National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2017


Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017), pp 121-149


© Copyright 2017 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


Although the National Collegiate Honors Council has clearly articulated the common characteristics of “fully developed” honors programs and colleges, these elements describe the structures and processes that frame honors education but do not directly describe the intended honors outcomes for student learners (Spurrier). Implicitly, however, the intended outcomes of distinct curricula, smaller course sizes, honors living communities, international programming, capstone or thesis requirements, and any number of other innovative forms of pedagogy are qualitatively different from faster degree completion, better jobs, or higher recognition at graduation. When intentionally directed, honors education promotes the full transformation of the student (Mihelich, Storrs, & Pellet). Both the potential and challenges inherent in promoting transformative learning have a long and rich tradition in the scholarship of pedagogy, with different theorists prioritizing distinct features of the process and targeting different outcomes. Dewey, Freire, and Mezirow (in Transformative Dimensions), for instance, each argue—independent of the specifics of their models—that transformation is best accomplished when it is the explicit goal and attention is given to facilitating key learning processes. While honors programs may be well positioned to support these learning processes and while transformation may be an implicit goal of honors education, few honors mission statements frame learning goals in these terms (Bartelds, Drayer, & Wolfensberger; Camarena & Pauley). Working from the premise that honors education is well-situated to make transformative learning a higher-order goal in an era of debates about learning outcomes and metrics of change (e.g., Digby), we examine the personal transformation experiences of first-semester honors students and explore how the intentional processes integrated into these experiences played a role in that transformation. To put this work in context, we first describe the transformative learning models and identify the intentional structures built into the first-semester honors experience.