Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors and the Completion Agenda: Identifying and Duplicating Student Success

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors and the Completion Agenda: Identifying and Duplicating Student Success

Article excerpt

For better or worse, longitudinal studies that track student persistence each semester serve as the primary measurement of an institution's success or, as the findings are often received at many of the country's community colleges, an institution's failure. These studies take place at the institutional and state-wide levels as well as nationally through grant-based organizations such as Complete College America. At the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), where I have served as a faculty member and honors program director for the past eight years, these studies consistently reveal low college-wide retention and graduation rates. According to Maryland's state-wide longitudinal approach, even after discarding the statistics of students who attempt fewer than eighteen credits, barely two of five CCBC degree-seeking students graduate or transfer within four years (CCBC, "accountability report"). Accordingly, discussion of success rates often strikes a tone somewhere between apologetic and mournful.

An occasional collective lapse into hopelessness is not without just cause. In my non-honors courses, the underprepared and overburdened are often the norm. Each semester, seemingly capable students in my standard classroom drop out to care for family members or make ends meet, disengage with coursework after a bad grade, or simply fall behind in their readings and fail to catch up. When I return to my office in the honors center though, I, like honors directors at community colleges across the United States, work with the highly motivated and attentive rather than the apathetic and disengaged. Routinely, I observe students in the honors center celebrating a hard-earned "A," reveling in a newly awarded scholarship, or cherishing a transfer acceptance.

The contrast of these experiences is remarkable but not necessarily based on readily apparent differences between honors and non-honors students. Often these two groups of students do not seem all that different from one another. At CCBC, students are accepted to the honors program based on a holistic application process On the campus at which I serve as honors director, most internal applicants opt out of submitting high school transcripts or SAT scores, so the Honors Committee judges their applications on the merits of their writing and their current college transcripts. This policy opens the program to students who might have been mediocre high school students Some have completed high school through a GED program, and others have had stop-out periods, breaks in their matriculation They may have taken courses at CCBC twenty-two years earlier, transferred laterally from another two-year college, or reverse-transferred from a university In other words, many of today's honors success stories at CCBC were yesterday's dropouts and underachievers

One goal of my research has been to find ways of offering an honors education to a wider range of CCBC's general population-particularly the majority of its population that needs some form of developmental training-in order to make honors a scalable program that can assist the college in increasing its success rates, most notably transfer and graduation rates. Fundamental to this goal is the belief that recruiting honors students from the developmental population-over 80% of CCBC's incoming students place into developmental education-can have a pluralizing effect on honors diversity as well as increasing enrollment and graduation rates A secondary goal has been to counterbalance the often grim longitudinal data on the progress (or lack thereof) of community college developmental students. By identifying commonalities among students who began their coursework in developmental education and later became members of the honors program, I hope to recommend policies that can help a larger subset of community college students gain access to honors and thrive there

METHODOLOGY

Setting

Because this study focuses on student feedback, the college context is important. …

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