Honors College should put fee money where its mouth is

Heather Price-Wright

Members of the UA Honors College received a sobering e-mail from Patricia MacCorquodale, the college’s dean, last week. MacCorquodale informed honors students in the e-mail: “”the Arizona Board of Regents approved a special program fee of $250 per semester for Honors College participants effective August 2010. You will see this fee posted to your bursar’s account in mid July or early August.””

The e-mail’s next paragraph details how students can go about leaving the Honors College, and cautions that if they do not deactivate their honors status by Aug. 13, the fee might be impossible to remove or refund.

Clearly, even MacCorquodale realizes the fee is unreasonably steep. Almost her entire e-mail details ways to avoid paying it, from leaving the Honors College altogether to applying for financial aid or scholarships. She vaguely references “”advising and new honors classes”” as uses of the fee, but provides no details on how students’ money will be used to improve their honors experience, instead referring them to an equally vague set of frequently asked questions on the Honors College website.

To justify the fee, the FAQs include, “”What other universities charge fees for honors colleges?”” The website cites The Barrett Honors College at ASU, which charges a fee of $1,000 per year, as the most comparable program. The site also lists the University of South Carolina and the University of Colorado-Boulder as schools with similar honors college fees.

However, the UA Honors College has little business comparing itself to the likes of Barrett, touted on its impressive website (especially when compared to the UA’s dinky, bland version) as “”the nation’s first comprehensive four-year residential honors college at a public university.”” Barrett’s curriculum includes six required units of a class called the Human Event, which all honors students take as freshmen. The class covers such important cornerstones of a liberal arts education as Dante’s “”Inferno”” and Plato’s “”Allegory of the Cave.”” Barrett also has mandatory advising each year for students to assure they stay on track to graduate with honors, and to direct them toward internships and nationally competitive scholarships. In addition to a more comprehensive honors curriculum, Barrett is sleek, smartly marketed, and its brand name carries clout.

I hate to heap praise on the likes of ASU, but the UA Honors College just can’t compete. Its students are just as (if not more) talented, but its classes are sparse, especially in upper division. Many honors students have to supplement honors sections of stultifying Gen Eds with random colloquium offerings, the quality of which varies vastly.

Honors College advising is occasionally helpful, but often confusing and certainly not well coordinated with the advising students get in their particular colleges. In truth, the best part about being a UA honors student is being able to check out library books for something like a lifetime.

The Honors College is so uneven that some departments, like English and creative writing, have chosen to design their own honors curriculum outside of the traditional honors track in order to be able to offer their students honors-quality classes.

The whole university is in dire financial straits, and fees like the one the Honors College is adopting are one way to supplement dwindling funds. However, if the Honors College hopes to keep bright students in its program, it will have to put students’ money to uses that truly benefit them and immensely improve their overall experience. Other colleges, like Fine Arts and Architecture, charge program fees for their classes, but those fees lead directly to tangible results like supplies and studio space.

The Honors College as it exists today does not deserve $250 from its students. In fact, it owes them a great deal more than it currently provides. If it wants to compare its new fee to those of other, better designed and more prestigious honors programs, it will have to live up to them in merit as well. The Honors College has a great deal of work to do to provide an honors education warranting such an expense. Students should expect to see results, from more varied class offerings to meaningful, personalized advising. If such results fail to appear, the UA Honors College will have done a vast disservice to a talented group of students.

— Heather Price-Wright is a creative writing senior. She can be reached

at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu