Honors college plans expansion as students doubt educational quality

Alexis Campbell, News Contributor

Since 1995, Oregon State University’s Honors College has been promoted as a community within the university where academically driven students can take smaller classes, gain leadership opportunities, and connect with like-minded peers. 

Around 1200 students are currently a part of the Honors College. In order to be accepted into the program, students must first meet a minimum GPA requirement and then participate in a competitive application process. Associate Dean of the Honors College Tara Williams explained that the college is currently looking to accept more students than it has in the past.

“We’re growing. Most honors colleges are 5-7% of the total undergraduate population at the institution where they are housed, and for us OSU has grown and the Honors College hasn’t grown as much, so we’re looking to catch up to that level,” Williams said.

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As the Honors College prepares to expand its enrollment, some students may wonder if this college is right for them.

For an additional tuition cost of $500 per term, the Honors College offers the opportunity to take small honors classes that usually cap at 12 or 20 students. Williams described the class size of honors courses as a way to ensure that students can take a more active role in their learning.

“The small class is a way of making sure that we can create a hands-on, engaged learning experience within the class,” Williams said.

Besides the class size, Williams described four qualities that make a course “honors:” co-directed design between instructors and students, experiential opportunities outside the classroom, a sense of purpose that connects classes to students’ future, and multi-level engagement – which allows students to collaborate more readily with their instructors. These qualities are not exclusive to honors courses, but they are key factors in the Honors pedagogy.

“We think of the honors courses as not being harder, or more work, but rather a different kind of work,” Williams said.

Some students do not feel that there is much change, if any, between honors classes and regular classes. Matthew Young, a junior majoring in Chemical Engineering who decided to leave the Honors College last spring, noticed this issue when he and a friend both took the same honors course with different professors.

“The classes, which were to teach the same material at the same time, were quite different, especially in terms of the difficulty of the class. That made me feel like the honors classes were not any different from regular classes, as they had no noticeable set standard,” Young said via email.

According to Young, for the extra cost of tuition each term he did not feel as though he was receiving a better quality of learning.

Samantha Willis, a junior studying Civil Engineering, decided to join the Honors College when she applied to OSU. She originally wanted to go to a small school but she liked the programs that OSU had to offer.

“I figured it was a good way to combine them and have smaller class sizes and more focused classes, rather than big lecture halls,” Willis said.

Honors students are required to take six credits of “colloquia” classes, which focus on special topics and are unique to the Honors College. Willis recalled taking a colloquia class the summer before her freshman year that took her on a 3-week trip to London to learn about natural hazards engineering, which is what she wants to go into in the future.

“It was so cool to be able to see that and think, ‘this is the reason why I chose my major’,” Willis said.

According to Willis, she appreciates the in-depth knowledge and one on one help that she receives from her honors courses but wishes that there were more class options relating to her major, rather than mostly Baccalaureate Core options.

“The hard part is finding classes to fill the requirements, at this point I’m just taking classes to take classes,” Willis said. 

One goal of the Honors College is to create a tight-knit community, which it facilitates by having honors-only living spaces.

According to Willis, who lived in honors dorm West Hall for a term, she found that there was not much socialization on her floor because students were mostly focused on academics. However, she has noticed that living in the honors dorms does seem to help students to stay in the program.

“I knew a few people who didn’t live in the honors dorms, and more of them have dropped out [of the Honors College] than people who did live in the dorms,” Willis said.

Another resource for honors students is the Honors College Student Association, an organization that any Honors College student can participate in. The HCSA builds connections among students by planning social and academic events as well as service projects.

Canessa Thomas, a sophomore studying biology pre-education, serves as the current president of the HCSA. 

“A lot of the people we attract are very leadership oriented, so it helps them to be in an environment with people who think and act in the same way,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, success in the Honors College can be dependent on having a support system early on.

“For first-years, it’s really important for them to build connections so that they can connect with people who are in their classes and often experiencing the same things as them,” Thomas said.