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Changes to UI Honors Program expected to cut membership in half

BY BRIANNA JETT | NOVEMBER 01, 2012 6:30 AM

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The University of Iowa’s Honors Program will enact sizable changes to its requirements next year — requirements that are predicted to cut around 50 percent of the students from the program. 

Officials insist, though, the students they lose are the ones who don’t want to be in the program in the first place.

“Typically people want programs to increase in size, but although we have a very large population that is part of the Honors Program, fewer than half of them are what we would call active in the program,” said Art Spisak, the program’s director. “And there’s good reason for that — there’s nothing wrong with the students not taking part — it’s just that they did not have a choice to be in the program.”

Spisak said he believes the number of active Honors students will increase with time.

The changes in the requirements to remain in the program include students take a minimum of 12 semester hours of Honors courses in their first four semesters in the program, but only one can be a contract course — formally known as a designated course.

Another requirement states entering students must attend an orientation.

The last requirement asks for another 12 hours, but this time there is an emphasis on experiential learning instead of classroom time. This can be fulfilled by studying abroad, for example, or by earning honors in a major.

The requirement that does not change is students must maintain a 3.33 GPA or above.

The changes will also result in the university’s official recognition of the Honors Program. “Graduation with University Honors” will be included on transcripts.

“That holds a lot more weight,” Spisak said.  “To have it on a transcript is a lot different from a student telling a graduate school or a professional school that they were part of a honors program.”

Bob Kirby, the associate director of the Honors Program, said one of the reasons for the change is to increase the sense of community within the program.

“One of the things we want to see is a much more engaged community of students,” he said.

Jennifer Sessions, a UI associate professor of history, agrees the change will make the program tighter.

“I think it gives the Honors Program more coherence and more substance,” she said.

The University of Michigan requires Honors students to take Honors courses to be in program. Jeri Preston, of student services and communication services, said the program works well and agreed it builds community.

“It not only helps build community but prepares [the students] to think critically,” she said.

For students already in the UI Honors Program, they will have the option to continue under the old requirements they entered under or opt into the new program and receive the formal recognition on their transcript. If they do opt into the new program, they will still have to fulfill the same requirements.

“We are trying to make it as friendly as possible to the current students. We don’t want to disadvantage them in any way,” Spisak said.

For one student, these new requirements mean he will be unable to continue under the Honor’s program. Freshman Grant Wierson is currently taking Honors courses but doesn’t believe he will be able to continue and keep a high enough GPA.

“I suppose if they want to narrow it down to their greatest students, it’s a good move for them,” he said. “It’s a bad move for students who would like to be Honors students but not fully commit to the whole shebang.”


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