Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Institutional Variability in Honors Admissions Standards, Program Support Structures, and Student Characteristics, Persistence, and Program Completion

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Institutional Variability in Honors Admissions Standards, Program Support Structures, and Student Characteristics, Persistence, and Program Completion

Article excerpt


In the autumn of 2014, the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) launched the Admissions, Retention, and Completion Survey (ARC) in an attempt to collect for the first time honors program benchmarking data on important admissions, persistence, and completion metrics, data that are already widely used throughout higher education generally. The ARC survey is part of NCHC's ongoing effort to collect such data, which began in 2012 with the first iteration of what has come to be known as the NCHC Census, an omnibus survey asking a wide range of questions about honors administrative practices, curricular offerings, basic staffing, and the characteristics of honors directors and deans. While these surveys do not examine honors relative to the larger institutional contexts within which honors programs are located, the data emerging from the surveys allow us to begin identifying the extent of variation among key features of honors programs. The survey results have special value to the honors administrators who serve the approximately 350,000 honors students enrolled at NCHC member institutions. Results from the 2012-13 survey revealed differences especially between honors colleges and honors programs in terms of faculty and administrative resources and in the delivery of their programs (Scott), but they also revealed a substantial degree of similarity across honors programs and colleges in the provision of specific elements of curricular programming such as undergraduate research and senior-level capstone experiences (Cognard-Black and Savage).

Data resulting from the 2012-13 NCHC survey allowed us to paint a more complete picture of honors nationally, but the final version of that survey did not include any items tapping into honors admissions practices or the measures of persistence and completion that have come to dominate discussions of higher education in the last decade. While limitations and risks are associated with restricting our discussions to measures like four- and six-year graduation rates (Humphreys) or with the very process of deciding what and how to measure and incentivize (Guzy; Portnoy), we have had little data in honors to even start such discussions. The NCHC ARC survey is one of the first large-scale attempts to begin to fill that gap.

Prior research on college admission, retention, and completion has focused on the role that individual differences in socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and gender play in student success as well as student relationships with faculty and peers (Kuh et al.). In addition, student test scores along with high school GPA and class rank are among the factors that researchers most commonly examine to identify reliable predictors of college success. Studies within honors have looked at some of these same factors on an institutional level, and several have attempted to measure the impact of honors participation on student outcomes. For example, Seifert et al. used a longitudinal approach to assess the impact of honors program participation at eighteen institutions and found positive effects on development and critical thinking as well as retention.

Other research examines student persistence beyond the first year to honors program completion and graduation. Savage, Raehsler, and Fiedor completed an empirical study using logit and probit models to examine factors that affect honors completion rates. They found that high school GPA was a better predictor of honors completion than standardized test scores, and their results indicated that a student's major may also influence the likelihood that a student will complete honors requirements (Savage et al.). These results are in line with Smith and Zagurski's findings that high school GPA had the strongest correlation with college GPA, thereby increasing the student's likelihood of continuing to meet program requirements.

These same factors, however, could contribute to overall degree completion and therefore do not provide an understanding of differences between those who complete their honors programs and those who do not. …

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