Date of this Version
Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Spring/Summer 2017, Volume 18. Number 1.
For decades, research has shown that higher levels of education correspond to increased interest in politics and civic engagement. Despite the vast amount of scholarly attention, why this link exists is still disputed. One theory about the connection is the civic education hypothesis, which claims that the causal link between education and civic engagement depends not only on the amount of education a person receives but also on the type of curriculum studied. For example, Hillygus argues that “some courses are more likely than others to develop the skills fundamental to political participation” (31). Similarly, Condon argues that the development of verbal skills is crucial to engaging in public affairs.
Although every honors college functions uniquely within its institution, the University of Alabama (UA) Honors College has an explicit goal of developing “agents of social change.” At the heart of the honors experience are three-hour, interdisciplinary, honors seminars for no more than fifteen students. To graduate with honors, UA students must complete no fewer than six hours of seminar credit, but often students complete more. In contrast to the traditional academic lecture, the skills developed in a seminar are uniquely suited for the development and application of citizenship behaviors. In particular, UA honors seminars stress discussion, reflection, writing, and debate, providing students the opportunity to practice each behavior in a controlled environment. Through the seminar experience, honors students are expected to engage the skill sets that produce interest and competence in public affairs more frequently than non-honors students.