College students have a lot on their plate. After trying to balance jobs, classes, relationships and a social life, few would ever want to schedule a meeting with a professor and ask for additional class assignments. Yet that is the dilemma faced by students in the NMU honors program, who come looking for a special way to challenge themselves and end up simply loaded with extra busy work.
The program, which every year admits around 50 incoming freshmen who meet the program’s requirements, serves as an accelerated alternative to some of the basic liberal arts classes in NMU’s curriculum. Students can fulfill requirements for either lower division honors, upper division or both. As outlined on the honors program Web site, the lower division consists of four classes taken as freshmen and one science class as a sophomore.
Upper division requires the student to ‘honorize’ 12 credits and complete a capstone course. The Honors Society Organization is debating changes to the program, but they would not affect the core makeup of the coursework.
One of the biggest problems with honorizing classes is that professors simply don’t know what it means or what is required for it. Because of this, students often end up adding pages to papers or doing something else. Simply put, honorizing a class turns it into more work, not different work. If NMU is going to keep asking students to enter into these contracts, it needs to invest resources in educating professors as to how to optimize the time and efforts of honors students.
There are several other major problems with the program, starting with the most basic lower division requirements. One of the biggest draws honors has going for it is the fact that the four freshman courses will substitute for liberal arts requirements like EN 111 and 211. Unfortunately, many students who pursue an honors track took Advanced Placement courses in high school and often tested out of those liberal arts requirements anyway. Instead of being able to bypass them entirely, they must now take other classes that will count for credit they have already earned.
The capstone course seems to epitomize the honor’s college’s issues. To complete the capstone project, students must design, develop and present a research project to culminate their experiences. This is worth no university credit. Worst of all, most majors and areas of study at Northern already require some sort of thesis or capstone project. Unfortunately for honors students, the honors capstone does not substitute for their initial one, it is simply added to it. Once again, not different work, just more work.
Honors students should not be punished for wanting to experience more than is offered in the basic courses. Their ambition, however, should equate to more than just a heavier course load. The program faculty should take into account that most honors students have credits coming into college. Perhaps one solution would be to make the program analogous to a minor, creating a series of classes students must take five of to earn the distinction of graduating “with honors.” That way, students will take the same number of credits they otherwise would, and a normal courseload will be replaced by a different one, not a larger one.