National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 12, No.2 (Fall/Winter 2011). ISSN 1559-0151


Copyright © 2011 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Scott Carnicom’s essay on “Honors Education: Innovation or Conservation?” asks the question in its title in part because, as he says, “the time is ripe” to probe the impact honors programs and curricula have had and continue to have on our college campuses today. He couldn’t be more right about that, and yet I am amazed at how little attention honors typically garners in the larger ongoing conversations about the quality of education today’s college students receive, both high and low. In the distressing and much-deliberated Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, published this year, the index contains no entry for honors education. Nevertheless, almost every discussion in the book resonated with me in terms of what I know about honors pedagogy, honors faculty, and honors students.

Carnicom asks whether honors education preserves history or spurs innovation, both ideas in service to a larger one regarding honors’ impact on the larger institutions that house them. After reading Academically Adrift, I wondered if one of those impacts might, in fact, be devastating. Might the oncampus sequestering of honors academic culture—particularly those honors pedagogical tools that Carnicom refers to as residing in honors’ “time capsule” of the “best educational practices of the past”—discourage the university’s “general population” (to borrow prison lingo) from breaking out of a consumer-based, occupationally-centered, sub-standard version of college learning? Perhaps the mere presence of an honors program suggests that its educational practice is appropriate only for honors students, leaving the rest of the campus in the dust. More problematically still, the maintenance of an honors curriculum might exonerate a university community from demanding an honors-level rigor from everyone else. In light of what Academically Adrift demonstrates, I wonder if it is really true that honors—as I so often tell myself and my faculty—is really just different and not more difficult.