There is a special pleasure associated with writing about honors colleges and programs in the state of Florida, especially when the spring weather in the northwest still feels a lot like November. But if you were a student at Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College, you could have walked out of your honors dorm in early spring, strolled across the street, and taken in a spring training game at the Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, home of both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Florida Marlins.
And if you happened to be a National Merit Finalist, you would be enjoying a full ride scholarship.
And if you wanted to take only honors classes, with honors students, and faculty dedicated to honors education, you could.
And if you wanted to go to the beach, well, darn, you’d have to drive 10 minutes or ride your bike almost a whole half hour to get to Juno Beach.
Or you could just head over to the shops and restaurants at Abacoa Village, less than a 10-minute walk away.
More than 50 years ago, colleges began offering honors “programs” and many of these offered a relatively small number of honors seminars and departmental honors courses, with the bulk of honors coursework required in the first two “gen-ed” years.
But in the last three decades honors programs have expanded, and now many universities have established honors colleges that offer special housing, advising, and an expanding array of courses. Even so, only a relatively small number offer their own honors degree or require more than 30 semester credits (or equivalent) in honors courses.
Of the honors programs and colleges that offer their own degrees, four are well-known: the Pitt Honors College, the South Carolina Honors College, the Virginia Echols Scholars Program, and the UT Austin Plan II Honors Program. Yet none of these require a student to take only honors courses to earn the honors degree, even though about a third of the total credits to graduate do come from honors courses.
Now, the Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University (or, to be precise, near FAU), not only offers its own degrees in a broad range of special majors but also provides honors-only courses to meet the full graduation requirements.
The WHC has its own faculty as well, and the college is actually located in Jupiter, Florida, about 40 miles north of the main FAU campus in Boca Raton.
Note: The WHC will receive a full rated review in the 2018 edition of our book, INSIDE HONORS, due out in the Fall.
“It is important to note that the Wilkes Honors College (WHC) of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) is a free-standing, liberal arts and sciences college” says WHC Dean Dr. Ellen Goldey, whose field is biology. “WHC offers a four-year, all-honors curriculum, taught by its own faculty of thirty-seven full-time members, all of whom hold the highest degree in their field and represent the full range of liberal arts and sciences disciplines.
“Twenty-two other scholars and scientists hold affiliate faculty status in the College. Requirements for the baccalaureate degree include three team-taught interdisciplinary courses, an internship or study abroad experience, and completion of a mentored senior thesis. With a student to faculty ration of 12:1, the WHC [with 424 students] offers the intimacy and close faculty attention of a private college, with access to all of the benefits and opportunities of a large public research university.”
Full completion of an “honors concentration” requires 111 credit hours of honors courses across four years, plus a 6-credit thesis. AP credits can count for up to 45 credit hours.
Students do not have traditional majors but choose pursue a major concentration: American Studies; Anthropology; Art; Biological Anthropology; Biological Chemistry; Biology; Business; Chemistry; Economics; English Literature; Environmental Studies; History; Interdisciplinary Critical Theory; International Studies; Latin American Studies; Law and Society; Marine Biology; Mathematics; Mathematical Science; Medical Humanities; Medical Science; Philosophy; Physics; Political Science; Pre-Med; Psychology; Spanish; Women’s Studies; or Writing.
Engineering and computer science are not offered at WHC, but students who spend the first two years at WHC can follow a pathway to engineering at the Boca Raton campus. Science and research are central to the mission of the college.
“The Senior Honors Thesis is required, so all students conduct original, mentored research, and many of our students conduct research for multiple semesters/years leading up to their thesis,” according to Dean Goldey. “Multi-year research is especially common for our science students (who make up about 70% of our student population). This is possible for a number of reasons unique to our campus: two world-renowned research institutes exist on our campus: the Scripps Research Institute – Florida, the only Scripps Institute outside of California, and the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, the only Max Planck Institute outside of Europe.
“In addition, our campus houses FAU’s Brain Institute and Jupiter Life Science Initiative, each of which host top NIH-funded scientists. Nearby is FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, providing students interested in marine biology with remarkable research opportunities. Therefore, our undergraduates have unprecedented access to working with scientists in all STEM fields. As a result, since 2002, sixty-six publications, most of them in top-tier, peer-reviewed journals, have included a Wilkes Honors College student as a co-author.” [Emphasis added.]
The mean SAT score for current WHC students is 1280; the mean ACT is 29. The college has a very high honors completion rate (students who complete all honors requirements and graduate) of 82 percent. The four-year grad rate is 70%, far higher than most public universities.
“The Jupiter and Boca Raton campuses are linked by a shuttle service that operates throughout the day. The total undergraduate enrollment of FAU is 25,500 and the main campus also hosts a small Honors Program and some departments offer students the opportunity to earn honors I the major, but these programs are run separately from the Wilkes Honors College.”