There's Power in Honor: Honors Programs and Colleges Are Proliferating for Good Reason: They're Benefiting Students and IHE. (Marketing)

By Sevier, Robert A. | University Business, September 2002 | Go to article overview

There's Power in Honor: Honors Programs and Colleges Are Proliferating for Good Reason: They're Benefiting Students and IHE. (Marketing)


Sevier, Robert A., University Business


Currently, there are 3,600 colleges and universities in the United States. At last count, approximately 1,400 of them have honors programs and colleges. This finding brings to light three factors that may surprise you:

First, many of the colleges and universities with honors programs are regional publics or solid second- and third-tier privates. In other words, you don't have to be an Ivy League wanna-be or flagship multiversity to have an honors college. Second, many of these honors colleges/programs--and the students they serve--are doing quite well. Their enrollments are increasing. And third, while the academic motivation for an honors college is obvious, you cannot ignore the marketing implications: Honors programs help generate students, prestige, media attention, and donated dollars. And let's face it--for the most part, there are only four basic tools for enhancing the marketability of academic programs:

* The market-based review of your current majors to determine which of your majors are hot, which are not, and which majors should be added.

* A business approach to the creation of new molars that allows you to address the strategic, economic, and marketing implications of a new major before it is created, rather than after.

* The identification and marketing of your tall poles; the handful of current programs that are of most interest to prospective students.

* The creation and marketing of an effective honors program or college--the basis of our discussion here.

WHY HONORS?

There are a number of solid, student-centered reasons for creating and marketing an honors program.

Honors courses are generally smaller; they allow better students a more personal education. (The University of Georgia, for instance, has a freshman class of some 4,300, but only around 10 percent are accepted into the honors program.) Furthermore, introductory classes in the honors program are far smaller than the regular introductory classes of several hundred students.

Honors programs allow students to work directly with faculty--sometimes the best faculty. This creates powerful opportunities for teaching and learning. In addition, honors students are often given the opportunity to work collaboratively with faculty on joint research projects or even their own research interests. And, an honors college can allow students to customize their education to a greater degree. Students enrolled in honors programs are much more likely to take interdisciplinary courses than are regular students.

Honors colleges can create a powerful residence life experience and allow for greater bonding among students, between students and faculty, and between students and the institution when they include dedicated living opportunities such as an honors dorm. At the new honors college at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, for example, incoming freshman all live in the same building. But the program doesn't stop there: The building also houses the offices of the honors faculty and includes guest living quarters for visiting lecturers.

Students enrolled in honors programs can begin their academic careers by taking a blend of honors and regular courses--unlike students enrolled at highly selective colleges where all programs are challenging. As they become more academically confident, they can take more honors courses. In some cases, they can even transfer from regular housing to honors housing.

Cost remains the same. While the quality of an honors education will likely be better than that of an education offered through regular academic programs, the cost is no greater. This is especially evident in honors programs at public institutions. Robert Sullivan, co-author of Ivy League Programs at State School Prices (Hungry Hinds, Inc; 1994), says that students enrolled in honors programs can, in effect, "go to the Ivy League at about half the price. …

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