Students flooded with invites to honors societies

by Youssef Rddad

When University of Minnesota journalism junior Taylor Johnson opened a letter inviting her to join an honors society, she said she thought she received an offer to an exclusive club. But as she read into the program more, noting the $300 enrollment fee and the number of invites sent to other students, she decided it wasnâÄôt worth it. JohnsonâÄôs situation is not uncommon, and the University is recommending students look into honors programs before signing up. Still, due to the high number of emails and letters students receive from various programs, students may be throwing out more reputable invitations. Membership fees for honors societies often come at a price, costing up to hundreds of dollars. âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of red flags, especially when they ask for money,âÄù Johnson said. The Minnesota Data Practices Act allows anyone to request contact information from the University, which can include studentsâÄô emails, phone numbers and address listed on One Stop. According to the UniversityâÄôs Office of Undergraduate Education, the school does not sell studentsâÄô information, but because the school is a public institution, businesses can pay a $50 processing fee to collect public information under the Minnesota Data Practices Act. Sometimes these businesses sell contact information lists to other companies, including honors societies. The University is unable to prevent honors societies from contacting students, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster said. âÄúStudents really have to be savvy and wise consumersâÄù McMaster said. âÄúBut they get these blanket requests that go out to many, many students, and theyâÄôre not exactly honorific.âÄù McMaster said honors societies that are specific to fields of study can be more useful than others. Former University Phi Beta Kappa chapter president and professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies Carol Klee said she has heard of students receiving multiple mailings from honors programs and throwing away acceptance letters from well-established programs. âÄúSome students at the âÄòUâÄô may not be aware that Phi Beta Kappa is a legitimate honor society,âÄù Klee said. Dating back to 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is one of the oldest honors societies in the country and has a number of requirements, including knowledge of a foreign language and math. The Association of College Honor Societies, an organization that evaluates honors societies, certifies 66 honors societies that meet certain standards, including societies offering programs to academically strong students in the top 20th percentile of their class. The UniversityâÄôs chapter of the Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement president Macy Johannsen said she often is asked if the honor society is legitimate. The UniversityâÄôs chapter was founded in February. The nonprofit organization isnâÄôt accredited by the ACHS and has a $95 joining fee. âÄúI think itâÄôs good that students do investigate SCLA and ask their friends,âÄù Johannsen said. College of Liberal Arts Student Board President Samuel Fogas said heâÄôs received multiple messages and emails asking him to join honors societies since his freshman year, including a company that used Greek letters to resemble organizations like Phi Beta Kappa. âÄúWhen theyâÄôre so indistinguishable, it makes it really hard to tell which ones are reputable and which ones are not,âÄù Fogas said. âÄúItâÄôs easier to just throw them all out than sift through the ones and do the research.âÄù