and one of the most exciting features of the conference is the presentation of undergraduate research by honors students from across the nation.   So this is a good time to list the most recent U.S. News listings of the best major public universities for undergraduate research, an area in which most public honors programs excel.

The number of public flagship institutions on the list doubled over last year to include 10 in the current list.

The magazine lists 50 universities based on a national survey of 1,500 college presidents, deans, and chief academic officers.  The magazine lists the schools alphabetically, and below are the leading public institutions that made the list:

  • Arizona
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia Tech
  • UC Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Special congratulations to Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, UC Berkeley, and Wisconsin for making the list two years in a row!


Leading Public Universities Differ on Best Online Partners

Concerned about rising operating costs and uneasy about keeping pace with innovations in online learning, thirteen leading public universities have already taken sides in the emerging battle over which Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) organization offers the best vision for the future.

The fact that online learning will grow as a component in university education is not in question.  That is why EDx, the consortium formed originally by Harvard and MIT to offer free online courses to thousands, and Coursera, a strong recent entrant to the field, are emerging as the go-to entities for both public and private institutions that want to prepare themselves for the next revolution in higher learning.

So far, the upstart Coursera has the lead in total partners, now up to 33 schools.  Edx now has 12 universities, but nine of those are from the University of Texas System, the most recent addition to the EDx consortium.  (See complete list of  schools affiliated with Coursera below.)

The original partners in EDx were Harvard and MIT, each of which contributed a whopping $30 million to the project, giving EDx a funding edge for the time being.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also a major supporter of Edx.  UC Berkeley later joined forces with Harvard and MIT, pledging support in the form of contributions from its outstanding faculty, and then UT Austin and the eight other UT campuses came on board.  UT will contribute another $5 million to EDx platform development, and UT will become a member of the EDx advisory board.  EDx is run by academics, and is a non-profit effort.

Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, and Penn were the first four to join the private Coursera venture, funding by an original $22 million from venture capitalists.  The brainchild of two Stanford professors, Coursera has received a combined $3.7 million in additional equity investment from Penn and Caltech.

According to some analysts, Coursera is perhaps more amenable to both intensive and modest efforts of its participants to develop for-credit online courses.  Schools that simply want something in place to assist them when the online “tsunami” hits can have a low-key Coursera ready in waiting and take a gradual or cautious approach as the case may be.  Some institutions with strong faculty opposition, for example, might prefer Coursera.  This does not mean, however, that Coursera cannot be used as a robust approach to digital learning.

Institutions that want more academic input and control when it comes to aligning digital learning with the best pedagogy might prefer Edx, which may be taking a more measured approach to developing platforms in line with individual campus and faculty expectations.  The UT System chose EDx in part because of the academic control and the fact that UT could have an advisory position.  UT Austin will offer some introductory courses for what are now large classes (more than 100 students) in the relatively near future.  Classes for college credit will not be free.

The University of Washington is currently the only university charging for classes offered through Coursera, because those classes are for credit.

Here are the public universities that have contracted with Coursera: Florida, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, UC Irvine, UCSF, Virginia, and Washington.

These are the private institutions that have joined Coursera:  Brown, Caltech, Columbia, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Penn, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Wesleyan













Texas A&M Honors: New Standards, More Freshman Focus

Students in the honors program at Texas A&M University now have to meet a new set of requirements to remain in the program, and now all freshman honors students are assigned to the honors learning community.

But the program also offers more flexibility now, allowing students to contract for honors credit in a broader range of classes.

TAMU honors housing received a high evaluation in our recent book, A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs.  So it’s not a burden for all freshmen to live in the honors community.  They begin their freshman year there, and now, with a separate honors application in place, they can receive better advising and more readily get the classes they need through the priority registration available to them.

“The transition from high school to college has been pleasant because of all of the people I met in the program [who] help me with whatever I need. It’s a nice sense of family that we have going on here. I have a lot of friends who are having a hard time adjusting to college because they feel very alone, but I haven’t faced that problem because of the Honors functions and living with the people in my classes,” said Deanna Sessions, freshman electrical engineering major.

In addition to the housing change, students must now meet the following minimum continuation requirements:

  • Maintain a 3.5 cumulative GPR and a 3.25 in Honors course work
  • Make progress toward distinction requirements by taking at least 6 hours of Honors course work each academic year
  • Participate in the HFLC (freshmen) or at least one HSC event per semester (continuing students)
  • Update an e-Portfolio and meeting with an advisor at least once per year
  • Plan and execute a capstone experience in their junior or senior year that synthesizes and integrates their educational experiences in the form of a research or scholarly project

Please note that the 6-hour credit requirement per year is a minimum to remain in good standing, while the actual completion requirement to graduate as an honors fellow is at least 27 hours of coursework and and 3-hour capstone project.  Honors students may of course also earn Latin honors, requiring at least a cumulative university-wide GPA of 3.5 for cum laude status.

The minimum requirements to apply to the program remain the same: at least a 1250 SAT, with both verbal and math scores of at least 570.




Public vs. Private Universities: Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, Etc….

In previous posts we have written about the dominance of elite private institutions when it comes to winning prestigious national awards, such as Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Gates Cambridge, and Goldwater scholarships.  There is no question that Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Stanford, and a few other elite schools dominate some of these awards, especially Rhodes scholarships.

But what about the performance of other leading private universities, including those in the top tier of the U.S. News rankings?  We have analyzed the record of 20 private universities ranked 24 to 83 in the 2013 U.S. News rankings.  The average ranking for the 20 schools is 54.4.  We then compared their performance with that of the 50 universities whose honors programs we evaluated.  The average U.S. News ranking of the 50 public schools is 74.16, down from an average of 72.82 in 2012.

The 20 private universities are the following: Notre Dame, USC, Wake Forest, Boston College, NYU, Case Western Reserve, University of Miami, Boston University, George Washington, Tulane, Fordham, Northeastern, SMU, Syracuse, American, Baylor, Denver, Marquette, Tulsa, and TCU.

We analyzed the full history of Rhodes, Truman, Churchill, Fulbright, Goldwater, and Udall awards, and we adjusted for size of undergraduate enrollment in the case of Fulbright Student Scholarships because of the high number of those awards (about 1,500) in a given year.  We also analyzed Marshall and Gates Cambridge awards from 2001 through 2012.  One point was assigned for each award.

On a scale with 25 being the highest score, the mean score for the private universities was 7.21 and for the public universities it was 11.86.  Below are some interesting specifics:

  • The University of Tulsa had the highest overall score for the private universities, mainly due to the impressive number of Goldwater awards for undergraduates studying STEM subjects (51), which would place Tulsa at number 9 among all 70 universities in this comparison.  The leaders in Goldwater awards (among our 50 public schools) are Illinois (63), Penn State (61), Virginia (59), Wisconsin (56), Arizona State and Minnesota (54), and Michigan and Washington (52).
  • Overall, the mean score for Goldwater awards (raw numbers) was more than twice as high for the public universities as it was for the private schools (33.7 versus 16.2).
  • The mean score for Rhodes Scholarships was likewise much higher for the public schools, 12.16 versus 5.25.
  • Tulane led private schools in total Rhodes Scholarships with 18, followed by Notre Dame (14), Wake Forest (13), Case Western (10), Boston University (8), USC (8), and Denver (7).  The leading schools among the 50 we reviewed are Virginia (46), North Carolina (41), Washington (39), Wisconsin (31), Kansas and UT Austin (27), and Michigan (25).
  • The four private schools that had a total scaled score that was above the mean for the 50 public schools were Tulsa, Tulane, Notre Dame, and NYU.
  • The strongest performance for private schools was in earning Fulbright awards, probably because of the adjustment for size of undergraduate enrollment.  The mean score for the private schools was 7.21 versus 3 .07 for the public schools.
  • The mean scores for Truman Scholarships were close, with private schools averaging 8.8 and public schools 9.3.  American University and Wake Forest led private schools with 15 Truman awards each, followed by USC (14), SMU (13), Boston College and Tulane (12), and Syracuse and Tulsa (11).  The leading public schools are North Carolina (32), UT Austin (26), Michigan and Virginia (24), Wisconsin and Arizona State (17), and Arkansas and Delaware (16).
  • The public universities in this comparison score significantly higher in earning Gates Cambridge and Marshall scholarships since 2001.  However, NYU students have won an impressive 8 Gates Scholarships, the only private university in this comparison to win more than 3.   Illinois has 10, Penn State 7, Rutgers and Florida 6 apiece, and Georgia, Georgia Tech, NC State, and Michigan 5 apiece.
  • The public universities dominate Udall Scholarships, although American University has 10 and Tulsa 9.   Arizona State has 29, Arizona 21, Penn State 20, Kansas 16, and North Carolina 15.



UT Austin Experiments with Forgiving Loans if Students Graduate in Four Years

Erin Mulvaney , Houston Chronicle | Oct. 5, 2012

The University of Texas at Austin will test next year whether it can increase its four-year graduation rate and reduce student loan debt by forgiving some of those loans to students who complete their academic programs more quickly.

Under the pilot program announced Thursday, 200 fall 2013 freshmen will be offered forgiveness of significant portions of the most expensive loans they take out if they make a set amount of progress toward their degrees in a particular time frame.

“The university is focused on improving our four-year graduation rate, and the pilot program is part of its broader effort to help achieve that mission,” said Tom Melecki, the university’s director of student finance services.

The new program comes at a time when state leaders are pressuring universities to improve completion rates, tuition is rising and the number of people failing to keep up with student loan payments is increasing.

Federal direct unsubsidized loans must be repaid at a 6.8 percent interest and are given out after subsidized loans and university and private scholarships are awarded to students.

The students will be selected from a random sample of students involved in the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, a program that offers additional advising and academic support to about 900 students who receive the unsubsidized loans, said Jamie Brown, a financial aid officer for UT’s student financial services.

In Texas, fewer than a third of students at Texas public college graduate in four years, while a little more than half within six years. UT-Austin is one of the leading colleges in graduation rates, with about half of students graduating in four years and about 80 percent within six years.

“Obviously, there is a need to address this issue not only at the university level, but across the nation,” Brown said.

During the past school year, more than 14,000 UT undergraduate students borrowed $60.1 million in the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Under the pilot program, half of the selected students in fall 2013 would be offered $1,000 loan forgiveness, plus interest accrued if they pass 15 hours of their degree requirements by the end of each semester.

The other half would be offered $2,000 in forgiveness, plus interest accrued, if they complete 30 hours of degree requirements by the end of an academic year.

Completion of those hours would put students on track to graduate in four years.

Tuition at UT-Austin is $9,792 per year, and students that graduate in four years borrow 27 percent less than those who graduate in five, Brown said.

An average student borrows about $19,000 in four years, $24,000 in five years and $31,000 in six years, according to recent data collected by UT Financial Services.

A recent U.S. Department of Education report showed that the number of people failing to keep up with student loan payments is increasing, with 10 borrowers across the country falling into default within the first three years after their loans are due.

Texas already has a popular financial aid program, the B-On-Time Loan, that offers interest-free loans to Texas undergraduates, forgiven if students maintain a B or higher grade-point-average within four years.

University financial aid administrators hope the program will be expanded to forgive 3,200 students per year if the pilot program is successful, which would be more than double the amount of student borrowers forgiven for the B-On-Time Loan.

About 59 percent of UT undergraduates qualify for B-On Time forgiveness, which is about 1,400 students per year.

A portion of tuition set-aside funds, meant for financial assistance, will pay for the pilot program.

“If it proves successful and we extend the program over four years of enrollment, we estimate that the total amount forgiven will be a little more than $8,000 per student but that, in the long run, this will reduce the amount students must repay after graduation by more than $12,000,” Melecki said.

Sample Class of 2016 Admission Stats, Public Honors and Private Universities

Below are selected admission stats, mostly for the class of 2016, including public and private universities.  We list both public and private schools in this post so that readers can get an idea of comparability.  All of the stats for private schools are for the class of 2016; some of the public school stats are for the class of 2015, and will be listed with an asterisk.  Please note that even though public and private admission stats are often comparable, the acceptance rates may vary greatly and are typically much lower at most private institutions.  The public university stats are for honors programs only, except in the case of UC Berkeley, William & Mary, and the University of Virginia.

Georgia: SAT middle 50%=2110–2240; ACT middle 50%=31–33

Penn: SAT middle 50%= Reading 660–760; Math 690–780; Writing 680–770; ACT 30–34; acceptance rate 12.3%

UC Berkeley: Mean SAT=2068; acceptance rate 21%

Stanford: Median SAT=Reading 730; Math 740; Writing 730; acceptance rate 6.6%

Delaware: SAT middle 50%=2020–2170; mean ACT=33

Wesleyan: SAT average=Reading 730; Math 740; Writing 730; ACT 32; acceptance rate 20%

North Carolina: Mean SAT=1455; Mean ACT=32.5; top 9% of university applicants

MIT: SAT middle 50%=Reading 680–780; Math 740–800; Writing 690–790; acceptance rate 8.9%

Indiana (Hutton): Mean SAT=1372; Mean ACT=31.38

Vanderbilt: SAT middle 50%=1470–1590; ACT middle 50%=33–35; acceptance rate 12%.  (Note: these are sharply higher than 2011 stats.)

Washington*: SAT total average 2070; acceptance rate 26.3%

Davidson: SAT middle 50%=Reading 620–720; Math 640–720; Writing 620–720; ACT middle 50%=29–32; acceptance rate 24.8%

William & Mary: SAT middle 50%=Reading 620–740; Math 630–720; Writing 620–720; ACT middle 50%=28–32; acceptance rate 32%

Dartmouth: Mean SAT: Reading 736; Math 741; Writing 743; Mean ACT 32.5; acceptance rate 9.4%

UT Austin Plan II*: Average SAT=Reading 718; Math 715; Writing 722 (2155 combined); middle 50% ACT 32-33; for class of 2016, acceptance rate was 31%.

Cornell: Mean SAT=Reading 675;  Math 717 (total of 1402); Mean ACT 31; acceptance rate 16.2%

Virginia: Mean SAT=1395; acceptance rate 27.4%

Colgate: SAT middle 50%=Reading 660–740; Math 670–750; ACT 30–33; acceptance rate 29%

Mississippi (Barksdale Honors): ACT average 30.1

Boston University: SAT average 2005; ACT 29; acceptance rate 45.5%

Penn State Schreyer*: SAT average 2070; ACT 32; estimated acceptance rate 10–12%

Tufts: SAT middle 50%: Reading 670–760; Math 680–760; Writing 680–760; ACT 31; acceptance rate 21%

South Carolina*: SAT average 1427; High school GPA (weighted) 4.6



UI Chicago Honors College Offers Strong Faculty Involvement

Although the overall honors credit-hour requirements for the University of Illinois-Chicago Honors College are not as extensive as those in many universities, the UIC college places a premium on faculty involvement with students–which may be the most important aspect of honors education.

Students are assigned a faculty fellows, usually from the major department.  “Honors College Fellows come from departments in all colleges across the UIC campus. These faculty members apply for appointment as Fellows to have the opportunity to work with talented undergraduates, and to help such students perform at their highest level of ability. Busy both as scholars and as teachers, the Fellows of the Honors College deserve thanks from the entire UIC community for their support of Honors College students, which leads students to success at UIC and beyond.”

Some departments, such as business, engineering, biology, and psychology, have 20 or more honors advisors each in order to keep up with the demand for the most popular majors.   And in departments with clear specialty areas (business, engineering), there are advisors from each speciality area (management, marketing, accounting, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, etc.).  Students must meet with their honors fellows at least twice a semester, but often meet much more frequently.  Students who fail to keep their required appointments are reported to honors staff.

As an honors advisor, the Fellow:

• Helps the student decide on honors activities each semester;

• Serves as the student’s and the Honors College’s agent in the home department;

• Provides guidance for the student’s independent study or research, working with the student directly or suggesting other appropriate faculty members with whom the student might work;

• Encourages and advises the student regarding the student’s Honors College Capstone Project, which is typically completed during the last two semesters before graduation. The Fellow might serve as the faculty advisor for this project, or might help the student find other appropriate faculty advisors. The capstone generally also fulfills requirements of departmental honors programs (research projects, senior papers or theses, etc.) leading to graduation with departmental honors.

As a mentor in a more general sense, the Fellow:

• Welcomes the student as a member of the academic community, encourages the student to identify with that community, and develops a relationship with the student that fosters such identification. In the relationship with the student, as in all UIC faculty-student contacts, the Fellow is sensitive to all issues as described by the university’s Nondiscrimination Statement.

• Encourages the student to pursue academic excellence;

• Serves as a source of information about the department, the campus, graduate school, and careers;

• Helps the uncertain or immature student develop academic or professional goals and strategies for achieving them;

Serves as a sponsor and advocate for the student — encouraging the student to take advantage of academic opportunities, calling departmental colleagues’ attention to the student’s abilities, writing letters of recommendation, etc.;

Identifies highly talented students at the earliest possible stage and calls them to the attention of the department and the Honors College;

• Encourages outstanding students to apply for major awards (Fulbright, Marshall, Mellon, NSF, Rhodes, Truman, etc.) and helps them become competitive for such awards;

• Serves as an ambassador for the Honors College in his or her home department, college, and across the campus.

The strongest departments nationally at UIC are clinical psychology (42), criminology (19), education (38), english (41), fine Arts (45), history (36), mathematics (36), nursing (11), occupational therapy (4), pharmacy (14), physical therapy (16), public affairs (37), public health (16), social work (24), and sociology (41).  Engineering overall is ranked at number 68.

Our admission stats for UIC Honors College are outdated, but they show a minimum SAT/ACT of 1240 and 28, respectively, along with a high school rank in the top 15 percent.  Continuation in the program requires a 3.4 GPA.  Honors students may choose to live in honors floors in several living/learning residence halls on campus.

Arkansas Honors College Awards 50k Fellowships to 72 Students

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas Honors College has selected 72 outstanding high school students who will make up the 2012 class of Honors College Fellows.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the historic $300 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation that was announced in April 2002, a portion of which funded the Honors College and its generous scholarship program.

“Including this latest group, we have provided $50,000 fellowships for 879 students. It’s incredibly rewarding to see them explore their interests, both on campus and abroad,” said Maribeth Lynes, assistant dean and director of recruitment at the University of Arkansas Honors College. Lynes recalls that administrators had to scramble to fill the roster of Honors College fellowships back in 2002.

“Nobody knew about the fellowships that first year,” she said. “We contacted national merit finalists and other top test takers in the state. Our goal was to keep the best and brightest students in Arkansas.”

Today, the word is out on the generous funding that the University of Arkansas Honors College offers to its fellows, and applications are coming in from across the U.S. and abroad. More than 500 top high school students applied for the fellowships, and the 72 new fellows who will arrive on campus next fall are a stellar group. They will benefit from fellowship funds of $50,000 over four years that largely cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books and a computer. The fellowship funds can also be combined with other scholarships and grants, such as the $500,000 to $1 million in study abroad and research grants that the Honors College awards to students each year.

Top grades and test scores are a given: students must score at least 32 on the ACT exam and have a 3.8 grade point average just to apply. The rigor of applicants’ high school course work, their letters of recommendation and community involvement also count.

Though the fellowship program is still relatively young, evidence of its success is solid. Alumni fellows are pursuing advanced degrees at top graduate and professional programs around the country and landing jobs in competitive fields. Summer Scott, a member of the second class of Honors College fellows who earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, particularly appreciated the opportunities to study abroad.

“I participated in a business program in Greece, and also traveled to Egypt, Italy and China,” she said. Scott now heads a plant for Dow Chemical that is the world’s largest producer of epichlorohydrin, a key ingredient in epoxy resins that are used in adhesives, paints and other materials. She emphasized that study abroad prepared her well for work with global teams.

“You have to respect that other cultures are very different from ours; you do your homework, and go in with an open mind. I can’t put into words how important those experiences were for me, both in terms of my career and personally,” she said.

Alumni fellows also appreciate the freedom to pursue their goals without being burdened by student loans. Dwayne Bensing was weighing scholarship offers from American University, the University of Virginia and Hendrix College when he received the invitation to join the first class of Honors College fellows.

“When the Honors College fellowship came in, it seemed too good to be true. It made the decision pretty easy,” he recalled when reached on the telephone. “The U of A offered me the opportunity to explore all of my interests without the overwhelming burden of managing student loan debt.” Bensing studied abroad in Mexico and England, completed two degrees in political science and communication and picked up numerous awards, including a Truman Scholarship. He said that working closely with faculty mentors such as Steve Sheppard, Bill Schreckhise and Stephen Smith prepared him well for law school at University of Pennsylvania, where he recently completed his Juris Doctor. He begins work at a law firm in Washington, D.C. this fall.