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Honors college changes raise excitement, concern

By Amanda Pitrof
On February 19, 2014

Making students more aware of their options and expanding recruitment are among the changes being made in the Jesup Scott Honors College.

“What concerns me is that we’re attracting these bigger numbers of well-prepared, academic, band-one students, and yet a very large percentage … are choosing not to be a part of the honors program even though they are eligible to be a part,” Provost Scott Scarborough said at the Feb. 11 Faculty Senate meeting.

What is worse, according to Scarborough, is that half of those who do choose to take part in the honors program drop out before they get to the end.

“So what it says to me … there’s something wrong about the program,” Scarborough said. “How do you alter the honors college experience so that 100 percent of these students who are capable and willing and able to benefit from experience like this would choose to be a part of this experience?”

Only 40 percent of students who start out as honors students end up graduating with honors, according to Lakeesha Ransom, dean of the honors college. Based on conversations she has had with students, she feels this is partly because many students don’t realize they have options other than writing a thesis.

“When they got to the thesis, they didn’t necessarily see how it related to what they wanted to do long-term, and it seemed like it was incongruent with their longer-term vision for what they’d like to do,” Ransom said in a recent interview.

While there has always been the option to write a thesis or to conduct a project, she thinks that “what most students have interpreted is ‘You have to write a thesis.’”

To remedy this, Ransom said, the honors college is trying to make students more aware of the types of projects they can do instead of writing a thesis.

The projects are tailored to the students’ individual needs while maintaining the standards of the honors college. Some examples Ransom gave of what students may do for their projects are:
• Engaging in core research, which usually leads to students publishing an article about their findings.

• Studying in another country and writing a report about research they conducted there.

• Starting an entrepreneurial venture.

• Putting together a gallery exhibition of their work.

In addition to creating and paying attention to new pathways for honors students,

the honors college has also increased recruitment.

Ransom said there was “a big marketing push” within the college when she arrived last year, and “tens of thousands of letters” were sent to the high school juniors who would be part of the incoming class in fall 2014.

More recent recruitment pushes have included the Scholarship Day UT hosted Feb. 9.

“We had 700 students and their families spend the day with us,” Ransom said.

But more students means fewer available resources. At a Faculty Senate meeting Feb. 11, members expressed concern about the university’s ability to disperse enough funds to the honors department.

“The question is … where do you devote these limited resources we have?” asked one senator.

Ransom was enthusiastic about the changes, and said in an interview that she feels the honors college is “gaining momentum.”

“I think we’ll really be able to see the impact this fall when we start analyzing the numbers of students that are admitted into the honors portal,” Ransom said.

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