The Matter of Size

Often it appears that college honors programs are known more by their differences than by their similarities. This is certainly true when it comes to the varying sizes of honors colleges and programs among the fifty universities we are reviewing.

Indeed, for four of the universities we are reviewing, we can’t even determine the size of their honors programs. But for the other 46, the mean honors enrollment is 1,762 students.
Total honors enrollment in all fifty universities is in excess of 80,000 students.

The mean enrollment for honors colleges is 1,958; the mean for honors programs is 1,624. The smallest programs are those at Binghamton (c. 175) and Stony Brook (c. 250). The largest are at Ohio State (6,500), Iowa (5,000), Indiana (4,000), Arizona State (3,500), Massachusetts (3,100), and Maryland and Texas A&M (3,000).

Clustered relatively close to the mean are Alabama (1,650), Iowa State (1,600), Washington (1,450), Delaware (1,850), Florida (1,800), and Penn State (1,877).

Some of the Southern colleges with newer or more consolidated facilities cluster around 1,100: Mississippi (1,135), South Carolina (1,200), and Clemson (1,000).

These enrollment numbers may vary somewhat from actual numbers in a given year. (Revised March 12, 2012.)

Does the size of an honors program or college matter? Some of the really large programs will consider the top 15% of applicants to the university as eligible, thereby significantly increasing a prospective student’s chances of being admitted.

Of the more selective honors programs, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Penn State have honors enrollments greater than 1,850 students. The Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, and Penn State enrollments are on the lower end of this range, with about 1,800–1,850 honors students. Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota all have more than 2,000 students.

Other selective honors programs are much smaller. UC Irvine has about 625 students, and Texas (Plan II only) has about 700 students. Kansas has about 1,100, Virginia about 1,000, and North Carolina 1,200. Wisconsin enrolls 1,300 honors students, and Washington has 1,450.

Therefore, even if SAT and GPA requirements are equivalent, acceptance rates vary significantly. The UT Austin Plan II program accepts less than 8% of applicants, a number which translates to much less than 1% of the undergraduate student body. At Wisconsin, on the other hand, the top 7.5% of all students in the College of Letters and Sciences are eligible. This figure translates to about 4% of the undergraduate student body.

So, when it comes to size, the odds are more in your favor when you go for a larger honors program or college, as you would expect. The larger question is what size program appears to be optimal for honors learning? Stay tuned; we might have a tentative answer later.