What Are the Characteristics of a Fully Developed Honors Program?

No one model of an Honors program can be superimposed on all types of institutions. An Honors program that serves the needs of its students can be manifested in a few Honors courses, a fledgling Honors program, an Honors school, or a full-blown Honors college—and in numerous forms in between. However, there are characteristics that are common to successful, fully developed Honors programs. Listed below are those characteristics, although not all characteristics are necessary for an Honors program to be considered successful and/or fully developed.

  1. A fully developed Honors program should be carefully set up to accommodate the special needs and abilities of the undergraduate students it is designed to serve. This entails identifying the targeted student population by some clearly articulated set of criteria (e.g., GPA, SAT scores, a written essay). A program with open admission needs to spell out expectations for retention in the program and for satisfactory completion of program requirements.
  2. The program should have a clear mandate from the institutional administration, ideally in the form of a mission statement, stating the objectives and responsibilities of the program and defining its place in both the administrative and academic structure of the institution. This mandate or mission statement should ensure the permanence and stability of the program by guaranteeing an adequate budget and by avoiding the tendency to force the program to depend on temporary or spasmodic dedication of particular faculty members or administrators. In other words, the program should be fully institutionalized so as to build a genuine tradition of excellence.
  3. The Honors director should report to the chief academic officer of the institution.
  4. There should be an Honors curriculum featuring special Honors courses, seminars, colloquia, and independent study established in harmony with the mission statement and in response to the needs of the program.
  5. The program requirements themselves should include a substantial portion of the participants’ undergraduate work, with honors classes usually comprising about 20% or 25% of their total course work but certainly no less than 15%.
  6. The program should be so formulated that it relates effectively both to all the college work for the degree (e.g., by satisfying general education requirements) and to the area of concentration, departmental specialization, and pre-professional or professional training.
  7. The program should be both visible and highly reputed throughout the institution so that it is perceived as providing standards and models of excellence for students and faculty across the campus.
  8. Faculty members participating in the program should be fully identified with the aims of the program. They should be carefully selected on the basis of exceptional teaching skills and the ability to provide intellectual leadership to able students.
  9. The program should occupy suitable quarters constituting an Honors center with such facilities as an Honors library, lounge, reading rooms, personal computers, and other decor appropriate to an honors school.
  10. The director or other administrative officer charged with administering the program should work in close collaboration with a committee or council of faculty members representing the colleges and/or departments served by the program.
  11. The program should have in place a committee of Honors students to serve as liaison to the Honors faculty committee or council, which must keep the student group fully informed on the program and elicit their cooperation in evaluation and development. This student group should enjoy as much autonomy as possible, conducting the business of the committee in representing the needs and concerns of all Honors students to the administration; it should also be included in governance, serving on the advisory/policy committee as well constituting the group that governs the student association.
  12. There should be provisions for special academic counseling of Honors students by uniquely qualified faculty and/or staff personnel.
  13. The Honors college or program, in distinguishing itself from the rest of the institution, serves as a kind of laboratory within which faculty members can try things in honors classes they have always wanted to try but for which they could find no suitable outlet. When such efforts are demonstrated to be successful, they may well become institutionalized thereby raising the general level of education within the college or university for all students. In this connection, the Honors curriculum should serve as a prototype for educational practices that can work campus-wide in the future.
  14. The fully developed Honors program must be open to continuous and critical review and be prepared to change in order to maintain its distinctive position of offering distinguished education to the best students at the institution.
  15. A fully developed program will emphasize the participatory nature of the Honors educational process by adopting such measures as offering opportunities for students to participate in regional and national conferences, Honors semesters, international programs, community service, and other forms of experiential education.
  16. Fully developed two-year and four-year Honors programs should have articulation agreements by which Honors graduates from two-year colleges can be accepted into four-year Honors programs when they meet previously agreed-upon requirements.

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