National Collegiate Honors Council


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Miller, K.A., ed. 2020. Building Honors Contracts: Insights and Oversights. National Collegiate Honors Council Monograph Series. pp 149-172.


Copyright © 2020 by National Collegiate Honors Council.


The Honors by Contract (HBC) option is by its nature underdefined. That is to say, there are likely as many versions of the HBC as there are honors programs or colleges that use them. Some HBCs are attached to non-honors courses to augment the course content, whereas others are stand-alone mentored replacements for honors seminars themselves, following more of an independent study model. Some programs use HBCs to initiate students into the nature and scope of undergraduate research, and the deliverables vary widely. Likewise, the challenges and difficulties surrounding HBCs change from institution to institution. Because it appears natural to conclude that we cannot state the necessary and sufficient conditions of HBCs and the best practices governing their use, it should come as no surprise that the HBC option can be not only a source of frustration and perplexity but also an important opportunity for honors program administrators, faculty, and students to innovate. Justifying the HBC and exploring best practices are critically important because of both the criticism raised in this volume and a more general cultural skepticism about the value of the liberal arts and honors programs (Keller). Defining and justifying HBCs are especially important tasks because honors programs increasingly use them to supplement or replace honors requirements. This chapter proposes two specific strategies—HBC Templates and HBC Research Hubs—that the Marist College Honors Program recently implemented to increase the likelihood of HBC success. Our work applies some recent research in organizational behavior indicating that more robust pedagogical structures lead to greater innovation and more meaningful projects. Both our templates and research hubs are efforts to build such structures in support of undergraduate research in honors.