U honors feels strain of more STEM students

UHP aims to admit 10 percent of students from each college.

U honors feels strain of more STEM students

Jill Jensen

An additional 48 science, technology, engineering and math students admitted to the University of Minnesota Honors Program in fall 2011 are straining program resources.

Last week, the University announced its plan to increase enrollment in STEM fields by about 1,000 undergraduate students starting next year. More qualified STEM applicants could stretch the programâÄôs resources even further.

Admitting more students than targeted in these fields has created a constraint in class and adviser availability, said Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

The seven freshman-admitting colleges have set targets for the number of freshmen that should be admitted to the Honors Program. McMaster said the overall goal is 10 percent from each college.

According to University data, almost half of 587 freshmen in the Honors Program in 2011-12 are from the College of Science and Engineering, the College of Biological Sciences or the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences âÄî colleges that are more popular with STEM students.

CFANS, CBS and CSE all admitted more students to the Honors Program than previously targeted due to applicant quality, McMaster said. CBS had the most overflow because it admitted about 25 students more than its target of 60.

âÄúWe felt that there were students that really should be in honors and even though we were sort of exceeding our targets, we really wanted to attract these students to the University of Minnesota,âÄù McMaster said.

Because the Honors Program runs on a âÄúvery tight budget,âÄù he said it canâÄôt hire more advisers or add curriculum as needed.

With the increased number of students, the program was short on room in Honors Calculus 1. The Office of Undergraduate Education paid for a second discussion section during fall semester, McMaster said.

Nathan Gray, the teaching assistant for the Honors Calculus 1 discussions, said via email there are about 35 students in each section.

For some students, discussion is a crucial part of building mathematical skills.

Discussions are more personal so students can voice concerns and questions, he wrote.

The extra students have also burdened the advisers in UHP, who typically advise about 250 students, said Serge Rudaz, founding director of UHP. He said while the advisers can handle the increase in students, it adds extra pressure.

âÄúWe are working at capacity, and so any little perturbation needs to be taken care of,âÄù Rudaz said.

He said every department, including UHP, âÄúoperates on a knife edgeâÄù in terms of providing resources.

CSE and CBS have historically admitted students with the highest average ACT scores.

For the fall 2011 freshman class, the average ACT score in CBS was 30.4 and 30.6 in CSE. The College of Education and Human Development brings up the rear with an average score of 24.4 with only 17 of its students in the Honors Program.

But the admissions process for UHP uses âÄúholistic review,âÄù McMaster said. It does not depend purely on statistical information like GPA or ACT scores.

He said more STEM students were admitted because of the quality of applications, but the University still wants to represent students from each college. The school doesnâÄôt want it to be âÄústacked.âÄù

âÄúItâÄôs an art, not a science,âÄù McMaster said.

He said the University would be more cautious in the admissions process next year to avoid another tight scenario.