National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2003


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 4:2, Fall/Winter 2003. Copyright © 2003 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Honors education has long enjoyed a reputation for adding something unique to undergraduate education, and the advantages are touted widely, but there has been limited examination of quality in undergraduate honors education. Previous efforts have typically stopped short of considering program quality as it relates to student learning. Instead, program administrators and other researchers have examined the topic from the perspective of a single stakeholder group, focusing primarily upon student satisfaction or administrative concerns, such as enrollment management or program development. To be sure, these are important considerations—but it is becoming even more critical for stakeholders in honors education to communicate the efficacy of honors programs and the resources necessary to develop and support a high-quality program. Present economic conditions in the United States have constrained college and university budgets, challenging all programs to do more with less. In addition, because resources for undergraduate honors education are allocated to a relatively small number of students, some critics argue that this is unfair because these students are already advantaged by secondary and higher education systems. These critics (Sperber, 2000) charge that generous scholarships awarded to honors students regardless of financial need would better serve regular undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. The types of experiences designed for honors students can also be costly, especially smaller classes or residential programs. Students, faculty and administrators need to know more about the attributes of high-quality honors programs in order to respond to these critics and make informed decisions about the appropriation of funding, faculty time, campus space, and related resources. The purpose of this study was to develop an original theory of high-quality undergraduate honors programs, i.e., an ideal type, in order to advance our knowledge and understanding of undergraduate honors education, and ultimately, to improve undergraduate teaching and learning.