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Building a Vibrant Honors Community among Commuter Students


Abstract and Figures

Research has shown that honors programs often provide active networks of students that contribute to the development of the students’ talents (De Boer & van Eijl; van Eijl, Pilot & Wolfensberger). These contact networks are also described as “learning communities” (Wilson et al.) and “honors communities” (van Eijl, Pilot & Wolfensberger). Such communities foster productive interaction among students, teachers, and other professionals during their affiliation with the program and beyond. As a result of such connections, students discover new learning opportunities and gain experience in organizational and leadership skills. In honors programs, in particular, these contacts are an essential component of what defines and separates honors activities as special enhancements of a student’s overall educational experience (van Eijl, Wolfensberger & Pilot). Our study focuses on design principles, key characteristics, strategies, and successful examples that characterize the development of honors communities.
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National Collegiate Honors Council
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
1100 Neihardt Residence Center
540 N. 16th St.
Lincoln, NE 68588-0627
13, N
. 2
Fall/Winter 2012 Volume 13, Number 2
in this issue
Honors Around
the Globe
Countries and Contributors
Deirdre Barron and
Margaret Zeegers
Eunice M. L. Soriano de Alencar,
Aderson Luiz Costa Jr., and
Denise de Souza Fleith
Frederick J. Conway, Carlos
Alberto Cioce Sampaio, and
Juan Carlos Skewes
Ikuo Kitagaki and Donglin Li
Mohammad Ayub Khan and
Ruben Morales-Menendez
Vladimir Bartelds, Johannes
Boonstra, Trijntje van Dijk,
Lyndsay Drayer, Pierre Van Eijl,
Stan van Ginkel, Bouke van
Gorp, Nelleke de Jong, G.
Johan Offringa, Anton Peeters,
Albert Pilot, Karin Scager,
Ron Weerheijm, Jeske
Weerheijm, Fred Wiegant,
Marca V. C. Wolfensberger, and
John Zubizarreta
Byrad Yyelland
Michaela Ruppert Smith
United Kingdom—
Margaret Lamb
The National Collegiate Honors Council is an association of faculty, students,
and others interested in honors education. Executive Committee: Gregory Lanier,
President, University of West Florida; Rick Scott, President-Elect, University of
Central Arkansas; Bonnie Irwin, Immediate Past-President, Eastern Illinois
University; Jim Ruebel, Vice-President, Ball State University; Bob Spurrier,
Secretary, Oklahoma State University; Gary Bell, Treasurer, Texas Tech University.
Executive Director: Cynthia M. Hill, headquartered at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Board of Directors: Kyoko Amano, University of Indianapolis; Lisa Coleman,
Southeastern Oklahoma State University; Barry Falk, James Madison University;
Laurie Fiegel, Iowa State University; Emily Harris, Montana State University; Jerry
Herron, W
ayne State University; Rachael Hurd, Ball State University; Emily Jones,
Oklahoma State University; Joe King, Radford University; Kim Klein, Shippensburg
University of Pennsylvania; Jared Knight, Iowa State University; Jon Kotinek, Texas
A&M University; Jaskiran Mathur, St. Francis College; Marjean Purinton, Texas
Tech University; Jeremiah Sammons, Gallaudet University; Art Spisak, University of
Iowa; Elaine Torda, State University of New York-Orange; Audrey Van Acker, Ball
State University.
Copyright 2012 by the National Collegiate Honors Council
All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-09835457-4-3
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council is a refereed periodical publishing scholarly articles on
honors education. The journal uses a double-blind peer review process. Articles may include analyses of trends
in teaching methodology, articles on interdisciplinary efforts, discussions of problems common to honors pro-
grams, items on the national higher education agenda, and presentations of emergent issues relevant to hon-
ors education. Submissions and inquiries should be directed to Ada Long at
March 1 (for spring/summer issue); September 1 (for fall/winter issue)
JNCHC is indexed full-text in the EBSCO and Gale library databases and is archived in the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln’s Digital Commons repository.
Mitch Pruitt and Cliff Jefferson of Wake Up Graphics, Birmingham, Alabama.
William A. Ashton (Psychology), Associate Professor, Behavioral Sciences Department, City University of New
York at York College; Gary M. Bell (Early Modern British History), Dean of the University Honors College and
Professor of History, Texas Tech University; Bernice Braid (Comparative Literature), Director of Core Seminar
and Advisor to the Provost, Long Island University-Brooklyn;
D. Bruce Carter (Psychology), Associate
Professor of Psychology and Child & Family Studies, Syracuse University
; Joan Digby (English), Director
of the Honors Program and Merit Fellowship, Professor of English, C. W. Post Campus, Long Island University;
Ted Estess (English), Professor of English and former Dean of the Honors College, University of Houston; Jim
Ford (Philosophy/Religious Studies), Director of the Honors Program and Professor of Humanities, Rogers State
University; Jay M. Freyman (Ancient Studies) Associate Professor and former Director of the Honors College,
University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Linda Frost (English), Professor of English and Director of Honors,
Eastern Kentucky University; Nancy Davis Johnson (Psychology), Associate Professor of Psychology, Queens
University of Charlotte; John Korstad (Biology), Professor of Biology and Honors Program Director, Oral Roberts
University; Jane Fiori Lawrence (History of American Higher Education), Vice Chancellor, University of
California, Merced; Dennis Patrick Leyden
(Education; R & D Policy)
, Associate Professor, Department of
Economics, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; George Mariz (History), Professor of History and
Director of the Honors Program, Western Washington University; David N. Mowry (Philosophy), SUNY
Distinguished Teaching Professor, Honors Program Founding Director Emeritus, Plattsburgh State University;
Rosalie Otero (English), Director of the Honors Program, University of New Mexico; Anne Ponder (English),
Chancellor, University of North Carolina Asheville; Jeffrey A. Portnoy (English), Director of the Honors Program
and Professor of English, Georgia Perimeter College; Rae Rosenthal (English), Director of the Honors Program
and Professor of English, Community College of Baltimore County Essex Campus; Rusty Rushton (English),
Associate Director of the University Honors Program and Adjunct Lecturer in English, University of Alabama at
Birmingham; Hallie Savage, Honors Program Director and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders,
Clarion University of Pennsylvania; Samuel Schuman (English), Chancellor Emeritus, the University of
Minnesota, Morris, and Professor of Language and Literature, University of North Carolina Asheville; Ricki J.
Shine (American History), Associate Director of the Calhoun Honors College and Director of Major Fellowships,
Clemson University; Stephen H. Wainscott (Political Science), Vice Provost of International Affairs and Director
Emeritus of the Calhoun Honors College, Clemson University; Len Zane (Physics), Emeritus Professor of Physics
and Former Dean of the Honors College, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Call for Papers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Submission Guidelines. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Dedication to Marca V. C. Wolfensberger. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Editor’s Introduction
Ada Long. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
“Honours” in the United Kingdom: More Than a Difference of
Spelling in Honors Education
Margaret Lamb . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Honours in Australia: Globally Recognised Preparation for a Career
in Research (or Elsewhere)
Deirdre Barron and Margaret Zeegers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
The Tutorial Education Program: An Honors Program for Brazilian
Undergraduate Students
Denise de Souza Fleith, Aderson Luiz Costa Jr., and
Eunice M. L. Soriano de Alencar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Honors in Chile: New Engagements in the Higher Education System
Juan Carlos Skewes, Carlos Alberto Cioce Sampaio, and
Frederick J. Conway . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Establishing a Latin American University Honors Program: The Case
of Campus Monterrey, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico
Mohammad Ayub Khan and Ruben Morales-Menendez . . . . . . . . . . . 73
Self as Text: Adaptations of Honors Practice in Switzerland
Michaela Ruppert Smith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
An American Honors Program in the Arab Gulf
Byrad Yyelland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
On Training Excellent Students in China and the United States
Ikuo Kitagaki and Donglin Li . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
Mission, Performance Indicators, and Assessment in U. S. Honors:
A View from the Netherlands
Vladimir Bartelds, Lyndsay Drayer, and
Marca V. C. Wolfensberger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
Laboratories for Educational Innovation: Honors Programs in the
Marca V. C. Wolfensberger, Pierre Van Eijl, and Albert Pilot . . . . . . 149
Qualities Honours Students Look for in Faculty and Courses, Revisited
Marca V. C. Wolfensberger and G. Johan Offringa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
Setting Them Free: Students as Co-Producers of Honors Education
Bouke van Gorp, Marca V. C. Wolfensberger, and Nelleke de Jong
. . 183
Building a Vibrant Honors Community among Commuter Students
Stan van Ginkel, Pierre van Eijl, Albert Pilot, and John Zubizarreta
. . 197
Team-Based Learning in Honors Science Education: The Benefit of
Complex Writing Assignments
Fred Wiegant, Johannes Boonstra, Anton Peeters and Karin Scager
. 219
Selecting for Honors Programs: AMatter of Motivational Awareness
Ron Weerheijm and Jeske Weerheijm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
The Reflective Professional Honours Programme of the Dutch Saxion
Trijntje van Dijk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243
Looping up Professional Reflection in Honours Programmes
Trijntje van Dijk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259
Honors in the Master’s: ANew Perspective?
Stan van Ginkel, Pierre van Eijl, Albert Pilot, and John Zubizarreta
. 265
Honors Education and Global Citizenship
Marca V. C. Wolfensberger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 279
About the Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 285
NCHC Publication Order Forms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 295
The cover design is a collaborative effort by Sarah Halverson and
Wake Up Graphics. The cover image is by Dail Mullins.
The next issue of JNCHC (deadline: March 1, 2013) invites research essays on any
topic of interest to the honors community.
The issue will also include a Forum focused on the theme "Nontraditional Honors
Students." We invite essays of roughly a thousand words that consider this theme in
the context of your campus and/or a national/international context.
The lead essay for the Forum, which is available on the NCHC website
<>, is by Janice Rye Kinghorn and Whitney Womack Smith of
Miami University Ohio; each of them has directed an honors program at a commuter
campus of the university. Their essay—titled “Nontraditional Honors”—describes the
benefits that honors programs and nontraditional students can and should provide to
each other. Contributions to the Forum may—but need not—respond to their essay or
the issues they address.
Questions that Forum contributors might consider include: What is the definition of
“nontraditional students,” and why do they need their own category? Is there any such
thing as a traditional student? Do honors programs have a social, moral, or economic
incentive or responsibility to accommodate nontraditional students? What are good
ideas for recruiting them? Are some kinds of honors programs, e.g., those focusing on
the liberal arts, more easily able to accommodate nontraditional students than others
are? What specific advantages do nontraditional students bring to honors? Are there
down sides to increasing the numbers of nontraditional students in an honors program,
and, if so, what are they? Do nontraditional students participate as fully, less fully, or
more fully in extracurricular honors activities than nontraditional students do? Do the
curricular and co-curricular requirements of honors programs work for non-traditional,
non-residential students? Is a cadre of alumni and alumnae who were nontraditional
honors students a benefit to, for instance, fundraising? Does the current state of the
national and global economy have an impact on the role nontraditional students can and
do play in honors?
Forum essays should focus on ideas, concepts, and/or opinions related to
"Nontraditional Honors Students.” Examples from one’s own campus can be and
usually are relevant, but essays should not simply be descriptions of “what we do at
our institution.”
Please send all submissions to Ada Long at
We accept material by e-mail attachment. We do not accept material by fax or hard copy.
The documentation style can be whatever is appropriate to the author’s primary disci-
pline or approach (MLA, APA, etc.), but please avoid footnotes. Internal citation to a
list of references (bibliography) is strongly preferred, and the editor will revise all inter-
nal citations in accordance with MLA guidelines.
There are no minimum or maximum length requirements; the length should be dictat-
ed by the topic and its most effective presentation.
Accepted essays are edited for grammatical and typographical errors and for infelicities
of style or presentation. Authors have ample opportunity to review and approve edited
manuscripts before publication.
Submissions and inquiries should be directed to Ada Long at or, if
necessary, 850.927.3776.
arca Wolfensberger has been active in honors education for the past two
decades. She co-founded one of the first honors programs in the
Netherlands in the early 1990s; ten years later she started connecting with
individual members of the NCHC; and, after attending her first NCHC con-
ference in Chicago in 2003, she has been a regular participant in annual hon-
ors conferences, bringing with her numerous colleagues—as many as thirty
at just one conference—from the Netherlands. She has regularly published
and presented on honors education both in the United States and in Europe,
and this year she is an organizer of an international conference in the
Netherlands on “Evoking Excellence in Higher Education and Beyond.” The
volume and seriousness of her research on honors education is reflected in the
inclusion of five essays that she has authored or co-authored in just this one
issue of JNCHC; one of these is an update of an essay she published here in
2004, only one year after attending her first NCHC conference.
Marca heads the research center Talent Development in Higher
Education and Society at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in
Groningen and is also honors director and researcher at the Faculty of
Geosciences, Utrecht University. She has been appointed by the Minister of
Education to the jury that selects the best primary and secondary schools in
the Netherlands, and, as a member of the Sirius Assessment Committee, she
has reviewed proposals for “excellence” programs from over thirty institu-
tions of higher education on behalf of the Dutch government.
Since 2008, Marca has held the title NCHC-Recommended Site Visitor
and, both officially and unofficially, serves as an international supporter and
advisor for honors education, always giving first priority to the personal and
intellectual growth of honors students in her own program and in all honors
programs. Marca has often been the first person to introduce NCHC members
to honors outside of the United States through her writing, her conference par-
ticipation, and her enthusiastic conversation. We thus gratefully dedicate this
issue on the theme of “Honors Around the Globe” to Marca Wolfensberger.
Editor’s Introduction
his issue of JNCHC begins by focusing with a wide-angle lens on the
panorama of honors programs that stretch across the globe from Chile to
China and from Qatar to Australia. The focus then shifts to a close-up shot of
honors in one European country, the Netherlands, which has produced multi-
ple programs and an abundance of research about them. This issue on
“Honors Around the Globe” also provides insight into the history of honors,
with its origins in the British educational system, its importation into the
United States less than a century ago, and its exportation within the last cou-
ple of decades to institutions of higher education in numerous other countries.
Honors started out in the U.S. as a replication of the honors system in the
UK, located primarily in the academic disciplines with a specialized focus on
directed research. In response to Sputnik, though, a group of U.S. honors
directors coalesced into a national organization that became the NCHC (see
“The Wisdom of Our Elders: Honors Discussions in The Superior Student,
1958–65” by Larry Andrews, JNCHC 12.2); honors then evolved and
expanded into institution-wide curricula and activities that have largely been
the model for honors programs throughout the world. The organization of this
journal issue reflects that history, starting with the British system, providing
essays on the wide array of honors programs around the world that have
adapted all or parts of the UK and U.S. models, and concluding with a
lengthy and detailed look at honors in the Netherlands, which has perhaps the
most unified, consistent, and self-conscious array of honors programs and
research projects about honors based on the U.S. model.
Margaret Lamb has provided an excellent lead-in to our look at honors
around the world in her essay “’Honours’ in the United Kingdom: More Than
a Difference of Spelling in Honors Education.” Lamb taught in honors for four-
teen years at two English universities before returning to the U.S., where she is
now Senior Associate Director of the University of Connecticut Honors
Program, so she is familiar with honors in both countries. She cites the litera-
ture tracing U.S. honors back to its roots in England and then describes in detail
the meaning of “honours” in the UK. While U.S. honors derives from compo-
nents of the UK system, such as the tutorial, it has come to imply an indepen-
dent curriculum with its own selection and graduation requirements and with
values that include, for instance, original research, creativity, critical thinking,
global awareness, collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and problem-solving.
While these values are not intrinsic to the definition of honours in the UK,
Lamb suggests that they are often present if one looks beneath the surface.
The following two essays describe honors programs that show a primary
influence of the British system. In “Honours in Australia: Globally
Recognised Preparation for a Career in Research (or Elsewhere),” Deirdre
Barron of the Swinburne Institute of Technology and Margaret Zeegers of the
University of Ballarat, both in Victoria, indicate that honors in Australia has
always focused on rigorous disciplinary research. In the past, they write, uni-
versities took for granted that honors successfully prepared students for
advanced post-graduate research in their fields but provided no evidence to
support this assumption. In the past couple of years, government agencies
have started establishing standards for all universities in Australia, and the
authors argue that honors programs should, in this context, be held to high
standards of accountability with documented proof of their effectiveness—an
argument that seems in tune with the assessment and accountability move-
ment in the United States and its proponents among a number of honors deans
and directors. Another component of this essay’s argument that probably res-
onates with most U.S. honors educators is the importance of research rather
than vocational preparation as a primary goal in honors.
Denise de Souza Fleith, Aderson Luiz Costa Jr., and Eunice M. L.
Soriano de Alencar, all of the Institute of Psychology at the University of
Brasilia, describe another UK-based type of honors education in “The
Tutorial Education Program: An Honors Program for Brazilian
Undergraduate Students.” The Ministry of Education in Brazil initiated this
predominantly tutorial-based type of honors program in 1979, starting with
fifteen students and now numbering more than four thousand students and
four hundred teachers throughout the country. The authors describe the gen-
eral structure, goals, requirements, and selection criteria for these honors
opportunities throughout Brazil, and then they explain how the Tutor
Education Program works in their Institute. The authors conclude by assert-
ing that this kind of honors opportunity for academically gifted students is
important not just to the students and to higher education but to the social and
economic health of the country.
On the other side of South America, honors in Chile has been based more
on the U.S. model. The 2006 volume of Honors in Practice included an essay
titled “Honors in Chile: New Engagements in the Higher Education System,”
which is reprinted here with revisions and with a substantial Afterword. The
essay was written by Juan Carlos Skewes, then of the Universidad Austral de
Chile and now the Universidad Alberto Hurtado; Carlos Alberto Cioce
Sampaio, then of the Universidad Regional de Blumenau and now the Paraná
Federal University in Brazil; and Frederick J. Conway of San Diego State
University. In the original essay, the authors described a remarkable pilot pro-
gram they developed in 2002 at the Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh)—
inspired by honors education in the United States, aided by an NCHC con-
sultant, and funded by the Chilean Ministry of Education—that adapted the
honors concept to unique challenges (rural setting, rainy weather, and poorly
prepared students) and opportunities (strong infrastructure, national concern
about inequities in education, and a living laboratory for environmental stud-
ies) within a specific geographical and cultural context. The Afterword
reports on the success of the program, as it enters its second decade, in
achieving its original mission to merge academic skills with a serious com-
mitment to environmental and social justice in its selection requirements, cur-
riculum, and community involvement. The program has also gained a strong
reputation within the university system. However, national problems that
include restricted funding and social unrest present ongoing challenges to fur-
ther development and expansion of honors in Chile.
Honors at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Monterrey, in Mexico
also has its roots in the U.S. model, having evolved within the international
degree program with guidance provided by NCHC consultants as well as
numerous contacts made at NCHC conferences. In “Establishing a Latin
American University Honors Program: The Case of Campus Monterrey,
Tecnológico de Monterrey,” Mohammad Ayub Khan and Ruben Morales-
Menendez describe the components of their honors program in terms of the
NCHC’s “Basic Characteristics of a Fully Developed Honors Program.” They
describe the unique components of their program, many of which arise from
its situation within an international degree program. They address some of the
external factors that have determined the nature of their program, such as the
“economic conditions, political situations, socio-cultural variables, demo-
graphic changes, technological developments, and legal issues,” and also the
internal factors that have helped shape their program: “institutional history,
student diversity, faculty diversity, physical facilities, leadership style, orga-
nizational culture, operational issues, and geographical location.”
While the essay on honors in Mexico describes the importation of a U.S.
model of honors education, the following essay describes the exportation of
NCHC’s City as Text™ pedagogy to Switzerland. In “Self as Text:
Adaptations of Honors Practice”—a revised reprint of an essay published in
the 2012 volume of Honors in Practice—Michaela Ruppert Smith recounts
her experience in adapting CAT™ methodology to an orientation activity at
the Collège du Léman in Geneva. To prepare a class of International
Baccalaureate students for a course called Theory of Knowledge, Smith col-
laborated with other teachers in designing a field trip to two museum exhibits
and one very unusual restaurant in Zurich. This trip became an unusual,
challenging, and delightful journey of discovery during which students
“questioned their basic values and integrated new ways of thinking and being
into their lives.”
Another direct export of U.S. honors education—on a grander scale—has
taken place in Qatar. In “An American Honors Program in the Arab Gulf,”
Byrad Yyelland decribes the fascinating consequence of transplanting an
American concept of honors education into the Middle East. As director of
the seven-year-old honors program at Virginia Commonwealth University
Qatar, Yyelland recounts his adaptation of ideas from the VCU Honors
College to the national vision established by the royal family of Qatar: to
maintain Islamic culture while at the same time promoting an ambitious
agenda for economic and technological development. This double mission
plays out in the VCUQatar Honors Program in ways that will interest honors
administrators in other parts of the world, who typically do not face the prob-
lem of, for instance, creating an honors brochure when their students are for-
bidden to be photographed.
A detailed comparison of honors education in the U.S. and China is the
subject of the next essay: “On Training Excellent Students in China and the
United States.” This essay was first published in JNCHC 9.2 (fall/winter
2008), when the authors—Ikuo Kitagaki and Donglin Li—were both at the
Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University and were
motivated in part by a move toward starting honors programs in Japan. In
response to increasing global competition in advanced research and thus an
accelerating need for high levels of student training, Kitagaki and Li saw the
international growth of honors programs as an important means to meet this
need and were interested in finding the best strategy for national development
of honors programs. Their essay compares the evolution, focus, curriculum,
requirements, and student services of honors programs in China and the
United States. Their findings indicate more broad-based curricula and greater
emphasis on service and leadership in the U.S. and stricter retention standards
and foreign language requirements in China. This comparative study can help
readers in the U.S. and elsewhere design and reflect upon their own honors
We conclude our panoramic view of honors around the globe with
“Mission, Performance Indicators, and Assessment in U. S. Honors: AView
from the Netherlands” by Vladimir Bartelds, Lyndsay Drayer, and Marca V. C.
Wolfensberger of Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen in the
Netherlands. The authors focus on the role of mission statements in U.S. hon-
ors programs and their lack of alignment with either performance indicators or
assessment practices. Based on a survey of 169 programs randomly selected
from the 842 institutional members of NCHC in 2009, the authors conclude—
based on a wide array of quantitative and qualitative data—that not only do
assessment practices typically show little correlation with mission statements
or performance indicators, but they seldom include long-term outcomes for
graduates of the honors program. Indicating that U.S. honors programs may
not always be doing what they claim or believe they are doing, this study will
be valuable to U.S. honors administrators in analyzing their current mission
statements, and it warrants careful consideration in the design of new honors
programs around the globe.
Having viewed U.S. honors programs from the perspective of the
Netherlands, our focus shifts to the Netherlands itself for the remainder of
this issue of JNCHC, starting with an essay titled Laboratories for
Educational Innovation: Honors Programs in the Netherlands” by Marca V.
C. Wolfensberger of Utrecht University and Hanzehogeschool Groningen and
co-authors Pierre Van Eijl and Albert Pilot of Utrecht University. Within a
broad overview of the rapid growth of honors programs in the Netherlands,
the authors make the specific case that honors fosters innovations in course
content, pedagogy, and program structure that fan out—via the students and
teachers in honors—into the host institutions and eventually into national
policies and practices at all educational levels. The essay focuses on the kinds
of honors programs that have grown up in the Netherlands, the characteristics
that enable them to foster innovation, and the particular dynamics whereby
their innovative practices get transferred beyond honors to promote excel-
lence and talent in Dutch education.
In an update of a 2004 essay published in JNCHC 5.2, Wolfensberger—
now with a co-author, G. Johan Offringa of Hanze University of Applied
Sciences Groningen—offers the results of three surveys conducted in the past
decade. In “Qualities Honours Students Look for in Faculty and Courses,
Revisited,” she and Offringa conclude from the surveys that honors students
in the Netherlands, to a greater degree than their non-honors peers, seek not
only academic competence but individual freedom combined with a sense of
community. They also conclude that honors students’ motivation tends to be
intrinsic—focused on knowledge, learning, and intellectual challenge—
rather than extrinsic; they are motivated less, the authors claim, by grades and
future careers than non-honors students are. The authors hope that similar
studies will be conducted in other countries so that they can determine
whether these findings are unique to the culture of the Netherlands.
“Setting Them Free: Students as Co-Producers of Honors Education” by
Bouke van Gorp, Marca V. C. Wolfensberger, and Nelleke de Jong lays out a
strategy for offering honors students the freedom to help shape their own edu-
cation through student-led classes; these kinds of classes are built into honors
seminars at the Faculty of Geosciences Honors College of Utrecht University.
Giving students this freedom has three goals: encouraging students to explore
their passions, helping them develop their best learning strategies, and getting
them involved in their own education. The authors describe the benefits and
challenges of this approach, stressing that it should focus on developing stu-
dents’ creativity rather than freeing up time for the faculty.
In “Building a Vibrant Honors Community among Commuter Students,”
Stan van Ginkel of Wageningen University and Pierre van Eijl and Albert
Pilot of Utrecht University team up with John Zubizarreta of Columbia
College in the U.S. to discuss methods of creating successful honors com-
munities. The authors use interviews of U.S. faculty and students as one
source for defining honors communities, and they apply the definitions to five
programs in the Netherlands. A primary objective of the essay is to identify
components of successful honors communities that can or cannot be adapted
to honors programs that comprise commuter students. The essay’s conclu-
sions can equally apply to honors programs in the Netherlands, in the U.S.,
and around the world.
Fred Wiegant, Johannes Boonstra, Anton Peeters and Karin Scager, in
“Team-Based Learning in Honors Science Education: The Benefit of
Complex Writing Assignments,” advocate a team-based learning approach
that they have used successfully in honors science courses at Utrecht
University. One of these courses requires undergraduate honors students to
produce proposals for PhD theses, and the other requires that they write a
popular science book. These challenging assignments produce excellent
results, according to the authors, because the students guide and support each
other rather than relying on the teacher to tell them what to do. As a result,
students improve their skills, gain confidence in their abilities, and expand
their understanding of what they can accomplish.
The following three essays focus on honors in the applied sciences. In
“Selecting for Honors Programs: A Matter of Motivational Awareness,” Ron
Weerheijm of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and Jeske
Weerheijm of Utrecht University give an overview of research on effective
ways to recruit and select honors students, and they apply that research to the
special mission of the honors programs in the Universities of Applied
Sciences in the Netherlands. Designed to find, foster, and produce students
who meet the standards of an “excellent professional,” these honors programs
adopt many of the same criteria described in the literature but adapt them to
goals of success in the workplace and lifelong learning. Directors of profes-
sional honors programs in the U.S. and elsewhere will find ideas here for dis-
tinguishing honors from the standard curriculum and from traditional liberal
arts programs.
In “The Reflective Professional Honours Programme of the Dutch
Saxion Universities,” Trijntje van Dijk describes the six characteristics that
define the successful graduate of the honors program for professional stu-
dents at the Saxion Universities of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. The
characteristics create a profile that determines the goals of the program while
also indicating to businesses what they can expect from a graduate of the pro-
gram. Van Dijk describes her interactions with American honors educators
and includes in the essay a fascinating and provocative impression of U.S.
honors programs from the perspective of Dutch honors educators in profes-
sional universities.
“Looping up Professional Reflection in Honours Programmes” is a com-
panion piece to Trijntje van Dijk’s essay on “The Reflective Professional
Honours Programme.” Here she describes the three phases, or “loops,” of
development through which honors students progress, addressing specific
sets of questions in each loop. The questions become progressively more
challenging and require increasing sophistication in personal development,
teamwork, interdisciplinary cooperation, and cross-disciplinary thinking,
causing students to leap beyond the loops and imagine new paradigms for
their professional lives and potential contributions.
“Honors in the Master’s: A New Perspective?” is a study of the prolifer-
ation of master’s-level honors by Stan van Ginkel of Wageningen University
in the Netherlands, Pierre van Eijl and Albert Pilot of Utrecht University in
the Netherlands, and John Zubizarreta of Columbia College in the U. S. The
authors provide a comparative analysis of seventeen master’s-level honors
programs in the Netherlands as well as other programs in the U.S., Canada,
Australia, Germany, Italy, and Ireland. Honors at the master’s level is proba-
bly a topic unfamiliar to most honors educators in the U.S. and may spark
interest in this new and fast-proliferating initiative.
We conclude this special issue of JNCHC with another essay by Marca
V. C. Wolfensberger, in which she provides a lofty and idealistic view of hon-
ors that seems an appropriate final word on “Honors Around the Globe.” In
“Honors Education and Global Citizenship,” Wolfensberger suggests that,
given the serious challenges as well as opportunities of rapidly increasing
globalization, honors programs have an important role to play: to push
changes toward human dignity and world peace. She discusses three peda-
gogical strategies—genuine conversations, interactive learning, and interna-
tional exchange—that encourage honors students to develop the respect for
cultural differences that will make them important contributors to a better
world. Surely these are strategies and goals to which we all aspire, regardless
of geography or national history.
A Panorama of
Honors Around the Globe
“Honours” in the
United Kingdom:
More Than a Difference of
Spelling in Honors Education
“. . . [T]ranslating words and phrases is the easy part. It takes years
of Anglo-Amerexperience to understand the thinking behind them . . .
George Bernard Shaw said it best . . . : America and Britain are two
nations divided by a common language. Between us is a Great
Philosophical and Cultural Divide, which is obscured by the familiar
lingo.” (Walmsley 2)
he first edition of Jane Walmsley’s book Brit-Think, Ameri-Think: A
Transatlantic Survival Guide came out in 1986. I noticed the book
because she was a familiar name, a TV broadcaster, American by birth (like
me), married to a Brit (like me), and had lived in England for two decades (I
was well into my first decade in England). I recognized from my own expe-
rience many of the examples (often hilarious) cited by the author.
When JNCHC editor Ada Long issued a call for contributions to a spe-
cial issue on “Honors Around the Globe,” Jane Walmsley’s book came to
mind. “Honors” and “honours” are more than different in spelling, I thought;
they are also quite distinct in meaning and practice. There was more food for
thought as Ada’s call for contributions went on to say: “Current plans include
essays on the Netherlands, Chile, Peru, Mexico, China, Australia, Qatar, and
Oxford, UK.” “Oxford, UK”? Oxford was very influential on the develop-
ment of U.S. honors programs, but there is “honors education” to be found in
many other places across the diverse terrain of UK higher education.
Two matters before I go further.
First, what do I mean by “honours” and by “honors education”? I’ll use
the British spelling whenever I refer to matters—features, designations,
courses—that might be the equivalent of what NCHC members would rec-
ognize as “honors education.” Encouragement of critical thinking is at the
core of “honors education,” as defined in the NCHC Monograph Teaching
and Learning in Honors; the most important challenge of honors education is
“a challenge to the students’ previous world views and their habitual ways of
developing their ideas and opinions” (West 2). Honors education is incom-
plete without support for the honors student in the sense of initiating the stu-
dent into our own (as educators) ways of making sense of the world, espe-
cially the disciplinary (and interdisciplinary) values, perspectives, assump-
tions, and methods that help us derive meaning from what is around us and
to shape new knowledge (West 2). Honors educational endeavors—teaching,
learning, courses, activities, communities, and more—are all designed and
directed toward the development of students’ “self-reflectiveness; ability to
reason; ability to express themselves in speech and writing, appropriate to the
discourse community while remaining, authentic to the student’s individuali-
ty; ability to integrate and contextualize information; passion for learning and
sense of wonder; ability both to collaborate and to work independently;
appreciation of the common humanity of all people and gratitude for human
differences; capacity to commit to a position, recognize that it may change,
and tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity” (West 3).
Second, what experiences have formed my perspectives on the issues and
questions that I am raising? I graduated from a U.S. Ivy League college that
had both departmental and college honors. I taught undergraduates in two
English universities for fourteen years (1990–2004). My teaching career
began (1990–1992) at a polytechnic university (Humberside Polytechnic,
now the University of Lincoln). I taught for twelve years (1992–2004) at a
highly rated, highly selective research university (University of Warwick). In
both English universities, I taught in an honours degree program. Since 2004
I have directed an undergraduate program at the University of Connecticut,
and for the past three years I have additionally served as Senior Associate
Director of the Honors Program. I advise and teach both honors and non-hon-
ors students.
In this essay I will (1) place some characteristics of Oxford undergradu-
ate education in a wider context of UK higher education, (2) describe some
characteristics of honours across the UK, and (3) highlight some of the fea-
tures of UK honours that readers of JNCHC will most likely recognize as hon-
ors education. (Nota Bene: I refer to the “UK” throughout this essay because
the matters discussed are largely similar across England, Wales, Scotland, and
Northern Ireland. However, there are differences in each region. Scottish uni-
versities have the most distinctive history and continue to have practices that
are different from the others, not least a more persistent practice of “honours”
requiring four years of study and an “ordinary degree” being capable of com-
pletion in three. For this reason, Scottish institutions of higher education have
comparatively more students who complete ordinary degrees.)
Don’t get me wrong. Oxford is one of the world’s greatest universities
where highly accomplished, smart undergraduates get a wonderful education,
indeed an honors education. Oxford is the educational institution that inspired
pioneering U.S. honors educators early in the twentieth century. Frank
Aydelotte, a U.S. Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, 1905–1907, sought to transplant
in U.S. universities the rigors and rewards of Oxford’s individualized tutori-
al system, its pass/honours curricular approach, and the value placed on stim-
ulating intellectual conversation (Guzy; Rinn, “Rhodes Scholarships” and
“Major Forerunners”). On his return from England, Aydelotte became a dis-
tinguished educationalist (professor at Indiana and MIT, president of
Swarthmore) and over the next four decades advocated the spread and devel-
opment of honors education in the U.S. (Rinn, “Rhodes Scholarships”
It was the principles and practices of the Oxford approach to education
that so attracted Aydelotte. At Oxford, he saw at work not an elitist version of
higher education, but, to his way of thinking, a proper implementation of
democratic principles. Rinn summarizes his position:
The word “democracy” is often used to denote equality. . . . Aydelotte
. . . believed the word “democracy” was misconceived. . . . [H]e did
not believe democracy to mean giving equal schooling or equal edu-
cation to all. Rather, while everyone should be given an equal oppor-
tunity for education, everyone should also be given an opportunity to
fulfill his or her own capabilities. . . . By being held to the same
requirements as all students, the brightest students were being held
back and limited in their intellectual potential. (“Rhodes
Scholarships” 33)
Oxford undergraduates still have “tutorials,” but they are not the same as they
were in the early twentieth century (Palfreyman 19–20). Oxford tutorials
today are often not quite as individualized as they were in Aydelotte’s day;
one, two, three, and sometimes more students may participate in a tutorial
together, but they still represent a distinctive Oxford method, powerfully
reflective of the intellectual values—critical thinking, support, intellectual
conversation—that Aydelotte and his peers advocated as the essence of hon-
ors education. Oxford tutorials, offered in the colleges, are part of “a mixed
pattern of teaching . . . a combination of tutorials, lectures, demonstrations
and seminars/classes, much of which is under the control of the faculties
rather than the colleges” (Palfreyman 20).
Arguably the “jewel in Oxford’s crown,” the tutorial system is one that
few UK universities (Cambridge excepted, but in slightly different form) can
replicate in full or in part (Palfreyman 14, 22). The “massification” of UK
higher education over the past three decades (Palfreyman 22) means that very
small group teaching, whether called tutorials or something else, is increas-
ingly beyond the practical reach of most UK universities. In my teaching
career at the University of Warwick, a highly selective university, I never
taught an undergraduate class—even a discussion section—smaller than four-
teen, and I can count on one hand the number of undergraduate independent
studies that I supervised. Even Oxford faculty members worry about how
long their distinctive tutorial system can be maintained in its current form
(Palfreyman). The UK higher education funding regime (in general, rising
tuition fees paid by students to supplement declining amounts of government
funding) places growing pressure on the Oxford tutorial system: increased
calls for improvements in quality from students and their advocates, demands
from peer institutions to eliminate Oxford’s and Cambridge’s special funding
for the tutorial system, and calls from government for Oxford to take more
students (Morgan, “Rise in Number”; Patton). Time will tell whether this
venerable feature of Oxford education will retain its curricular essence and
prominence in the face of cost-saving and the pressure of numbers.
Oxford undergraduates continue to face the hurdles of a first public exam-
ination—preliminary exams (“prelims”) or honors moderations (“mods”)—
and a second public examination (“finals”) with the results of the latter heav-
ily determining the final degree classification. Finals typically consists of
seven or eight “papers,” usually three hours each in duration, taken over a
period of about a week. Unlike in the early twentieth century when graduation
with honours was a minority aspiration, the honours path is now the norm. In
2011–2012, Oxford students graduating with classified honours degrees num-
bered 3,104; only four graduated with unclassified, ordinary degrees (Table 1).
In 2010–2011, individuals graduating with first degrees from UK uni-
versities numbered 369,015. Of the total, over 90% were classified
“Honours” degrees (Table 2). Determination of honours degree classification
was summarized by Yorke:
In the UK (apart from Scotland) it is typically the case that full-time
students have merely to pass their first year studies in order to
progress to what, in some institutions, is called ‘Part 2’ of the under-
graduate curriculum. The honours degree classification is usually
based on results from the second and final year of academic study
(i.e. Part 2). . . .
The majority of institutions in the UK uses grades in the form of
(what are typically called) percentage marks. These normally map on
to the honours degree classification via mean percentages as follows:
70.0% and above: first class honours
60.0 to 69.9%: upper second class honours
50.0 to 59.9%: lower second class honours
40.0 to 49.9%: third class honours.
A minority of institutions use grade-scales considerably shorter than
the so-called percentage scale, and determine the classification
according to the ‘profile’ of awarded grades. (678–79)
Given that honours is now the norm rather than the exception, it is unsur-
prising that focus has shifted to the quality of the honours classification, with
students, graduate schools, potential employers, and government all being
interested in how many students obtain “good” honours degrees, widely
understood as a “1st (first)” or a “2i (two-one or upper second).” Arguably, a
measure of upwards pressure on the number of “good” degrees creates a form
of UK grade inflation (Morgan, “Rise in Numbers”). Ninety-two percent of
Oxford’s most recent graduates obtained a 1st or 2i (Table 1), as did almost
60% of all UK graduates (Table 2). “Good” degrees have become a bigger
share (from 57% to 61.5% over four years) of all UK undergraduate degrees
(Table 3).
Honours Degree Classification Graduates
Number Percentage
1st 918 29.6
2.1 1932 62.2
2.2 223 7.2
3rd 27 0.9
Other 40.1
Total 3104 100.0
Table 1. Oxford University Undergraduate Degree Classifications
2011/12 (Interim Numbers)
Source: <
table.html> (accessed September 2, 2012).
An “unclassified degree” without honours has come to be understood
almost everywhere as a low performance. (The assumption is less true for
Scotland, where honours degrees typically require four years of study and
ordinary degrees only three years.) A mere 0.1% of Oxford graduates do not
receive a classified honours degree (Table 1). Across England, Wales, and
Northern Ireland, the comparable percentages are 4.9%, 4.2%, and 3.8%
respectively in 2010–2011 (Table 2).
With the focus on “good” degrees, much attention (and faculty time) is
given to defining the boundaries of degree classifications: Where should the
Graduate Northern Total
Numbers England Wales Scotland Ireland UK
First 45,050 2,830 4,035 1,300 53,215
Upper Second 141,105 9,110 11,850 4,035 166,100
Lower Second 85,020 6,550 5,535 2,105 99,210
Third/Pass 21,825 1,425 1,210 360 24,820
Unclassified 15,210 865 9,145 310 25,530
Unexplained 130 5 5 140
Total 308,340 20,780 31,780 8,115 369,015
Graduate Northern Total
Percentages England Wales Scotland Ireland UK
First 14.6% 13.6% 12.7% 16.0% 14.4%
Upper Second 45.8% 43.8% 37.3% 49.7% 45.0%
Lower Second 27.6% 31.5% 17.4% 25.9% 26.9%
Third/Pass 7.1% 6.9% 3.8% 4.4% 6.7%
Unclassified 4.9% 4.2% 28.8% 3.8% 6.9%
Unexplained 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Table 2. Class of Degree Achieved by Students Obtaining First Degree
Qualifications at Higher Education Institutions in the UK by
Location 2010/11
Source: Table 6a, Higher Education Statistics Agency, Statistical First Release 169,
id=161> (downloaded July 27, 2012).
Degree Type 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11
No. %No. %No. %No. %No. %
First 33,030 11.7 37,435 12.6 39,345 13.3 42,750 13.7 48,755 14.7
Upper Second 127,685 45.3 136,860 46.0 137,300 46.2 145,535 46.5 154,525 46.7
Total “good” degrees 160,715 57.0 174,295 58.6 176,645 59.5 188,285 60.2 203,280 61.5
Lower Second 82,250 29.2 84,805 28.5 82,655 27.8 86,325 27.6 88,810 26.9
Third / Pass 18,280 6.5 18,980 6.4 18,865 6.4 19,165 6.1 19,585 5.9
Unclassified 20,755 7.4 19,075 6.4 18,620 6.3 18,845 6.0 18,910 5.7
Total 282,000 100.0 297,235 100.0 296,870 100.0 312,740 100.0 330,715 100.0
Table 3. Class of Degree Achieved by Full-Time Students Obtaining First Degree Qualifications at Higher Education
Institutions in the UK 2006/07 to 2010/11
Source: Table 6, Higher Education Statistics Agency, Statistical First Release 169, <
tent&task=view&id=2355&Itemid=161> (downloaded July 27, 2012).
line be drawn for first-class degrees? What is the numerical difference
between an upper second and a lower second? Does a particular candidate
deserve a pass rather than third-class honours? Do extenuating circumstances
(e.g. illness or bereavement at exam time) justify deeming a particular candi-
date’s degree to fall in a higher classification? Several algorithms are typi-
cally adopted across UK universities to make such distinctions (Yorke et al.,
“Some Effects”). Some features of UK higher education are designed to help
institutions make these decisions with comparability across the whole sys-
tem. The external examiner system (see <
ages/ExternalExaminers.aspx>) operates to ensure that multiple examiners,
inside and outside the particular university, review the assessed work, the