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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Regional State Colleges Starting Honors Programs

    Meghan Fitzpatrick is not the kind of studentthat you would expect to find at a place like Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

    She arrived here four years ago with a near-perfect 1550 on the SAT. She spentthe past two summers working in laboratories at the Johns Hopkins Universityand at Merck & Company, the pharmaceutical giant. And before she graduatedthis month with a 3.8 grade-point average, she crammed in a hefty schedule ofclasses that included philosophy, biochemistry, and molecular biology.

    So how did Ms. Fitzpatrick end up at a public college that’#146;s often mistakenfor that other Indiana University? It was all thanks to the university’#146;sRobert E. Cook Honors College. It promised her small classes, a separate dormitory,a boatload of financial aid, and help in preparing applications for top graduateschools and prestigious fellowships.

    Regional state colleges, like Indiana University of Pennsylvania, are increasinglybetting on honors colleges as marketing tools to attract top students. Since1994, the number of honors colleges at both public and private institutionsacross the country has doubled, to more than 50, according to the National CollegiateHonors Council. Its membership rolls have risen 50 percent in the same periodas hundreds of other institutions have established more narrowly tailored honorsprograms.

    While public flagship universities have started honors colleges to combat areputation for impersonal and large lecture-style classes, regional state collegesare using honors programs to shed the image that they are local institutionsthat primarily educate teachers or nurses. By drawing a solid core of high-achievingstudents, the colleges hope to improve their standing with the public and withstate lawmakers, as well as to raise the academic bar for all their students.

    To some educators, however, the growth of honors programs at state collegesis yet another example of how less-selective institutions angle to be more liketheir states’#146; flagship universities. The honors colleges, they say, smackof elitism at institutions whose mission is to educate local residents. Instead,the colleges are providing the best professors and the most resources to thehonors programs, while leaving the rest of the student body with a bare-boneseducation.

    Still, the push for honors colleges has focused attention on the efforts ofregional state institutions to improve themselves, even as they struggle tofind their niche in a shifting higher-education landscape.

    In place of the university’#146;s core curriculum, the honors students takefour small, seminar-style classes in their dormitory that cross disciplinesand focus on specific questions, such as ‘How do we create and use thepast?’ and ‘How do we understand the sacred?’ On top of that,the students must take at least two other honors courses, including a seniorseminar, and attend six fine-arts events each semester they’#146;re enrolledin the core honors courses.

    If the honors students had not enrolled here, it’#146;s likely some of themwould have ended up in similar programs at the University of Pittsburgh or PennsylvaniaState University. Although they agree that those institutions have better reputationsthan Indiana, few seem to think the brand name will make a difference when theyapply for graduate school or jobs.

    Officials at Indiana dismiss charges that the honors college is elitist byproviding separate living quarters and other perks. In the end, they say, thehonors college will only strengthen the value of the university’#146;s degreesfor everyone.

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