National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Honors in Practice, volume 5. Copyright 2009 National Collegiate Honors Council.


Honors programs and colleges face numerous pressures from raising money to managing growth to developing and maintaining curricula. None of these challenges, however, are unique to honors. What has, unfortunately, proven to be unique to honors has been the continuing question of relevance. Over the years, “making honors relevant” has been an ongoing part of the national honors discussion.

In the fall/winter 2007 volume of the JNCHC, Ira Cohen used a Robert Burns poem to remind us that others often do not see honors as we see ourselves: “The observation by Burns clearly applies to honors: the viewpoint of those within honors education is frequently at variance with those administrators working outside the framework of honors” (p. 27). Nowhere is this difference more apparent than in the operational differences between honors and the wider university community. The emphasis in honors on individual attention to students, carefully considered curricula, and enhanced learning opportunities stands in marked contrast to non-honors academic units that struggle to staff large classes, provide meaningful academic advising, and keep students engaged. These differences can lead others to see honors education as a luxury or as elitist; in this time of financial exigency, neither is an acceptable option.