Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Civic Tolerance among Honors Students

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Civic Tolerance among Honors Students

Article excerpt

The large literature on the impact that college has on student attitudes and values, which includes work by researchers such as Astin, Newcomb, Pascarella and Terenzini, also includes studies that have focused specifically on the effects of a college education on student tolerance (Hall & Rodeghier; Henderson-King; Lawrence & Licari; Rich; Taylor; Whitt, Edison, Pascarella, Terenzini, & Nora). This literature, however, contains virtually nothing on the impact that honors has on the social attitudes of honors college students. Thus, neither of Pascarella's and Terenzini's massive 1991 and 2005 reviews of the research literature on the effects of college on student values cited any studies that focused on the attitudinal or social consequences of an honors education. This absence is surprising since, for the past half-century, a substantial number of our country's brightest students have enrolled in honors programs (Long; Shushok; Willingham).

In a 2007 article, Seifert et al. also commented on the surprising paucity of research addressing the educational outcomes of participating in honors programs. In their analysis of eighteen four-year colleges and universities, they found that honors students were advantaged by "good practice" teaching measures in honors classes and reported significant positive effects of honors programs on critical thinking, mathematics, and cognitive development. They focused narrowly on cognitive learning outcomes, as measured by standardized tests of intellectual and cognitive development, rather than the impact of an honors education on students' values and social attitudes.

As important as cognitive outcomes are in assessing the educational merits of honors programs, we must still ask whether honors programs affect the values and social attitudes of their students differently than other students: in particular, whether honors students are more or less tolerant than other students and, if so, in what ways and why. We have little empirical evidence on what arguably is an important but understudied area in the sociology of higher education.

We consider the cultivation of civic tolerance in a democratic society as a laudable goal of higher education generally and of an honors education in particular. To discover whether honors advances this goal, we review an attraction-accentuation model for understanding college student development, summarize our methodology for replicating a survey of civic tolerance at comparison schools in Michigan and Arkansas, describe how we defined civic tolerance for the purposes of our study, and summarize the results of our data analysis to test hypotheses concerning the cultivation of civic tolerance among honors students at the two schools.


Complex, pluralistic societies that are not united by a limited range of shared social and cultural characteristics must find ways to transcend their internal differences in order to function effectively in meeting people's needs and sustaining their political rights. This need is central to modern democracies in which social and cultural diversity are the norm. Recognizing and protecting minority as well as majority rights is a major challenge for all democratic states in the contemporary world (Almond & Verba; Gibson; Jorgensen; Sullivan & Transue).

As a foremost exponent of democracy, the United States has experienced its fair share of problems in confronting the pernicious consequences of ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and corresponding forms of social discrimination in an increasingly diversified and complex society. Tolerance of diversity under the law--in which sundry groups of people are afforded liberty and security in pursuit of their life goals--has become one of the cardinal requirements of modern democracy for minimizing social strife and promoting a civil society. Tolerance in this regard does not require moral agreement or approval. …

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