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, we agree, is correct in noting that most honors programs today draw students together in an intellectual oasis that includes “individualized teaching practices (e.g. independent research, tutorials, small classes)” and that is, in fact, “conserving the liberal arts tradition that is consistent with Aydelotte’s vision.” While we agree with this description, we contend that it is incomplete, that conservation, though important, is but one component of effective honors programs. Drawing from a variety of samples across the country, we have found that the most successful ones share a common configuration, a trilateral approach: beginning with conservation; fostering an environment of experimentation for learners and mentors; and producing innovation in pedagogy, student learning, and research. The synergy created among these three emphases is essential to preserving the vision and values that pervade all high-quality honors programs.

These three key elements are equally important for the whole of higher education because they provide a structure for building rigor and relevance in the curriculum and for supporting student success. An additional role for honors programs should thus be academic leadership. The overarching commitment of honors to liberal learning is especially relevant today, given the pressure from various constituencies to focus on career preparation at the expense of traditional education. Carnicom understands this potential barrier to liberal learning: “Society,” he observes, “has become more focused on how the professoriate grades than how we teach, and a college education is viewed as a simple, transitory commodity to be traded for a high-paying vocation.”