In Undergraduate Honor Programs and What is the point of honors programs? I talked about the part-time faculty administrative position opening up for building up the honors program at UCSC and what the point of the honors program is. I’ve decided that I won’t apply for the administrative position, because the largest and most important task is one that I’m not good at. In the What is the point of honors programs? post I ended with
… what are the short-term goals?
- Recruiting top students (say students with 2 SAT scores ≥ 700, or one ≥ 740).
- Retaining top students past the first year (we still lose a lot who transfer to schools with a higher reputation).
- Creating a community of peers for top students—it is too easy for top students to compare themselves with the average students around them and end up not challenging themselves. Having a peer group who are just as bright can push them to achieve far more than they would have in an environment where they are always the “best”.
- Finding a way to fund the honors program that does not rely on start-up funds that expire nor build up jealousy from faculty not teaching honors courses.
In a subsequent post, I’ll muse about ways that we can achieve these goals.
It is that last goal, finding funding either within the campus or from an outside source, that I see as being the biggest hurdle to creating a meaningful, lasting honors program. Fundraising (internal or external) is something I’m not very good at and hate to do, and so I don’t see myself as being the administrator needed for the honors program now.
If they were looking for a faculty adviser for honors students, I’d volunteer. If they were looking for someone to design an honors program with already identified funds (even if limited ones), I’d probably apply. But with no resources already allocated, the program will need a much more entrepreneurial person than me to have any hope of lasting.
If whoever does get hired for the post wants help, I’d be glad to give suggestions on what the honors program should try to do and discuss approaches for getting there within the campus culture. Things I’d like to see include the following:
- Dedicate a dorm (or two) to honors-college students, so that they are surrounded by other top students, not spread out thinly all over campus. This should not just be a freshman dorm, but ideally a 4-year dorm. This shouldn’t cost anything, since it is just a reallocation of housing assignments. I would locate the dorm at Crown or at Cowell, since those two colleges seem the most conducive to instituting an honors program.
- Set realistic size and admissions standards for honors college membership. For example, Michigan State had 503 new honors-college members out of 7924 new full-time students (6.3% of entering class). This got them an average SAT score of 1390 (CR+M) and average GPA of 4.09 for the entering honors college members. Of course, they’ve been running their honors college for a long time—we’d probably have to start much smaller, with maybe 2% of the entering class (about 75 students/year). I have no idea what the top 2% of our applicant pool looks like, nor what the yield is at the high end of the pool. Part of the point of creating a robust honors program is to improve the yield there.
- Waive all prerequisites at course registration for honors-college students. These students are bright enough to figure out whether or not they really need a prereq, and could be encouraged to talk to instructors before exercising their waivers.
- Provide priority registration for honors students (open their registration a day or two earlier than for other students).
- Require honors college students to meet quarterly with a faculty adviser to discuss how they are shaping their education. This would require some faculty time, but not an enormous amount (if we assume a steady-state of 300 honors college students and half-hour meetings, we get 450 faculty hours. That’s a lot for one faculty member, but not a lot for 10 faculty. It may be necessary to provide some prestige award (Fellow of the Honors College) to reward faculty for the advising load, but probably does not require monetary compensation.
- Waive all general education requirements for honors-college students. (This is the Brown University approach to general education, for all their students.) The advising meetings should, of course, include warnings that losing honors college status would result in the general education requirements being reimposed, so students might want to follow enough of the general ed that losing honors college status would not be a disaster. Note that discipline-specific requirements for a major would not be waived.
- Create honors versions of any course that has over 200 students a year in it (except for remedial courses, of course). This would cost real money, and I can’t see the current department chairs supporting this out of their own budgets. Finding the funds for a 10–30 classes a year taught by ladder-rank faculty is expensive (3–15 FTE positions). Although this is an important part of a good honors college program, I don’t see it is likely to happen at UCSC.
- Funding a number of National Merit Scholarships on campus. None of the UCs or CSUs participate in the National Merit Scholarship program, but other public universities in other states do. For example, University of Oklahoma offers five-year tuition waiver, $5,500/year for expenses, $5,000 National Merit award, $4,200 housing scholarship, $2,000 textbook/technology stipend, $2000 research and study-abroad stipend—that’s not a full-ride scholarship, but it is big enough that OU has over 700 National Merit Scholars. According to the National Merit Annual Report, OU gave out 160 new National Merit Scholarships for the 2012 competition (starting college in 2013)—and that isn’t the largest number from a state school (University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa gave out 208). Over half the 2012 National Merit Scholarships are funded by colleges and universities (4554 out of 8064).
Of course, most of the National Merit Scholarships are not as generous as the OU one, but even a few scholarships at the average value ($4,800) would be a strong inducement for top students to attend. This is moderately priced, but would probably require finding new money from donors, and UCSC has always taken the approach of having rather secret scholarships that no one has ever heard of, plus UC-specific ones like the Regents scholarships.
I think that UCSC has the potential for creating a very strong honors college, but that the resources needed to create and maintain such a program are unlikely to be forthcoming in the next couple of years (unless some donor pushes for an honors college), because the administration is just dipping a toe in the water and not committing to creating a robust honors program. I’m not the right person to try shaking the money tree, so I’ll have to pass this opportunity by. Maybe if the administration commits some real funds to the honors program, I would be interested in the position.