University Honors Program cap prompts mixed feelings for students

The University only lets 10 to 15 percent of a class graduate with Latin honors or disinction.

Hailey Colwell

While some students think graduating from the University of Minnesota with Latin honors should be a special achievement, others think the program has become too exclusive.

Only 10 to 15 percent of each class can graduate with Latin honors or with distinction — awarded to students with a high GPA — which limits the number of students admitted to the University Honors Program as freshmen.

The limit has always been that way, said Honors Program Director Serge Rudaz, and the University isn’t planning to change it.

Genetics, cell biology and development sophomore Jessie Master said the 10 to 15 percent cap may be unfair for students in smaller colleges like the College of Biological Sciences.

About a third of the College of Liberal Arts class of 2016 graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. In CBS, 82 percent did.

Getting into the Honors Program is not just about grades or rank, Rudaz said. Students are admitted to the program through a holistic process.

“We look for commitment to a particular interest,” he said. “It can’t be just by the numbers.”

Master said she applied to be in the Honors Program for her sophomore year but didn’t get in. Still, she said she likes the competitiveness of the program.

“It would be pointless if they let everyone in, because then it wouldn’t be an Honors Program,” she said.

If she does eventually get in, Master said it would be a significant achievement.

Physiology major Ornina Bachour, who graduated magna cum laude with distinction, said even if there’s a cap on the number of students who can graduate with honors, students not in the Honors Program who performed well in high school should be allowed to take honors courses.

“They’re clearly qualified in terms of academics,” Bachour said.

Omar Ammash, a summa cum laude political science graduate with high distinction, said the enrollment cap makes sense because of the limited supply of honors advisors and seminars available to students in the program.

“It just wouldn’t be feasible,” he said.

Before the University Honors Program launched in fall 2008, there were separate honors programs in different colleges, Rudaz said. These programs had different expectations and were run in different ways.

“What it meant to get a Latin honors degree from the University of Minnesota really depended on the college that you graduated from,” he said.

Rudaz helped create the current program to make it simpler and more consistent for students to graduate with Latin honors.

As for the cap on honors graduates, Rudaz said “there’s no clamoring to change the rules.”

“It just makes sense,” he said. “It means that this is a serious endeavor and that students need to really be committed to this.”