National Collegiate Honors Council


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From: The Demonstrable Value of Honors Education: New Research Evidence, edited by Andrew J. Cognard-Black, Jerry Herron, and Patricia J. Smith. (Lincoln, NE: NCHC, 2019). Copyright 2019 by National Collegiate Honors Councils.


According to Morgan and Badenhausen (2015), honors education began in the United States in 1921 when Frank Ayedelotte became president of Swarthmore College. At that time, Ayedelotte initiated an interdisciplinary curriculum that stressed critical thinking and active learning. Almost a century later, the National Collegiate Honors Council (2013) defines honors education in terms true to Ayedelotte’s original vision:

Honors education is characterized by in-class and extracurricular activities that are measurably broader, deeper, or more complex than comparable learning experiences . . . [and] honors experiences include a distinctive learnerdirected environment and philosophy. (para. 2)

Similar to four-year university honors programming, community colleges have likewise established honors programs to meet the academic needs of high-achieving students. Floyd and Holloway (2006) recall that community colleges introduced honors programs in the 1950s and 1960s in the form of “accelerated courses offered to academically talented students who had expressed interest in specific areas of study ” (p. 43). In the 1980s, community colleges broadened their enrollment focus from open enrollment and social equality to increased attention to academic excellence. Carnicom (2011) reasons that increasing quality and academic rigor, especially with regard to transfer courses, led to an expansion of community college honors programming. The National Collegiate Honors Council (2017) lists 190 community college members, representing 20 percent of its membership.