Honors runs on low funds

A review found the University Honors Program has a lower budget than its peers.

by Roy Aker

An external review of the University of Minnesota’s Honors Program found that its budget is low for its size.

The program runs on $1.5 million for its 2,300 students, according to a spring 2013 external review recently obtained by the Minnesota Daily, and some students, especially in the College of Liberal Arts, say honors courses are lacking.

University Honors Program Director Serge Rudaz said increasing the program’s budget could lead to more honors courses. But Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said he “doesn’t see the honors budget increasing significantly.”

Since the Honors Program launched in 2008, McMaster said it has been able to grow and allocate resources despite budget cuts. Rather than increasing the program’s funding, he said it will have to “become even more efficient.”

The review noted that one similarly sized honors program had a $2.5 million budget.

Political science sophomore Sarah Flinspach said major-specific honors courses are lacking.

“A lot of the times, there’s only one section of honors, and if you can’t get that to fit in your schedule, well then you’re stuck,” she said.

Flinspach said she has had to enter honors contracts for non-honors courses to fulfill University honors requirements. In an honors contract, students sign an agreement with a professor to register for a non-honors course, but they take on extra class material.

Because of the contract, Flinspach said she ends up completing extra work alone when she’d rather learn with other students in the classroom via an honors course.

The College of Science and Engineering offers more honors courses than CLA. But mechanical engineering sophomore Anirudh Srivatsa said it was very difficult to find honors classes for requirements he hadn’t already fulfilled with Advanced Placement credits.

Because of its size, McMaster said CLA has had trouble finding professors to teach honors courses.

Unlike some other honors programs, University faculty teach honors courses in addition to non-honors ones. McMaster said there are no specific honors program professors.

Josi Lillion, a marketing and English sophomore, said she’s only been able to find honors courses that satisfy liberal education requirements.

“I haven’t been able to find any honors classes that are within my major,” she said.

Lillion said the University could add opportunities for honors experiences — another component honors students must complete.

Honors experiences can include research, creative projects, studying abroad, internships or other options. Lillion said students must petition an experience unless the honors program has pre-approved it.

Institutional support

Christian Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University, was one of three people who conducted the University Honors Program’s external review last spring.

Brady said funding is important to a healthy honors program, but the University Honors Program also needs administrative support to boost its number of honors-only courses.

“The president and the provost need to say, ‘We feel it’s imperative that more honors courses be offered,’ and they need to convey that to the deans,” he said.

Some faculty members may want to teach an honors course, Brady said, but a department head must release them from another course they teach.

He said most department heads will allow faculty members to teach an honors course — but only as an addition to their workload.

“It’s really about working with the departments and helping the departments see that this is in their best interest,” he said.

Rudaz said the University Honors Program is always working with individual colleges to increase the number of honors course offerings, depending on available resources.

Looking ahead

Rudaz said because of the University’s overall budget constraints, he’s not expecting a funding increase.

McMaster said additional resources would be helpful for non-classroom components of the honors curriculum.

He said with the program’s move to Northrop Memorial Auditorium, this spring could open up space for new honors activities, like special lectures.

Rudaz said he’s proud of what the program has accomplished since it began in 2008. But he doesn’t see any growth without more resources.

“I think we’ve hit the limit,” he said.