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OPINION: Honors is worth the investment

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University honors colleges are common steadfast of many American institutions of higher education. They allow students to involve themselves in programs that challenge them academically in an environment with like-minded peers.

There is a willingness to accept honors colleges as useful and purposeful arenas in place of ultra-selective universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Rice University and New York University.

A piece by Frank Bruni of The New York Times praises public honors colleges for providing an extra level of difficulty to students who would otherwise end up at schools like Columbia. This, at least, is Bruni’s reasoning, which can be a bit pretentious, as he seems to downplay the importance and necessity of public universities.

More, Bruni selects a pair of public honors colleges as “ideal” institutions for honors-seeking students. The first is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and in a horrible lapse of judgement – or possibly a typo – chooses Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College as another example of “honors college gold standard.”

These two universities have poured years of work and millions of dollars into their individual honors programs and the results seem to be yielding positive reactions.

Bruni’s analysis is noted. It’s not a bad thing that these programs at Chattanooga and Tempe are successful. There is a reasonable demand for honors programs, one which universities are more than prepared to deliver.

The primary good point brought up in the Times piece is that honors colleges encourage students to choose public schools as opposed to Ivy League schools. This is a win for public university education, even if it is slightly patronizing – public universities are fantastic institutions which often command a similar clout as private schools.

A different, more skeptical party is doubtful of the necessity of honors colleges. Before I continue, I should mention I am a current honors student and currently benefit from the programs and resources available to honors students.

I respect the University of Arizona’s staff and fellow students for the work they do. With that out of the way, I must sympathize slightly with this sentiment in that it is a shame that these resources and opportunities aren't made available to the whole university.

There are certainly plenty of non-honors students who are just as qualified as their honors college friends. The point is, I simply hope honors colleges are used for their original point of academic altruism, rather than just personal vanity, and deliver accordingly.

In the case of the UA, it is important that we remain competitive with other state and national universities in every dimension of institutional excellence. This university must stand at the cutting-edge of research, campus infrastructure and social progress. For this reason investment in honors falls under this category.


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