Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Allocation of Resources: Should Honors Programs Take Priority?

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Allocation of Resources: Should Honors Programs Take Priority?

Article excerpt

Two of the major challenges facing higher education in the 21st century are the determination of priorities and the allocation of shrinking resources to reflect these priorities. Many colleges and universities, when blessed with sufficient funds during the last half of the 20th century, dedicated resources to develop honors programs (or similar honors colleges) to attract and nurture academically talented undergraduate students. (1) Substantial funds are required for honors programs to offer benefits such as small classes, special honors advising, and honors housing. In addition to annual funding, other resources are needed to operate a successful honors program, such as faculty time for honors courses and physical space for classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, computer labs, and study areas.

Today's climate is different from the era of widespread honors program creation. Institutions no longer have enough resources to fund all existing programs. According to McPherson and Schapiro (2003), "Public colleges and universities in the United States have been on a financial roller coaster in recent years because of dramatic changes in the fiscal environment of the states" (p. 1157). A recent plunge that began in the 2001-02 academic year threatens to be as deep or even deeper than the serious slide of the early 1990s. Institutional leaders are confronted with difficult decisions as they allocate resources that are inadequate to meet the needs of all programs. They are forced to prioritize, and those programs that do not surface as priorities must be modified or eliminated.

This essay addresses the question: Are college honors programs important enough to be considered priorities that receive institutional funding and other resources? Although there are thoughtful educators who argue against supporting honors programs as institutional priorities, the arguments in favor of such support are ultimately more persuasive. Much can be learned, however, from arguments against honors programs, and this essay presents some of the strongest of these arguments. Rather than ignoring or dismissing such positions, honors administrators must use them to gain insight for improving their programs, securing wider acceptance of their programs, and helping to ensure that their host institutions remain fully aware of the crucial and diverse value of their honors programs. This essay is intended to assist honors administrators as they strive to position their programs as deserving priorities within their institutions.

The colleges that choose to allocate substantial resources to honors programs do so because they see the value of the programs to serve not only students but also the institutions themselves. One example is the University of Minnesota, which, although confronted with economic challenges, is currently considering a plan to add an honors college, closing two other longstanding colleges in the process (its General College, which provides services to students who need remedial assistance, and its College of Human Ecology). This plan is intended to help the university better focus its resources, compete for top students and faculty, and improve its status as a top research institution (Hebel, 2005).

Honors programs clearly assist with the recruitment of high-ability students, and honors administrators must find ways to measure and document this role so that it can serve as solid evidence of the value of their specific programs to their institutions as a whole. For example, new freshmen enrolling through the Honors College at Oklahoma State University complete a brief survey that includes the question, "In selecting OSU as your university, how important was it that you were accepted into the Honors College?" The response results are documented in the Honors College annual report and are distributed to appropriate university personnel. The 2003-04 annual report (OSU Honors College, 2004, p. 8) shows that 44% of new honors freshmen indicated that their acceptance into the Honors College was "very important," 48% said "somewhat important," and only 8% said that Honors College acceptance was not an important factor in their selection of universities. …

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