Honors Colleges vs. Honors Programs: NCHC Survey of Smaller Institutions

The leadership of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) has completed a survey of more than 400 honors colleges and programs, many of them at smaller institutions.  The average total enrollment at the colleges surveyed is 6,484.  The average size of the 50 larger state universities we surveyed was much larger, just under 25,000 students.

NCHC President Rick Scott, Dean of the Schedler Honors College at the University of Central Arkansas, released the report.

As we found earlier in the post Honors Colleges vs. Honors Programs, honors colleges tend to have a greater “value added” impact on large universities that are not as selective as some of their counterparts.  For example, UVA, UNC Chapel Hill, Michigan, and UT Austin do not have honors colleges, and their strong “value” is often validated by external rankings and other measures. 

All these universities have strong honors programs, but the extent to which they add value to the universities as a whole is less than the impact of honors colleges on less selective schools. The Barrett Honors College at Arizona State, for example, is a powerful value added feature for the university as a whole.

Most of the two-year and four-year colleges in the NCHC survey are not highly selective.  Therefore, it is not surprising to us that the NCHC survey did in fact show a significant difference in the size and positive impact of honors colleges at these school versus the impact of honors programs.

What this means for prospective students who are looking at honors options offered by smaller or less selective colleges is that, in general, the schools with honors colleges will have stronger honors components, especially in several extremely important categories.

Size–In smaller institutions, the size of the honors component can be especially important.  The survey showed that the average size of responding honors colleges was 814 students, but only 292 students for honors programs.  By contrast, in our evaluation of fifty large university honors colleges and programs, there was only a very slight difference in the relative size.

Staff–The survey found that honors colleges had an average of 4.9 full-time employees, while honors programs had only 1.2 FTEs.

Advising–In the very important area, 77 percent of honors colleges had their own advisers, and only 44 percent of honors programs did.

Prestigious Scholarships–Guidance for outstanding students applying for Rhodes, Truman, Goldwater and other awards was available in 45 percent of the honors colleges but in only 16 percent of honors programs.

Honors Housing–83 percent of honors colleges offered honors residence choices, but only 46 percent of honors programs did so.

Living/Learning Options–Again, 73 percent of honors colleges had living/learning communities, but only 33 percent of honors programs did.

Curriculum–Here, 73 percent of honors colleges also offered departmental honors, while 59 percent of honors programs did so.

Internships–Honors colleges offered much stronger opportunities for internships, 44 percent versus only 22 percent for honors programs.