National Collegiate Honors Council



Date of this Version

Spring 2012


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Spring/Summer 2012, Volume 13, Number 1, special issue on The Economy of Honors


Copyright 2012 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


In a letter to the editor of The New Yorker, Ryan Walker—responding to an essay by James Surowiecki in the 21 November 2011 issue on the rising costs of higher education—identifies an important cause of the rise as the “vast layer of university administrators” that increased thirty-nine percent between 1993 and 2007 while student enrollment increased only fifteen percent and academic staffing eighteen percent. Walker writes, “. . . universities are building an expensive management structure around an academic core that’s becoming more and more hollow” (The New Yorker, 19 December 2011). NCHC conference conversations often turn to observations about this phenomenon on our home campuses, rarely with approval. One question honors administrators might ask is whether we are also following this trend toward administrative bloating and, if so, what advantages we are gaining from a multiplication of associate and assistant directors, national scholarship advisors, recruitment officials, and other positions that, based on job announcements and anecdotal evidence, seem to be increasing in kinds and numbers.

Another letter writer in the same issue of The New Yorker (19 December 2011), Josh Wand, mentions the diminishing state support for higher education, asserting that in Colorado, for instance, “the percentage of the state’s budget that funds higher education has fallen from about twenty percent to six percent in the past thirty years.” This dramatic decrease in state funding obviously has economic implications for honors programs, which must compete with other programs on campus for limited funds, and this high-stakes competition requires that honors programs not only face budget cuts in many instances but also must justify more forcefully their financial requests—all in a context where higher education seems to be falling from grace as well as from state budgets.

Given the intense focus on economic issues in higher education, not just by the Chronicle of Higher Education and other education-related journals but by the popular media, and given the impact of all these issues on honors programs and colleges, the time is clearly right to offer a Forum on “The Economy of Honors.” Consequently, in the fall of 2011 we invited essays of roughly a thousand words that consider this theme in an institutional, national, or international context. The lead essay by Richard Badenhausen of Westminster College (Utah) was distributed on the NCHC listserv and website; forum contributors could but did not have to respond to the ideas that Badenhausen presented in his essay.