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Honors students want more options

Honors students at the University of Alabama enjoy the benefits that the Honors College has to offer, but they see some problems with the system.

The Honors College equips students with opportunities for faculty engagement and a heightened academic experience at UA through smaller classes and demanding curriculum. However, the program is not as accessible as it could be, some honors students say.

To graduate with an Honors designation on their transcript, students have to complete 18 hours of Honors courses, which is equivalent to six courses. The difficulty of completion of these requirements varies for each student, depending on major and the amount of credits they have coming into UA.

Major-specific Honors courses, called Departmental Honors, are one type of credit students can use to fulfill the Honors requirements.

Ryan Riha, a freshman finance major and Honors student, entered with 34 credits and is thankful that Honors classes are provided within his major’s curriculum. He doesn’t know how practical it would be to meet the requirements in a timely manner in order to use his current scholarship for graduate school without them, he said.

A majority of majors do not have Honors courses specific to them available, however. Less than half do.

The major with the most new Honors students in 2017 was mechanical engineering with 205, according to the UA Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. There are currently no Departmental Honors courses specific to that major.

The lack of availability means fulfilling the requirements elsewhere, which can also present problems for some students.

“I think it’s unfortunate for students who came in with a lot of credits and now can’t get their Honors credits through the normal freshman classes like most people do,” Riha said. “They should make more Honors classes available.”

Freshman political science major Grace Overholtz plans to get as many of her honors credits through general education courses as she can, because there are none offered within her major, she said.

There is a compromise for students that don’t have the option of Departmental Honors courses in the Honors by Contract program. Honors by Contract courses allow students to work with a professor to potentially do extra work in a standard class to get Honors credit.

Sydney McCain, a junior pre-med student and Honors Year One mentor, thinks UA doesn’t need more major-specific Honors courses for this reason.

UA only allows a student to do two Honors by Contract courses, however. Allowing students to take more than two Honors by Contract classes could solve a lot of the problems people have with the Honors system, McCain said.

Students also have issues with the standard Honors courses. Honors classes are inherently small due to the Honors College’s goals of student engagement with faculty. This means there is a very limited number of spots in each Honors class.

It takes a lot of work to find a class that both fits in a busy schedule and isn’t already full, McCain said.

“It’s easy to just say, ‘They need to add more Honors classes,’ but I think that’s what they need to do to fix it,” Overholtz said.

Nevertheless, students enjoy the benefits and personal connection that comes with the smaller classes.

Being in smaller classes makes it much easier to learn, because there are far less distractions, Riha said. It’s easier to interact with the professor and fellow students in the classes as well, he said.

As of 2017, the Honors College had 9,772 students in the program of the total 38,563 students enrolled at UA, according to the OIRA. They make up a large portion of the student population, and they want the availability of their classes to reflect that.


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