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This study examines the academic performance, retention, and degree-completion rates of two groups of honors students, those who completed all their honors program requirements (honors completers; n = 30) versus those students who started off in honors programs but did not complete these program requirements (partial honors students; n = 82). These two sets of honors students are then compared to a third group of similar students, those who had comparable pre-college academic credentials as the honors students, but who did not participate in an honors program (called high-ability students; n = 108). These three student groups entered three Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities as first-time, full-time freshmen in fall 1997. The study encompasses a five-year period, from fall semester 1997 through spring semester 2002. The study design is ex post facto and longitudinal, using secondary data primarily obtained from the institutional research offices at the respective study sites.
The results show that three out of every four students who begin honors programs fail to complete them. Honors program completers have the highest academic performance and graduation rates, and shortest time to degree completion, compared to other high ability students, including partial honors students. The analysis strongly suggests that partial exposure to the honors program does not significantly enhance academic performance, graduation rates, time to degree, nor length of enrollment beyond what is achieved by other high-ability students who were never part of these programs. These findings control for the effects of student, institutional, and honors program characteristics at the three universities cooperating in the study.