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.


The modern honors movement that arose in the 1950s was propelled and supported by the Inter-University Committee on the Superior Student (ICSS) and its newsletter, The Superior Student. This first honors serial publication, now relegated to the misty past and unknown to most honors deans and directors, merits examination. Its value lies not merely in its historical interest, but in the usefulness of its discussions of the same issues that arise currently in honors programs, conferences, and publications.

One of the consistent premises that emerge from the ICSS newsletter is the recognition that the wide diversity of honors programs appropriately reflects the diversity of institutional cultures and their varying stages of readiness for an honors approach. At the same time, however, the ICSS through this publicity organ advises certain desiderata—in evolving versions—of a “full” honors program. These desiderata are, of course, the forerunners of today’s “basic characteristics” of honors programs and colleges promoted by the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), the organization that succeeded the ICSS. This balance between tolerance of diversity and the upholding of ideals or standards seems the most salient aspect of the wisdom of our honors elders.

This essay offers first a descriptive analysis of the periodical and its development for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with it. (See Appendix for a partial list of holdings for this periodical.) The second section evokes the historical context for the ICSS and its newsletter by drawing on statements appearing in the newsletter itself. The following and main section analyzes the key themes of the articles. Only a few of today’s issues are absent from these early honors discussions—for example, computer technology, alumni relations, and fundraising. That the following themes were discussed at the outset of the honors revival may seem surprising: international honors, advising, selection of students for creativity and motivation, honors in the visual and performing arts, gender, talented Black students, and even accreditation of honors. The analytical section includes discussion of various start-up issues faced by new programs and of what later would become the “basic characteristics.” In the process, a number of eloquent arguments and nuggets of wisdom will emerge that may prove useful to current honors leaders as they make their case for an honors education.