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Honors education, as we know, is a curious phenomenon, particularly from the perspective of those interested in institutional research. It is not a discipline per se, and so it is not given a “Classification of Instructional Programs” (CIP) code by the National Center for Education Statistics. Accordingly, the federal Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS) does not include any information on honors. Honors is part of the Common Data Set (part E.1 “Common Data Set,” 2009) overseen by the College Board and an assembly of national post-secondary-education organizations. That instrument lets colleges state whether they have an honors program along with other options such as study abroad and internships. However, the Common Data Set is not gathered into a publicly available database, and so it is not much use for institutional comparisons.
The available lists of honors programs are, therefore, limited. Researchers can turn to the list of National Collegiate Honors Council or institutional members of regional NCHC-affiliated organizations. Alternatively, they can use the list of honors programs and colleges in the most recent edition of Peterson’s Guide to Honors Programs and Colleges (2005), which lists almost six hundred programs, giving details about them and their place within their institution. Not surprisingly, Peterson’s Guide has been a primary basis for studies of honors programs in America (see, for instance, Long). All of these sources, though, are limited by the fact that participation in honors organizations (and Peterson’s Guide) is voluntary. While many excellent universities are active in NCHC, many are not. In the absence of any other source of information, we cannot know for sure what proportion of honors programs have an affiliation with a national or regional honors organization.