The University Honors Program has failed to meet its enrollment goals for the past few years, even after launching a revamped curriculum this fall, according to a Faculty Senate report.
The new honors program attracted only 90 freshmen this fall and has not reached its annual enrollment target of 125 students since 2005. In the new honors program, students take interdisciplinary honors courses in place of general curriculum requirements during their freshman and sophomore years.
“The interdisciplinary program is not set up well for a student who comes in and has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do,” said Donald Parsons, chair of the educational policy committee of the Faculty Senate. “If you come in knowing you want to be an engineer, you are not going to have a whole lot of use for an interdisciplinary science course.”
A Faculty Senate report titled the “Decline of Elite Freshman Admissions” was presented at a meeting this month and criticizes the program for its lagging admissions and its course load. It also said the program conflicts with requirements for majors.
Grae Baxter, director of the honors program, rejected the claims made in the report.
“We concentrated the honors courses in the first two years precisely to avoid conflict with the majors, while at the same time giving students ample room in their schedules – two or three other courses each semester – to take prerequisites, major courses and to pursue other interests they might have,” Baxter said.
The new program provides a sampling of different disciplines with a total of nine courses over four years – eight in the first two years and one senior year. The previous program required a total of eight courses taken one each semester over four years.
Bryan Boulier, an economics professor on the Faculty Senate, said there needs to be more emphasis on honors classes for upperclassmen.
“We need to think more about creating opportunities for students in their junior and senior years,” Boulier said. “We offer a variety of things for freshmen, such as the small classes for the dean’s seminar. We don’t have those same opportunities in the upper levels.”
Kadin Nazkani, a freshman in the School of Business, said he had trouble taking any classes other than the business school requirements and the honors courses.
“The honors program, without a doubt, conflicts with all programs other than the Columbian College,” he said. “If a student is in the business, Elliott or engineering schools, the program can become a nightmare. Many honor students including myself cannot take any electives as a result of being in the program.”
Parsons said the committee did not have enough time to look into the honors program enrollment issue in depth.
Lloyd Thacker, executive director of the nonprofit organization Education Conservancy, said honors programs are not always what is most important to a University.
“The danger of an honors program is that you make a certain group of people feel special, and I think everyone is special,” he said. “I think everyone deserves to have access to honors-level kind of attention.”