SDSU honors programs help students shine

Leslie Warnke

Leslie Warnke

Motivated and talented students have an opportunity to challenge themselves and receive recognition for their hard work through the Honors College at SDSU.

Though the honors program has existed for at least 25 years, it underwent a major transformation in 1998, according to Bob Burns, dean of the Honors College.

“President Miller wanted to transform the program into a larger, better-funded honors college that could reach and serve more students,” he said.

Incoming freshmen must have at least a 27 on their ACT or have graduated in the top 10% of their class in order to be admitted to the Honors College. Transfer students may also join the program if they were involved in a similar program elsewhere.

Honors classes are offered in all areas of study at SDSU. There are approximately 25 general education courses offered with honors sections. Each student may choose 15 credits from that list to meet the requirements to graduate with honors. These 15 credits count both toward honors requirements and regular general requirements.

Besides completing 15 general education credit hours, honors students must take an honors colloquium course. They must also contract regular courses within their major into honors courses with their professors so that they receive six additional honors credits. Students must complete an independent study course as a senior, as well. To graduate with Honors, students must achieve at least a 3.5 cumulative grade point average.

So, just what makes honors courses different from the rest?

“[The Honors College] has a set of guidelines for honors professors. What we emphasize is engaged learning, particularly learning where students have a responsibility for high participation in class,” Burns said. “We don’t promote honors courses as harder, but as different.”

The curriculum varies in each honors course. “It kind of depends on the class,” said senior Jessica Mason, Student Association senator from the college of arts and sciences and participant in the Honors program. “In some you just do extra writing. There’s more discussion, smaller classes and more individual attention.”

As of fall semester 2004, 175 first-semester students were enrolled in one or more honors courses. At any given time, there are approximately 250 students active in the program. According to Burns, students are encouraged to apply for continued enrollment and full admission to the Honors College after their freshman year.

“The honors program may speak a lot of success with first year students, even if they don’t graduate with honors,” said Burns. “Their participation contributes to overall university retention. Students who do follow through express very positive feedback for the honors program.”

As a student, Mason is pleased with the program. “The classes are smaller. They have more discussion and more one-on-one time. There’s a little more of a challenge there as far as getting the grades and keeping the grades. You really have to concentrate,” she said.

The honors program is an important part of SDSU, Burns said. “It’s almost imperative for a university like SDSU to have [an honors program]. Motivated and talented students, in their search for a university, soon discover this is an offer most universities have,” he said. “Honors programs take many forms. We have taken an approach that reflects SDSU’s policy. Our approach is more flexible and accommodating.”