Date of this Version
Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 12, No.2 (Fall/Winter 2011). ISSN 1559-0151
Over the last ninety years, we have witnessed an explosion of diverse honors programs and colleges throughout the United States, often with the sole common feature of providing differentiated experiences and individualized instruction for an institution’s most academically talented students. Concomitant with the tremendous growth in the number of honors programs and colleges in the U.S. has been the growth of honors as a separate and distinct niche in higher education. Indeed, the National Collegiate Honors Council, which publishes two journals and a monograph series, recently held its forty-fifth annual meeting in Kansas City. Additionally, a small yet increasing number of academics are slowly being recognized for their work within honors, not only applying some of their honors contributions towards tenure but also being selected for top administrative posts and prestigious fellowships. Given the proliferation and professionalization of honors, the time is ripe to evaluate the impact of honors on institutions of higher learning in the U.S.
Honors education in the United States can trace its roots in large part to the groundbreaking curricular changes that Frank Aydelotte introduced at Swarthmore upon becoming its president in 1921 (Rinn, 70). Reacting to increased enrollment and influenced by his experience as a Rhodes Scholar, Aydelotte wanted to break the lock-step, homogenizing approach of American higher education that catered to the average students in a group or class, holding back the best and brightest. Using Oxford-style tutorials as inspiration, Aydelotte wanted to create a more individualized educational experience for gifted students that focused on the creation of knowledge more than its mere reproduction.