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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Honorable fee, small return

If you ask any given UA student, honors or not, what the Honors College means to them, you can expect a variety of responses. For some, it’s a frivolous waste of $2,000 over four years. The end result? Just one extra word on your degree. For others, being an honors student means going the extra mile: exploring options in research, classes and extracurricular activities that aren’t available to the rest of the UA student body.

According to Patricia MacCorquodale, the dean of the Honors College, synthesized opportunities are the most important parts of an honors experience.

“Each dimension — from living in an honors hall, to interdisciplinary classes, to international experiences and research accomplishments — are important insofar as they contribute synergistically [to a college education],” she said.

But does the Honors College achieve this goal? Let’s break down what the $250 semester fee actually buys.

Perhaps the most obvious expenses are the honors classes. These courses can take the form of a more in-depth review of material, more interesting general education classes, smaller sections within majors or classes that don’t fit traditional molds, such as the new civic leadership track and specialized honors internships.

However, with these class opportunities come stringent requirements. Students who matriculate into the college as freshmen must complete 30 honors units, which can confuse scheduling and degree plans. The idea of forcing students into classes just to fill degree plans is almost ironic in the context of encouraging individual exploration — ostensibly a goal of the honors program.

For example, all freshmen honors students are required to take a “freshman colloquium,” a one-unit course centered on a common reading. The topics of this year’s colloquiums ranged from science outreach to investigative journalism using public records.

However, freshmen reactions to the colloquia were mixed. They’re difficult to fit into a schedule, which isn’t conducive to finding one that aligns with your interests. Many science students were in history-themed colloquiums and vice-versa; others felt that their classes were mostly busywork or intangible fluff.

“While the topic had the potential to be interesting and engaging, the teaching method resulted in a class that was pretty dull and uninspiring,” said Exene Anderson, an honors freshman studying molecular and cellular biology.

Those aren’t promising words for a class supposedly centered around intellectual engagement.

In the midst of their complaints, though, many students missed out on opportunities presented by the colloquiums: to network and bond with professors, take and enjoy a course in a field outside their own, or explore important themes in social justice and leadership.

There are, admittedly, other perks to being an honors student. Special grants for study abroad, conference travel and research are useful tools in crafting an undergraduate experience and resume. But many of these grants are limited; they require additional prerequisites, or the grant isn’t extensive enough. In other cases, grants are marketed to honors students, but you don’t even have to be in the Honors College to apply.

For example, the Undergraduate Research Grant -— open to all students — offers undergraduates opportunities to complete independent research, which is an important part of any resume or intellectual journey. The maximum amount of $1,500, though, is rather limited in the context of supplies for most scientific research or research in other fields.

Not to mention, if you asked the average honors student, many of them might not even be aware the grant exists. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the Honors College: It’s been referenced in weekly emails for the past two months.

But if a student is going to be aware of opportunities like this one, it would probably require actually reading the weekly emails or paying attention to the posters plastering the walls of any given honors dorm. It might also necessitate a visit to the newly renamed “Honors Student Success Counselors,” previously mere “Honors Advisors.”

In short, the Honors College could improve on a lot. It could start by expanding funding and local connections for honors students specifically, as well as by working harder to match students to appropriate opportunities provided.

Still, students shouldn’t point fingers. The honors experience is, like most things in life, what you make of it. That’s a lesson they’ll be forced to learn at some point. In that regard, the Honors College is doing them a favor.

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Maddie Pickens is an economics freshman. Follow her on Twitter.

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