National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2011


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.


Samuel Schuman rightly observed that there is no one model for an honors program (Beginning, 10–11). The sizes and structures that honors programs and colleges may take vary as widely as the colleges and universities that house them. Jim Ford points out in his article on honors culture, “Given the diversity of honors programs and institutions today, the institutional context is certainly relevant” (27), the context perhaps explaining some of the variability. As we undertook a quantitative and qualitative study to examine the different roles of honors directors, variations in programs and institutions was one of the many characteristics that we wanted to capture. We surveyed directors about their institutions, their programs, and their roles, with questions such as: What do you do? How do you do it? With whom do you work? How are you paid? What are the rewards and challenges of your work, and what strategies do you use to deal with the challenges? Essentially, we tried to discover if common roles, rewards, and challenges are shared by honors directors, if meaningful differences exist between the roles of directors at large and small institutions, or if directors are as different as the programs they lead.

Defining and understanding the roles of honors directors is becoming ever more important as honors programs and colleges increase in size, number, and visibility. As K. Celeste Campbell discussed in her article on honors assessment, honors is increasingly seen as a tool to recruit and retain top students and faculty, attract interest from donors, fight “brain drains” in certain states, and facilitate the success of excellent students (96–97). Len Zane stated that, in the 1990s, “institutions began to recognize the value of honors as an institutional image enhancer” (58). As a result, honors directors are being asked to serve increasingly complicated roles (Andrews 33) and are becoming more visible and more active in higher education administration (Zane 58, Fox 38, Portnoy 56). Much has been written over the years about the role of the honors director, but the focus has often been the philosophy of honors, as in Angela Salas’s interesting musings in “An Honors Director’s Credo” (153–158). The topic also has been discussed at many NCHC conference sessions over the years. At the 2010 NCHC Annual Conference in Kansas City, Kate Bruce and Ada Long presided over a “Best Practices in Honors” session on “The Many Hats of Honors Administrators.” Other sessions touching on the role of honors directors included “When the Winds of Change Shift” and “Honors Director as Bridge Builder” (NCHC 2010 Annual Conference Program). One of the best resources describing the specific roles of honors directors with quantitative data has been the 1995 NCHC monograph by Ada Long, A Handbook for Honors Administrators, which included information about her 1992 survey of 136 honors administrators.

Honors directors need data that describe their roles, help determine what resources they need to perform their jobs effectively, and provide rationales for those resources. This topic demands further investigation and discussion, but little empirical work has been done on the typical roles and activities of honors directors since Ada Long’s 1992 survey. In an effort to better describe what honors directors are doing, how they are doing it, how those activities might differ between different institution types, and what constitute the rewards, challenges, and strategies for honors directors, we have endeavored to classify activities into roles and measure how well these roles describe honors directors working today.