National Collegiate Honors Council


Should We Start an Honors College? An Administrative Playbook for Working Through the Decision

Richard Badenhausen, Westminster University

Copyright 2023, National Collegiate Honors Council. Used by permission


The last two decades have seen significant growth in honors colleges, though the transition to that model takes many forms. This essay lays out crucial questions for stakeholders considering such a move. While highlighting material advantages that may accrue from the transition, the chapter also notes reasons for not starting an honors college; and it explores some of the new challenges that recently founded honors colleges will face. Above all, the essay frowns upon the so-called “switch out the sign over the door” approach to institutional change in favor of deliberate, thoughtful, and strategic processes that involve many stakeholders and that ultimately support the aims of the university. The author emphasizes the importance of solidifying the purpose of the new honors college, for answers to that question will guide the unit’s future direction, create buy-in across campus, and eventually inform assessments of the project’s success. That purpose should also be as distinctive as possible because differentiating the unit from others at the university and from external programs will make the value-add story easier to tell and recruitment efforts more successful. Given the long tradition of innovation in honors education, honors colleges are natural sites for programmatic experimentation. Establishing an honors college can also help to institutionalize the best features of honors that may previously have been under-resourced, thus ensuring its sustainability. Finally, the process of moving to an honors college should be informed by the lenses of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access–not only because that approach is aligned with national standards set out in the National Collegiate Honors Council’s “Shared Principles and Practices of Honors Education”–but because honors has the opportunity to make curricula more diverse, pedagogies more inclusive, and programming more conducive to student belonging.