National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version


Document Type



From Internationalizing Honors, ed. Kim Klein and Mary Kay Mulvaney (Lincoln, NE: National Collegiate Honors Council, 2020)


Copyright © 2020 National Collegiate Honors Council


As an honors college in a predominantly rural, lower-socioeconomic, and conservative region of the country and in a state ranking third-lowest in the nation for the percentage of its residents holding valid U.S. passports (ChartsBin), internationalization required intention at Western Kentucky University (WKU). For most of its history, WKU had a small, underdeveloped honors program. In the early 2000s, it had fewer than two hundred active students, and only approximately ten students per year graduated from honors. Moreover, WKU had a modest education abroad office, and a small number of students went abroad each year. Of the students who did participate in an education abroad program, typically fewer than a handful were honors students. WKU had not yet recognized the possibilities of a well-developed honors college to promote both internationalization and institutional change (Cobane; Ransdell and Cobane). Like many public universities promoting internationalization, WKU had to overcome the significant financial and cultural barriers many of its students face. Kentucky’s educational attainment rates remain below the national average. Just 22.7 percent of its residents over the age of twenty-six have completed at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national average of 30.3 percent. Furthermore, Kentuckians are more likely to live in poverty; approximately, 18.5 percent of Kentuckians live in poverty, whereas the national average is 12.7 percent, and the median household income in Kentucky is more than ten thousand dollars below the national average (U.S. Census). Lower rates of educational attainment and higher rates of financial need across the state and region mean that students are less likely to have the economic resources to participate in education abroad. These challenges transcend the institutional and regional environment of WKU. Indeed, numerous higher education researchers have cited institutional culture and financial issues as the primary reasons why students do not study abroad (Dessoff; Gordon et al.; Vernon et al.). At WKU, honors led an institutional transformation that addressed these key challenges to internationalization within the honors context, creating pathways that ultimately extended to the broader university community. In this chapter, we use WKU’s Mahurin Honors College (MHC) as a case study to elucidate how a holistic approach to comprehensive internationalization can overcome these challenges and create a culture committed to global learning.