Honors News: August 19, 2015–Illinois at Chicago Honors College

University of Illinois at Chicago Honors College Receives Big Donations, Provides Great Support for Honors Students

The Illinois at Chicago Honors College has to be doing a lot of things right. The most recent annual report, perhaps the most detailed and informative that we have encountered, has lots of good news to present. Outgoing Dean Bette Bottoms has certainly left her mark on the College during her seven years of leadership.

Today, we will highlight the latest financial news from the College, and add some interesting news about honors graduation rates.

In Spring 2015, the College announced the largest gift in its history. “The CME Group Foundation gave the Honors College one million dollars over the next four years: $900,000 will support scholarships for students pursuing careers related to finance, especially low-income and first-generation college students from Chicago Public Schools. Another $100,000 will be used to provide emergency funds for Honors students of any major.”

Former Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and his wife, Sarah, established a scholarship fund to support first-year students with high academic ability and significant financial need. The Chicago neighborhoods that the Wood Family Foundation serves are Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, or Lawndale. “All tuition, fees, assessments, books, and room and board are provided and the ACCC provides a laptop,” according to the report. “The 2015-16 recipient is Marla Stamps, an entering freshman majoring in Urban Education.”

The Honors College itself  initiated two new scholarships to support students: “Over $200,000 in Fresh Start Scholarships were offered to new incoming first-year students with unmet financial need in Fall 2014. Ten City College Honors Transfer Awards of $1,000 each will be given to incoming transfer students from City Colleges of Chicago for Fall 2015.”

Dr. Siva Sivananthan funds the SAGE scholarship for incoming students in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, who are also from some of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods. The recipients, freshmen Andriy Suden and Peter Durosinmi, each received $10,500 scholarships to be used for Honors-designated on-campus housing, renewable annually for four years.

“Finally, Kevin Desouza and his wife Sally have also funded a second endowed scholarship, called the Desouza Family Endowment Fund for Civic Leadership, to support students who go beyond the classroom and make a positive impact on the UIC community through service and leadership in student organizations.”

“The Honors College continued to provide the Dean’s Emergency Fund for students who have unique times of financial stress that can be relieved with relatively little money (usually $2,000 or less). The College gave approximately $60,000 in emergency funding last year to 49 students. Honors students have come to the Dean to ask for grants of as little as $62 to pay off their outstanding student account balance and to register for the next semester. Most requests are for larger amounts, but this kind of funding is crucial for Honors students who risk withdrawing from college due to unforeseen circumstances—from family home foreclosure to root canals—resulting in unpaid educational expenses.”

As for graduation rates, the report has a graph that illustrates the value-added impact that honors education can have.

The graph shows the six-year graduation rates of both honors and non-honors students, by ACT cohorts. Example: for students with ACT scores of 29-30, honors students had a graduation rate just over 80 percent, while the rate for non-honors students was less than 60 percent. The rates for students with ACT scores of 33 were 90+percent for honors students and, again, less than 60 percent for non-honors students.

Yes, it’s almost certain that some of this has to do with higher high school gpa’s for honors students versus the non-honors students, but the annual report makes it clear that there are also many other factors that contribute to honors success.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

Why Don’t Some Well-Known Honors Colleges and Programs Appear in Our Book?

Update March 25, 2016 to account for changes scheduled for our 2016 book.

Some visitors to our site and readers of A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs might wonder why the honors colleges or programs at several prominent public universities are not reviewed. Those schools include Colorado, Florida, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Pitt.

The fact that these and other programs were not included in the Review does not mean that they are not strong options for an honors education. Every one of the colleges and programs above can rightfully point to outstanding accomplishments and alumni. On occasion we post information and links to these and other programs that were not reviewed in the book.

The reasons for exclusion vary, but they include the following:

(1) Some programs do not have designated honors membership or hard and fast requirements, preferring to give students maximum freedom in course selection. This is an issue for us because our key metric assesses the hours and credits required for honors completion and the specific course offerings available to meet those requirements.

(2) Some programs were in transition at the time we sent out the questionnaire. Neither they nor I thought it was fair to rate them under those circumstances.

(3) A few honors colleges and programs expressed strong opposition to our project and to the idea of ranking or rating honors programs, and therefore declined to participate at all.

The Review makes it clear that we no longer consider numerical rankings to be valid, as they tend to create distinctions (based on tiny statistical disparities in scoring) where no meaningful distinctions exist. But we do rate the programs, and that allows us to group several that are essentially equivalent. For example, we list 7 programs as having 5 “mortarboards” on a scale of 5. We do not rank those or other programs in strict numerical order, however.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

Texas A&M Is All-in When It Comes to Engineering

Can it be that Texas A&M plans to out-tech…Georgia Tech? Engineering majors at the renowned Georgia institution make up almost 60% of undergrads. It now appears that Texas A&M may be headed toward a similar profile–and may well have the funding and the will to make it happen.

Only a few years ago, the Texas A&M and University of Texas systems were fighting to maintain academic excellence in the midst of severe legislative budget cuts and attacks from then-Governor Rick Perry, an A&M alumnus.

Today, Perry is out of office, and the A&M System just approved a $400 million funding increase, thanks in large measure to legislative action that added $3.3 billion in higher ed funding.  Almost $200 million of this amount will be for research. The bulk of the money will go for expansions to keep pace with enrollment increases in the A&M and UT Systems. The University of Houston System also received additional funding.

And this: the Legislature also added $91 million in financial aid funding. A&M will also use $10 million, from multiple sources, for professorships and for the Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Study, “which aims to attract top-tier academic and research talent from around the country to participate in fellowships.” Such a plan contrasts sharply with the aims of Perry and his allies, who were willing to sacrifice academic research and excellence in the name of cheaper, more “productive” strategies.

The 2016 budget narrative states that the A&M System is providing $22.5 million in one-time available university funding to Texas A&M University (main campus). Some of this largesse is the result of the state’s booming economy, and some has come about with the change of leadership in the state.

For a while now, A&M has had a plan for using this and other money, much of it in donations to support the Dwight Look College of Engineering. In 2013, the Texas A&M main campus in College Station announced the “25 by 25” project, aimed at increasing the enrollment of engineering students on campus to 25,000 by the year 2025.

Chancellor John Sharp, a powerful leader in state higher ed and political circles, said that in 2012, the main campus had 10,000 applications for only 1,600 slots in engineering. You can bet that a lot of the money this biennium will go to salaries and research in engineering.

To put the goal of 25,000 engineering students in perspective, we have estimated the percentage of engineering majors that Texas A&M could have if the “25 by 25” goals are met. If the undergrad student body grows to 40,000, and 25,000 of those are engineering students (60%), then Texas A&M will bear a strong resemblance to the engineering behemoth that is Georgia Tech.

What happens when an Aggie meets a Ramblin’ Wreck? This is one Aggie joke that is likely to be no joke on the Aggies at all.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

Honors News: August 16, 2015

Do Honors Colleges and Programs Really Have Smaller Classes?

The short answer is yes. Although some first-year classes, especially in the sciences, can be large, most lower-division classes will in fact be smaller. If the program offers upper-division honors sections, these will also be smaller than most regular sections.

The following comes from a detailed analysis of honors class size, using actual university class schedules as the basis.

The average class size for honors seminars is in the 14-19 student range.  Please bear in mind that seminars often count for Gen Ed requirements, and their small size is a big advantage, aside from the advantages of their interdisciplinary approach.

But what about honors class size averages for sections in the major academic disciplines?   We took the honors sections from 16 public universities and then calculated the actual enrollment averages in each section.  The academic disciplines we included were biology and biochemistry; chemistry; computer science and engineering; economics; English; history; math; physics; political science; and psychology.  The honors colleges and programs included three of the largest in the nation, along with several smaller programs.

Given the perilous state of the humanities, it is no surprise that the smallest classes are in English and history, while the largest are in computer science, chemistry, biology, and political science.

Here are the results, by discipline:

Biology–63 sections, average of 38.6 students.  (Bear in mind that many intro biology classes are not all-honors and are generally much larger, 100 or more, with separate weekly honors discussion sections, each with 10-20 students.  Same for into chemistry.)

Chemistry–33 sections, average of 40.3 students.

Computer Science/Computer Engineering–18 sections, average 54.3 students.

Economics–49 sections, average of 31.2 students.  (This is in most cases a significant improvement over enrollment in non-honors class sections.)

English–110 sections, average of 19.4 students.  This does not include many even smaller honors seminars that have a humanities focus.

History–58 sections, average of 16.2 students.  This likewise does not include many even smaller honors seminars with a humanities/history emphasis.

Math–44 sections, average of 24.7 students.  Most of the math sections are in calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, topology, vector analysis.

Physics–30 sections, average of 25.5 students.  Again, many honors programs do not offer honors classes in intro physics, so a student could still have large non-honors classes in that course.

Political Science–19 sections, average 34.4 students.  The striking point here is the small number of polysci sections offered–just over 1 per program, per semester on average.  The major has become extremely popular, so many sections outside of honors could be quite large.

Psychology–60 sections, average 28.9 students.  Another popular major, but more class availability in general.

UT Austin Business Honors Program: A Great Launching Pad

The McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin consistently ranks among the leaders in the nation for both undergraduate and MBA programs, but the Business Honors Program (BHP) for highly qualified applicants can lead to jobs and salaries that rival those of the leading private university business schools.

And when we say “highly qualified” we mean enrolled students with an average ACT of 33, and SAT of 1477 (higher than the 1466 average for the Wharton School at Penn), and an average high school class standing in the top 2.27%.

The acceptance rate for the incoming class of 2015 was 17.6%, with total applications of 1,354.

The overall program size is approximately 500 students, with 120-130 enrolled students in each class year.

The McCombs School as a whole has ten business specialty programs ranked in the top 10, according to U.S News: Accounting (1), Marketing (3), Management Information Systems (4), Finance (5), Management (6), Real Estate (7), Entrepreneurship (8), Insurance (9), Production and Operations Management (9), and Quantitative Analysis (9). This means that students can change their minds about a business specialty and still receive equivalent classroom opportunities.

Another key factor is that BHP students can also jointly enroll in the nationally renowned Plan II honors program.  Indeed, the Plan II-BHP combination is chosen by about one-third of BHP students.

If the qualifications of students and quality of specialty programs in the BHP are as high as most other business schools, so are the salaries earned upon graduation, with a mean salary of $65,879 for 2014 grads. And the placement rate for grads seeking full-time employment: 100% for the last four years.

Additional features include classes that are significantly smaller than regular undergrad business classes. BHP classes are capped at 40 students per section; many have 20-25 students enrolled. The case study approach used by many MBA programs is also used in a lot of the BHP classes.

According to the BHP, its 2015 graduates “went to work for the top banks, consulting firms, accounting firms, tech firms and others. They are now working for Credit Suisse, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, McKinsey, Bain, Accenture, Boston Consulting Group, E&Y, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, Facebook, Amazon, Visa, Shell, Chevron, Southwest Airlines, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, 3M, General Electric, and the like.

“They are starting their own businesses and working for nonprofits in India. They are going to med school, law school, and graduate business schools. The BHP degree is a versatile degree and a great launching pad for many different industries and pursuits.”

Honors News: August 14, 2015

Purdue Honors College Announces Exciting Updates

Only a couple of years ago, the emerging Purdue Honors College enrolled about 1,000 students and was still in the process of transitioning from the Honors Program, which began back in 2005.

But now the enrollment is up to 1,800 students–and the College has announced other changes as part of a major expansion. The Honors College will soon have a $90 million, 311,000 square foot Honors College and Residences complex.

“This facility will provide a home for the College, inaugurated in the Fall of 2013. Providing over 800 beds, the complex will house the offices, innovation forum, classrooms and labs for the honors students. The Purdue Honors College has 1800 students who will be served by the facility that is among the first in Indiana – and Purdue’s first- to be built using the efficient construction manager as constructor (CMC) process.

“The new home will provide opportunities for enhancing the living learning experiences for honors students.”

The Honors College, under the leadership of Dean Rhonda Phillips, has already made a name for itself. In our 2014 edition of A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs, the College achieved a 4.5 mortarboard rating on the basis of its curriculum, staffing, class size, and excellent six-year graduation rate of 94 percent.

Honors News: August 14, 2015

FAFSA Will No Longer Share Your College Choice with Other Schools

In what is welcome news to college applicants and their parents, the musical chairs game of prioritizing your list of school on the FAFSA form–and hoping that schools will not hold it against you if don’t list them first–now seems to be over.

“…it’s all behind us,” says consultant and web columnist Nancy Griesemer. “In the single biggest change for 2016-17 federal financial aid programming, the list of colleges a student includes on the FAFSA will not be shared except with the student’s state agency—not with other colleges.”

But if you are applying to an in-state public university, you would be wise to list that choice first in order to qualify for state aid. According to the FAFSA website:

“For purposes of federal student aid, it does not matter in what order you list the schools. However, to be considered for state aid, several states require you to list a state school first. Therefore, if you plan to list a state school in your state of residence as one of the schools in this section, you might want to list it first. After the first school, you may wish to list additional schools in alphabetical order.

So far, I have been unable to identify the states that require applicants in-state to list an in-state university first. So…if you’re applying to one in your state, why not go ahead and list it first, especially since your other choices won’t receive that information now.

“You can list up to 10 schools on the online FAFSA or up to four schools on a paper FAFSA. (You can add more schools to your FAFSA later.) Schools you list on your FAFSA will automatically receive your FAFSA results electronically.”

Honors News: August 13, 2015

Have you ever notice that the Academic Reputation scores in the U.S News Best Colleges ranking can be very high for several public universities although their overall ranking is much lower than other schools with less stellar reputations?

Of course, there can be good reasons for this discrepancy: larger class sizes in public universities, lower graduation rates, etc. But…honors colleges and programs within the larger institutions offset the negatives and offer their students opportunities to take advantage of the factors contributing to the strong academic reputations.

First, these are factors to consider if the state university’s academic reputation is much stronger than its overall ranking:

1.  The overall rankings penalize public universities for their typically larger class sizes, but the average class size in the 50 major honors programs we track is only 21.2 students, much smaller than the average class size for the universities as a whole.  Most of these honors classes are lower-division, where the preponderance of large classes is the norm.  Result:  the relatively poor rating the whole university might receive for class size is offset for honors students.

2.  The overall rankings hit some public universities hard for having relatively low retention and graduation percentages, but freshmen retention rates in honors programs are in the 90% range and higher; meanwhile six-year grad rates for honors entrants average 89%–much higher than the average rates for the universities as a whole.  Result: the lower rates for the universities as a whole are offset for honors students.

3.  All public universities suffer in the overall rankings because U.S. News assigns ranking points for both the wealth of the university as a whole and for the impact that wealth has on professors’ salaries, smaller class sizes, etc.  This is a double whammy in its consideration of inputs and outputs separately; only the outputs should be rated.  Result: the outputs for class size (see above) are offset for honors students, and the wealth of the university as an input should not be considered in the first place.

4.  For highly-qualified students interested in graduate or professional school, academic reputation and the ability to work with outstanding research faculty are big advantages. Honors students have enhanced opportunities to work with outstanding faculty members even in large research universities, many of which are likely to have strong departmental rankings in the student’s subject area.  Result: honors students are not penalized for the research focus of public research universities; instead, they benefit from it.

5.  Many wealthy private elites are generous in funding all, or most, need-based aid, but increasingly offer little or no merit aid.  This means that families might receive all the need-based aid they “deserve” according to a federal or institutional calculation and still face annual college costs of $16,000 to $50,000.  On the other hand, national scholars and other highly-qualified students can still receive significant merit aid at most public universities.  Result: if a public university has an academic reputation equal to that of a wealthy private elite, an honors student could be better off financially and not suffer academically in a public honors program.

But…what if the academic reputation of the public university is lower than that of a private school under consideration?   In this case, the public honors option should offer the following offsets:

1. The net cost advantage of the public university, including merit aid, probably needs to be significant.

2.  It is extremely important to evaluate the specific components of the honors program to determine if it provides a major “value-added” advantage–is it, relatively, better than the university as a whole.  Typically, the answer will be yes.  To determine how much better, look at the academic disciplines covered by the honors program, the actual class sizes, retention and graduation rates, research opportunities, and even honors housing and perks, such as priority registration.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

Honors News: August 12, 2015

August 12, 2015

The SAT redesign has independent college consultants worried. Now, 99% of them are recommending that high school juniors take the ACT, and 71% are advising students to skip the revised SAT for at least the first go-round.

Nancy Griesemer, who writes great columns for the Washington Examiner, goes into greater detail. She and other consultants are concerned that the unknowns and increased rigor of the revised SAT could make for unpleasant surprises for the first group of students to take it.

“Despite efforts by the College Board to provide substantial advance information about the new test, counselors are uneasy about the Board’s ability to pull it all together in time for next year’s juniors,” she writes. “In fact, the vast majority of IECs surveyed (87%) indicated they were changing the advice they ordinarily give students about which college admission exams to take and when.”

One possible strategy: take the old SAT test this fall, and then the ACT in the spring. Then…in the senior year think about re-taking the tests and even tackling the revised SAT.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

Honors News–August 11, 2015

August 11, 2015–Exciting news from Rutgers New Brunswick: a new Honors College, along with its own central living/learning community, is welcoming approximately 500 “of the highest achieving students from New Jersey,” according to Dean Matt Matsuda.

“Our students come from across the undergraduate schools at Rutgers-New Brunswick– Arts and Sciences, Environmental and Biological Sciences, Engineering, Business, Pharmacy, and Fine Arts,” the Dean reports. Membership in the Honors College is a four-year experience.

The new living/learning facility, “situated at the heart of the New Brunswick campus and opening this fall,” houses all first-year students in the Honors College, “as well as administrative and advising offices, six seminar rooms, plentiful lounge and study areas for programming, and three live-in faculty apartments. We are ready to welcome our inaugural class this fall as Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, celebrates its 250th anniversary.”

Building on the success of the SAS (Arts and Sciences) Honors Program, the new Honors College “expands honors education at Rutgers-New Brunswick, by redefining interdisciplinary education. While the school-based honors programs will continue as they have in the past, the new Honors College invites students from across the liberal arts and professional schools to live and work together to tackle global issues.

“The Honors College is a community where intellectual curiosity, hands-on knowledge, diversity, collaboration, and giving back are central to its philosophy.”

August 11, 2015–Although there are few hard and fast rules regarding honors programs, honors curricula and completion requirements are, as one might think, the most important components of an honors program. Here’s why: More honors classes, and the requirement that honors students must complete 25-40 hours of credits in honors, place students in a learning environment together more frequently, and reinforce their contacts with professors and research opportunities. Lower levels of completion, while still providing the advantage of replacing many Gen Ed courses with smaller honors sections, can (but not always) lead to a student’s declining interest in honors.

Living/learning communities, clubs, honors benefits (e.g., priority registration) and volunteer activities are also vital components of honors education–but in the end what happens in the classroom, and how frequently it happens, are the most important factors in sustaining the honors experience.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.