Academic Program Review of the

University Honors Program

April 2007

 

Prepared by the Academic Program Review Subcommittee:

 

Michael Hoffman

Victoria Calmes

 

BACKGROUND:

 

The University Honors Program (UHP) resides in the College of Liberal Studies and is administered by a Program director and a committee comprised of faculty who teach in the Program. Students in this 15-credit Program take honors classes within various General Education categories. In recent years, the Program has averaged about 142 students, with about 16 graduating per year.

 

The Program submitted its self-study to the Dean’s office in the fall of 2006. There was no external review of this Program.

 

SUMMARY OF THE SELF-STUDY:

 

Summary of program goals and objectives:

 

The original goals and objectives, from when the Program was started in 1978, focused on providing an avenue for recruitment and retention of exceptional, academically unique students. Over the years, the “exceptional” students that the UHP sought to attract became the norm as admission to UWL became more selective. Thus, many of the original goals and objective are somewhat outdated. In 1998, as part of an effort to enhance the UHP, this Statement of Purpose was developed:

 

The University Honors Program is designed to develop and strengthen the critical skills of reading, writing, judging, and thinking.  These objectives translate into practices and curriculum, activities and expectations that deliberately and systematically cultivate the life of the mind. The University Honors Program reflects a serious questioning of what an educated person should know and know how to do. The University Honors Program integrates knowledge, encourages research, promotes reason, cultivates awareness, and in so doing, honors the life of the mind.

 

To reflect the fact that incoming UWL students are better prepared for college, and to provide direction for future restructuring of the UHP, the following tentative Mission Statement was developed in 2005.

           

           The University Honors Program is General Education that teaches students to apply their university education to making a difference.

Summary of how the Program attempts to reach its goals and objectives and the extent to which those goals and objectives have been achieved:

 

The UHP has a dedicated director and talented faculty committed to delivering quality instruction in small class settings. The Program has engaged in strategic planning in recent years, but implementing changes for improvement has been difficult. This is largely attributed to the UHP being embedded in the General Education curriculum and, since General Education has been in a state of protracted limbo, progress on UHP initiatives has not been possible.

 

NOTABLE STRENGTHS OF THE PROGRAM:

 

  • The biggest strength of the UHP is being able to offer small classes taught by committed, talented faculty.
  • Students were very satisfied with the Program and also identified the small class size as the Program’s most important benefit.
  • The UHP offers faculty the opportunity to test innovative pedagogy.
  • The UHP has a director (Deborah Hoskins) who is very aware of multiple issues concerning the UHP and is dedicated to improving the program.

 

NOTABLE WEAKNESSES OF THE PROGRAM:

 

A number of important issues currently face the Program.

 

  • The UHP lacks a clear identity.
  • The role of the UHP in the University needs to be better defined and articulated.
  • The UHP has been hit hard by budget cuts and has had to reduce course offerings and restrict enrollment in the Program.
  • Assessment of student learning has been weak.

 

Purposes:

 

The UHP has an identity problem. Students and faculty are, in general, not very aware of the Program. Additionally, the role of the UHP for this University is not well defined or understood. As an example of the identity problem, the goal to “provide an avenue through which the University’s concrete commitment to developing academic excellence can be achieved”, taken from the 1977 goals and objectives, does not distinguish this Program from any other on campus. To address these issues of identity, there first needs to be an open, campus-wide discussion on the importance and role of the UHP at UWL.

 

If this discussion affirms a role for the UHP on campus there may be a need to restructure the Program. The UHP was first established to help recruit and retain exceptional students. The Program can still serve this function. However, exceptional students now coming to UWL often have 30-40 credits and therefore have fulfilled numerous General Education requirements Thus, potential UHP students don’t enter the Program because they do not want to take extra courses in General Education categories they have already tested out of. Furthermore, the UHP is striving to be more interdisciplinary, but that has been difficult given the need to fit classes into the established General Education categories. Both of these points indicate a need for rethinking the structure of the UHP. The current director is very aware that a unique character for UHP has not been defined but, with UHP faculty, has developed ideas for the future identity and structure of the UHP.

 

Curriculum and Personnel:

 

University Honors Program classes are taught by faculty “borrowed” from various departments. Even when the UHP can provide replacement costs, it has become increasingly difficult for departments to release faculty to teach in the Program. Recently, because of this problem, the number of Honors courses taught per semester dropped to three courses. Additionally, commitments to teach Honors courses are made on a semester-by-semester basis. Because of these issues students are unable do long-term course planning and have difficulty fitting honors courses into their schedules. This is particularly a problem in the sciences where students have laboratory courses and thus more difficulty in finding open times in their schedules. The lack of accessible courses is probably the primary reason that less than 50% of the students that start the Program actually finish the Program. Obviously, given the choice between going an extra semester to take an honors course that may or may not be offered, and taking a standard General Education course, many students choose to graduate. It is imperative that, to remain viable, the UHP offers more than three courses per semester.

 

Assessment of Student Learning and Degree of Program Success:

 

Learning outcomes and an assessment plan for the UHP were developed in response to the previous Academic Program Review (in 1998-9). This assessment plan involved students keeping a variety of assignments in a portfolio. The portfolio was to serve as the source of data for assessment of student learning. However, the plan was not followed through and only a few, incomplete portfolios have been found. The plan was never embedded in the Honors curriculum. Furthermore, no assessment reports were generated from this plan.

 

Clearly, a new assessment plan is needed. As noted in the Dean’s letter, development and use of a functional assessment plan will allow the Program to determine if it is going in the right direction and show the campus the value of the Program. This process should begin with the development of learning outcomes specific to the Honors Program that represent achievable and assessable student learning outcomes.

 

Previous Academic Program Review and New Program Initiatives:

 

The UHP was reviewed last in 1998-9. Among the recommendations were:

 

1.      The Program goals and objectives should be revised to align with the mission of the University and to distinguish the Program from other across the University.

As noted previously, attempts to clarify the Programs goals and objectives have occurred, but there is still an issue with defining the identity of the Program. This issue continues to be addressed.

 

  1. The Program should revise its Program assessment.

Attempts to deal with this issue have not been successful.

 

  1. The Program should do more to recruit and retain minority students.

The Program has good relationships with Admissions, the Advising Center, the Pride Center, and the Office of Multicultural Student Services and will continue to work with these organizations as the Program changes.

 

  1. The Program should seek to gain firm commitments from departments to ensure faculty availability for the teaching of Honors courses.

This UHP agrees with this recommendation, but, due primarily to limited resources, has not been successful in securing firm, longstanding commitments to teach Honors classes.

 

It should be noted that at the same time as the previous APR report, an Ad Hoc Faculty Senate Committee was appointed to provide recommendations to guide the development of a new honors program. This was in response to Strategic Planning and Budget’s listing of an enhanced Honors Program as a priority. This committee dealt with many of the issues mentioned in the previous APR report. However, only two of the Committee’s recommendations were adopted by Faculty Senate. Other recommendations were tabled and not considered again.

 

Personnel:

 

Seven faculty, including the director, teach in the UHP. Because there is a need for more Honors courses, there remains a need to have more faculty involved in the Program. The UHP may attract additional faculty and serve an important role on campus as a Program that facilitates professional development. Opportunities related to course development and assessment driven by learning outcomes, rather than content, are needed by the UHP and the campus in general. Other opportunities for faculty development that the UHP could help foster include innovative pedagogies, and development of interdisciplinary and team-taught courses.

 

Comments on Dean’s letter:

 

The Dean’s letter was strongly supportive of the Program, but did recognize that the Program is at a crossroads. The Dean’s letter did reiterate the identity and assessment issues, and made several excellent suggestions for setting the Program on more solid ground. The suggestions were:

  • Develop a comprehensive assessment plan for UHP.
  • Consider establishing an Honors advisory council to participate in the assessment of the quality of the Program and to provide feedback on building the Program.
  • Create an Honors faculty development plan.
  • Strengthen the Program’s recruitment efforts to attract students of color and nontraditional students.
  • Involve various constituencies of the University in strategic planning initiatives for the Honors Program.
  • Increase the visibility of the Honors Program campus-wide.
  • Establish a realistic timeline for the various action steps related to Program goals.

 

 

APR’S RECOMMENDATIONS:

 

Some areas to address - the Program should submit a progress report to Faculty Senate/Provost’s Office in three years. This report should focus on progress regarding the APR recommendations.

 

Summary of recommendations:

 

  1. The University Honors Program needs to establish a solid identity on campus. This step is the most critical as all following recommendations will become easier if this first step is achieved. The process of establishing and identity could begin with a Faculty Senate discussion on possible ways the UHP could be restructured. The current director has numerous ideas on how the program could be redesigned. If a restructured program is affirmed, resources must be made available to make the new Program viable.

 

  1. The assessment strategies of the Program need to be strengthened.

 

  1. Better means for faculty to teach in the Program need to be established. This is critical as additional faculty are needed to deliver more than three courses per semester.

 

  1. The Program should continue it’s efforts to recruit and retain minority students.

 

  1. The Program should establish a timeline for the steps outlined in this recommendation.