What is honors?
The Honors Program at TCC has many characteristics in common with our sister institutions nationwide. This is true because of the strong networking made possible by national and regional honors conferences. It is generally accepted that a college honors program is designed to cultivate the outstanding student of exceptional promise and motivation. According to Samuel Schuman in Honors Programs at Smaller Colleges, “it seems apparent that a prime purpose of virtually all honors programs is to add luster to the educational careers of the students in them.” Another publication of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) describes an honors program as “a planned set of arrangements to serve the needs of talented students more adequately than if the matter were left entirely to enthusiasm of individuals” (Diane R. Schulmann, “Seeing What Might Be: Honors Education in Community Colleges,” The National Honors Report, Summer 1998).
There are other commonly accepted elements of quality honors programs. 1) They give dedicated and qualified faculty an opportunity to enrich their own instructional experiences. Experimentation with content and pedagogy is encouraged. 2) They allow institutions to create “positive image-building and public relations, based on genuine academic accomplishments.” The ultimate benefit for the institution, however, is the ability to attract and keep top students, raising the educational profile of the whole institution.
What is honors at TCC?
Tenets or promises that have been traditional hallmarks of our program include the following:
Small class size.
Honors sections are limited to a maximum of 20 students in the classroom. We resist any temptation to overload a section. We believe the smaller class size affords instructors the opportunity to provide a more vibrant educational setting for these more academically capable students.
Good student-faculty interaction.
“Me talk/you listen” lectures are almost never the preferred learning style of any honors program. We believe our Honors Scholars prosper and enjoy their experience more when they interact with the outstanding faculty found in this program. Lab experiences, field trips, interactive lectures, collaborative learning, guest speakers, research projects, etc., are great ways for honors students to optimize time spent with professors. Exit essays, written by our graduating Honors Scholars, often state that the closer mentor-type relationships they shared with honors faculty were life-changing.
No extra work.
It has never been the goal of the Honors Program to encourage faculty simply to pile work higher and deeper. Our program, like almost all others, has stated the goal of honors education to be more breadth and enrichment. In other words, it’s not the amount of work that provides that elusive “honors experience” but the quality of the work.
Because colleges and universities do not make allowances in GPAs for honors courses, it would be unreasonable for an honors student to receive a lower grade in an honors class than he or she would have received for the same work in a regular class. We hope you will share this principle with your students to dispel this persistent myth.
Communication skills emphasized.
Oral and written expression are universally accepted as essential components of the “honors experience.” Honors faculty have always been encouraged to develop those critical skills in the form of discussions, speeches, essay tests, papers, journals, posting to a Blackboard site, lab reports, etc.
Also, several policies further characterize our approach to honors education:
No honors student screening.
Students are not screened in any way before they enroll in honors classes. While a GPA of 3.0 is recommended, it is not required. Many successful TCC honors students have checkered academic pasts and are in the process of making a fresh start in life. We applaud this. Our TCC honors publications encourage interested students “to visit with instructors about enrollment in individual classes.” The program is marketed as welcoming, inviting, and supportive. A screening process would contravene this stated approach. We advise the honors faculty to proceed purposefully in their honors classes as if all students belonged.
No mixed honors/non-honors classes.
Honors-by-contract, a practice used by some smaller programs, places students earning honors credit and students not earning honors credit in the same classroom. The idea is that the honors students then do extra work (usually spelled out in individual contracts with the instructor or in a separate “honors” syllabus) to earn the honors designation. Directors of quality programs are nearly universal in their belief that mixing the two groups in the same classroom is a very weak manner in which to deliver the honors experience. As decided by a vote of the entire honors faculty, the TCC Honors Program does not allow contracts for honors credit.
Limits on repeating classes.
A few very specialized classes are designed to be taken more than once. No Honors Scholar may count credit hours from any one repeatable or continuing honors class more than twice in fulfilling minimum honors credit requirements. Of course, an Honors Scholar may take the class as many times as he or she likes, but it just won’t count (toward honors requirements) beyond the first two experiences.
Limits on alternate-delivery classes.
A maximum of nine honors hours earned in distance learning or self-paced classes may be counted toward minimum honors credit requirements. This policy reflects the belief of the Honors Advisory Council that face-to-face interaction is the optimal medium by which to deliver the honors learning experience. However, some well-taught self-paced and distance-learning classes can add flexibility and variety to a well-rounded honors education.
Distinctions for participation in the Honors Program.
Students may take part in the Honors Program in three ways. They may simply take a few honors classes, may file for the Honors Certificate, or may graduate as Honors Scholars. The differences between these distinctions (and the requirements for each) can be found on the honors website. Admission to the Honors Scholar program involves an application process. Graduation as an Honors Scholar is honored with a transcript designation under the degree note.
How should an honors course be added to the schedule?
Each semester, the Honors Office sends an email to all faculty who have offered honors classes in recent semesters. This email asks them to work within the scheduling processes used by their respective departments and let their faculty chairs know which of their classes should be honors. They are asked to give this information to the Honors Office, as well.
Faculty who wish to offer new honors classes should discuss their ideas with the honors coordinator. They should request the class one year before they expect to offer it for the first time. Ideally, during this year-long time frame, they will also confer with colleagues within their discipline to make sure everyone in the discipline sees the need for the section. Then they should ask their Associate Dean or Dean about offering the honors section.
Who should teach an honors course?
Honors classes are taught somewhat differently from other sections and need to have faculty who embrace that concept. For that reason, it is important to have an enthusiastic faculty member who wants to teach an honors class. This means that sometimes it might not be possible to offer an honors section of a class that we would love to see on the honors schedule, but the loss of the section is preferable to assigning a faculty member who lacks that understanding and enthusiasm.
Where can I find more information about the TCC Honors Program and honors education in general?
Please see the TCC Honors Program website at www.tulsacc.edu/honors.
The National Collegiate Honors Council maintains a fabulous collection of resources at www.nchchonors.org. Among them:
- Basic Characteristics of an Honors Program: http://www.nchchonors.org/directors-faculty/definition-of-honors-education
- Definition of Honors Education: http://www.nchchonors.org/uploaded/NCHC_FILES/PDFs/Definition-of-Honors-Education.pdf
- Building Your Honors Program (includes ideas for honors course design and sample syllabi, among other useful information): http://www.nchchonors.org/directors-faculty/building-your-honors-program
- Honors Professional Development: http://www.nchchonors.org/directors-faculty/professional-development
- Honors Publications: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/natlcollhonors/
- Research on Honors: http://www.nchchonors.org/resources/honors-research
The Great Plains Honors Council, which is the regional organization for honors colleges and programs, holds an annual conference that particularly focuses on student presentations. More information about GPHC and its conference: www.greatplainshonors.com
Finally, the Honors Office (918-595-7378 and firstname.lastname@example.org) can direct you to additional TCC honors materials and national/regional honors resources.