Academic journal article Honors in Practice

High-Impact Recruiting: A Focus Group of Prospective Honors Students

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

High-Impact Recruiting: A Focus Group of Prospective Honors Students

Article excerpt

In 2013-2014, the Governors State University (GSU) Honors Program was faced with a need to evolve from a two-year honors program serving juniors and seniors only to a four-year honors program. This need was born out of the university's transition to a four-year university in 2014-2015. This mandate led to some concerns that I, the newly installed director of the program, needed to address. First, I needed to recruit traditional high-achieving freshman students to a university honors program that, as of fall 2013, did not exist. Second, because GSU has never had freshmen, the university and its honors program were little-known among local high school populations. Third, the typical GSU undergraduate student in 2013-14--average age 31.5, Generation X, non-traditional (University Fast Facts)--was a stark contrast to the type of student I was recruiting--average age 17-18, Millennial, traditional--and was not a good fit to provide guidance on the needs and interests of the forthcoming traditional freshman population. Fourth, past scholarship suggests that minorities are an underrepresented population in honors programs (McKay) while GSU serves the ethnically diverse Chicago Southland with a population of 2.5 million (Chicago Southland News). This diversity is evident in GSU's undergraduate population, which is 49% minority (University Fast Facts) and enrolls hundreds of first-generation college students. In the context of all these factors, I needed to find a way to gather data on the needs, interests, and expectations of our forthcoming new honors program population.

To address these concerns, I worked with our director of recruitment and outreach. We used high-impact educational practices (Kuh) as a tool for recruitment, information gathering, university and honors program exposure, community development, and leadership development among prospective GSU honors students. Creation of a prospective honors student focus group allowed the GSU Honors Program to engage in multiple high-impact educational practices (HIPS) to give students a role in developing the honors program and to give them exposure to the faculty, staff, and university they would encounter as a cohort at GSU. The success of this focus group at GSU might serve as a model for other institutions whether they are expanding into a four-year institution or not.


High-impact educational practices have benefitted the educational and learning experiences of students from a variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds (Kuh 1). The effectiveness of these practices, identified by the American Association of Colleges & Universities in their Greater Expectations initiative, is supported by additional data collected in the National Survey of Student Engagement. The practices include (a) first-year seminars, (b) common intellectual experiences, (c) learning communities, (d) writing-intensive courses, (e) collaborative assignments and projects, (f) undergraduate research, (g) diversity and global learning, (h) service learning and community-based learning, (i) internships, and (j) capstone courses and projects.

Kuh has shown that some of these benefits for first-year students include higher grade point averages in their first academic year and improved retention rates. While all of the HIPS can benefit the first-year learning experience, the HIPS that were shown to have the greatest impact on learning and on personal and practical gains for first-year students were learning communities and service learning. These benefits existed when controlled for ethnicity and precollege standardized testing scores such as the SAT and ACT.


A focus group can help honors program directors infuse multiple HIPS into the learning experience for prospective students:


Learning communities encourage attention to "big questions" (Kuh 10) across multiple learning experiences and courses. …

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