National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Honors in Practice, Volume 6. Copyright 2010 National Collegiate Honors Council.


Two traditional models for honors programs are a chronological Great Books structure and a theme-based approach. Recently, the comparative virtues of these two models have been the subject of practical and theoretical analyses at Central Washington University (CWU), which is in the process of implementing a new honors curriculum to replace its longstanding Great Books program. The new curriculum consists of variable topics courses that satisfy general education requirements and contribute to an honors minor, as well as an upperdivision scholarship experience in which students complete advanced research with faculty mentors.

As our experience demonstrates, a Great Books-based curriculum has inherent limitations that make it inappropriate for the student population at a large state university like CWU. There are important educational and logistical virtues to a program organized around interdisciplinary courses and multiple curricular options for students, virtues that are absent in a curriculum designed around specific canonical texts. The new program provides the flexibility and academic diversity that is needed to attract a wider variety of students while retaining the advantages of the old program: small class sizes, innovative pedagogy, student-led discussions, and an exposure to the great works of world literature. BRIEF