Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Demography of Honors: The National Landscape of Honors Education

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Demography of Honors: The National Landscape of Honors Education

Article excerpt


As the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) celebrates its fiftieth year, the organization has an excellent opportunity to reflect on how honors education has spread during its history. Tracking growth in the number of institutions delivering honors education outside of its membership has not been a priority for NCHC or for researchers in honors education Most information has been anecdotal, and when researchers have mounted surveys, the results are frequently non-comprehensive, based on convenience sampling. We propose a demography of honors to fill the lacuna with systemic, reliable information.

Demographic studies describe the size, structure, and distribution of human populations, general or targeted. While the purposes of demography can be far-ranging, effective public policy requires sound data that come from demographic methodologies. Now, honors researchers would face a monumental task if they were to identify, count, and describe the structure and distribution of all faculty members and students involved in honors education. That information would be useful, but too many honors administrators are stretched so thin that keeping tabs on the number of honors students at their own institutions is not taking place, owing in no small part to the fact that half of honors administrators have served less than three years in the position (Scott). Consequently, we are not likely to soon see a systemic demography of the people in honors education. Instead, our study focuses on the population of institutions. Specifically, we analyze the population of institutions delivering traditional undergraduate education in the United States to determine the size, structure, and distribution of honors education across institutional types.


Data collected by NCHC's predecessor, the Inter-University Committee on the Superior Student (ICSS), shows that a growth spurt occurred between 1957 and 1962, when the number of institutions offering honors programs more than doubled from 90 to 241 (Chaszar). This growth resulted in large part from the ICSS's efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of such programs The data also showed that more honors programs were at private than public institutions at that time. By 1965, when ICSS disbanded, 338 institutions had been identified (Asbury; Rinehart).

Few researchers studied the spread of honors programs through the 1970s-80s, most likely for two reasons. First, financial constraints led honors directors to focus on sustaining their operations, leaving little time to research issues in the broader honors community. Second, a re-emphasis in higher education on open enrollments posed challenges to academic programs with selective admission. NCHC during this period promulgated operational and financial strategies to help barely surviving programs maintain their existence. Review of publications from the 1970s shows a case being made to justify the existence of programs aimed at high-ability students in an era of egalitarian focus in higher education. In addition, Yarrison noted that most honors educators were researching their own fields of training and not honors education, stating that "too little reward [exists] within most institutions for academic work outside one's discipline to motivate even so enthusiastic a group of scholars as the NCHC membership" (5).

The only information available about growth in honors education on an annual basis comes from NCHC membership statistics, revealing a 150% increase from 1980 to 1989 as the membership grew from 214 to 535 members (correspondence with NCHC office). The 1990s growth rate slowed to 38%, with membership growing from 490 to 677. From there, growth slowed even more, and over the next fourteen years, membership grew by only 31% to a total of 893 institutions with NCHC memberships in 2013.

Despite the slowing growth of NCHC institutional memberships in the past twenty years, we can see a different form of growth in the increased number of honors colleges. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.