Academic journal article Honors in Practice

A View from Outside: Some Reflections of an NCHC-Recommended Site Visitor

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

A View from Outside: Some Reflections of an NCHC-Recommended Site Visitor

Article excerpt

As an NCHC-Recommended Site Visitor, I have had the privilege and pleasure to serve as an external program reviewer or consultant for a wide variety of NCHC member institutions--large research universities, small and midsize colleges, and two-year institutions--since 1998. My visits to nearly fifty campuses have revealed predictable similarities in honors education at all institutions as well as sometimes troubling variations, as a result of which I have come to believe even more strongly that the NCHC has an important role to play in improving the quality of honors education nationally. In furtherance of that role, I want to encourage NCHC members to take advantage of the site-visitor program and so have distilled my experiences into a general overview that I hope will encourage more NCHC colleagues to become involved with this rewarding process and have composed a set of practical advice for those who choose to do so.

UNSURPRISING SIMILARITIES

COMMITMENT OF THE HONORS ADMINISTRATORS

one of the striking similarities among honors programs and colleges, regardless of their institutional context, is the remarkable dedication of those entrusted with their administration. With rare exceptions, these individuals regularly provide service beyond the call of duty in their efforts to provide educational opportunities for their students whether the honors program is run on a shoestring budget or is generously funded.

In many ways, these honors deans, directors, or coordinators embody the highest ideals of academia. With a vision of what honors education can do for their students, they work tirelessly to develop curricula, offer honors advising, and provide opportunities inside and outside the classroom. Sadly, however, as they continue to go far beyond the normal expectations of academic professionals, their institutions often take advantage of their dedication, leading to burn-out and to the frequent turnover among honors directors that is so noticeable in the attendance at our national conferences.

ENTHUSIASM AND QUALITY OF THE STUDENTS

one of the highlights of every site visit is the opportunity to meet outstanding honors students and discuss their honors experiences with them. Almost without exception, they prove to be bright, motivated, and curious--traits that we would wish to find in every college or university student. Honors students are not afraid to ask probing questions, and they are curious about forms of honors education that take place outside the confines of their particular institution. As I have typically argued during site visits, these honors students can be some of the most effective advocates of the institution, but they also can be the institution's most articulate critics if they come to believe that they are the victims of false advertising in the recruitment process.

HONORS CURRICULA AND COURSES

One of the pleasures of being an NCHC Site Visitor is exploring the many ways our honors colleagues have designed their honors curricula in general and honors courses in particular. Site visitors can get a sense of how successful the educational program is from the enthusiasm of faculty and students about their honors experiences. Some site visitors feel that sitting in on an honors class or seminar provides important additional evidence, but, while I respect the argument for visiting an honors class, I come down on the other side. When I sit in on a seminar, I find that the students' awareness of my presence--or, even more, the presence of a team of site visitors--changes the tenor of the discussion, and not for the better.

Other means of evaluating the academic integrity of an honors program or honors college are unobtrusive and, in my view, more effective than class visits. Looking over course evaluations, particularly those with significant narrative sections, provides valuable clues about what transpires in the classroom. …

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