Academic journal article Honors in Practice

An Outcome-Based Honors Program: The Honors Option Points (HOPs) System

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

An Outcome-Based Honors Program: The Honors Option Points (HOPs) System

Article excerpt


University honors colleges and programs come in many shapes and sizes, but one commonality exists: orientation around the completion of a group or series of courses. In some cases, the required courses are honors versions of regularly offered courses, and each semester honors students are able to choose from among those offered. In other cases, the core honors courses are designed to form a sequence, beginning in the first semester and often progressing to a senior thesis or capstone project.

Regardless of the structure, many honors programs face the challenge of designing a program that students can successfully complete in four years. This problem is especially acute at a time when university budgets are being cut; because honors courses are typically smaller than their non-honors counterparts, administrators may be tempted to reduce the number of honors sections offered to balance their shrinking budgets. While the Slippery Rock University Honors Program has been fortunate to have strong support from our administrators, our honors students have frequently expressed frustration at the difficulty of completing the program's academic requirements. In response, we recently took a hard look at the course-oriented structure of our program. In that process, we re-envisioned the program by focusing on the characteristics of some of our most successful honors students: they have diverse academic interests; they participate in international experiences; they have engaged in successful research/creative activities; and they are involved in leadership roles. We then restructured the program in a way that we hope will lead to the development of these valuable characteristics in all our honors students. The result is an outcome-based approach to honors education that is centered on Honors Option Points (HOPs, for short) rather than one that follows the traditional model of honors coursework.


Slippery Rock University is a medium-sized state university (approximately 9,000 students) that is part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) along with thirteen other universities ranging in size from 1,600 students (Cheyney University) to 15,000 students (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). The mission of PASSHE is to provide high-quality education at a reasonable cost, and many of the students who attend PASSHE schools, including SRU, are the first in their family to go to college.

The honors program at SRU was initiated in 1985 and has been functioning successfully since then. In recent years, the number of students in the program has ranged from 225 to 275. Before the introduction of the HOPs system in the fall of 2010, our honors program had a traditional structure. Students were required to complete seven honors courses, either courses designated as honors or honors contract courses, by the time of graduation. In addition to their coursework, honors students were expected to participate each semester in other activities that are an integral part of the honors experience. (This part of the program has been maintained with the new HOPs system.) These activities include attendance at cultural and academic events (e.g., plays, concerts, lectures, and movies with discussion, typically held on campus) followed by a write-up, community service, and participation in leadership roles in campus organizations. Beyond the explicit requirements of the program, honors students have opportunities to participate in other honors events such as local trips to Pittsburgh to attend musicals, plays and concerts; a regional trip every spring to some city of cultural interest (e.g., Boston, Washington, D.C., Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC); and attendance at the National Collegiate Honors Council annual conference. Given the background of many of our students, these opportunities can be eye-opening experiences. Some may be flying for the first time or travelling further than they ever have before. …

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