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 241-262.


Copyright © 2020 by National Collegiate Honors Council.


As Richard Badenhausen argues, a foundational quality of honors education is its ability to place gifted students in direct contact with each other and outstanding faculty in honors courses. The National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) defines honors education as “characterized by in-class and extracurricular activities that are measurably broader, deeper, or more complex than comparable learning experiences,” built upon a “distinctive learnerdirected environment and philosophy” that is “tailored to fit the institution’s culture and mission” and designed to create a “close community of students and faculty” (“Definition”). This premise for honors education seems to spell the downfall of honors contracts, even though many honors programs and colleges rely on them to increase retention, reduce attrition, and raise graduation numbers, all statistics tied to administrative funding. Although honors students are not necessarily in direct contact with one another during the contract process, we believe that contracts facilitate the highimpact one-on-one faculty interaction that is critical to the learning process. To make this experience possible for the approximately 2,000 honors students at Auburn University, our honors college moved in fall 2015 from paper to digital contracts, streamlining the logistics of the contract process for honors students, faculty, and staff. The benefits and impact of that change are the focus of our argument in this chapter. In addition to reducing human error in a paper process that allowed contracts to be misplaced or overlooked as they moved through the approval process, even within the honors college office itself, the digital process has created for honors advisors databases of all past digital contracts, searchable by course and faculty mentor’s name. This change has led to more proactive advising about innovative approaches to contracts and increased access to examples before students even meet with faculty. This advising includes database searches for advisees interested in exploring previous contract options prior to a one-on-one advising appointment, contracting workshops for faculty and students, and specialized group sessions focused on contracting. During one-on-one appointments, the advisors can then work with students to hone contract ideas in relation to the student’s and faculty mentor’s interests. Initially built to reduce error and eliminate paperwork, the digital contracting process has thus substantially improved both the functionality and quality of contracts for students and faculty. Honors advisors and faculty agree that this new process has raised the quality as well as the creativity of students’ initial contract proposals to faculty. We expect these improvements to continue and grow once we finish installing a searchable database that our students can access through their student portal.