The latest issue of the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council features a forum, Honors For Sale, that considers for-profit honors organizations.
The essays in this forum approach the topic from various perspectives and with a range of pros and cons. While there is general consensus in the essays (and in the honors community) that it is financially challenging for two-year colleges to create and sustain fully developed honors programs, there is disagreement about whether for-profit organizations such as American Honors is the best way to address this challenge. I personally am not persuaded that it is the right response for Lane.
In reading the lead essay, “The Profit Motive in Honors Education,” I share Gary Bell’s concerns that “the company will be offering, for a hefty price, a stripped-down version of the honors experience while, if more is offered at all, local personnel will be arranging the variety of activities associated with honors while the company profits from their efforts” (25). And the dollar amount is definitely a concern. Benjamin Moritz of American Honors says that their program adds an average of $2800 per year to a student’s tuition (32), although Moritz also states that the “increase is usually low enough to keep the overall tuition close to the maximum Pell Grant amounts (emphasis added)” (32).
Most of our students are already using their full allotment of financial aid and working to make ends meet. If we only provided an honors education to students who could afford almost $3000 extra in tuition, then I would have to concede that honors education truly is the elitist enterprise that some critics have claimed.
Nevertheless, there are aspects of American Honors worth examining, especially as our college faces decreased funding and our honors program faces challenges in the very areas that American Honors addresses. Two areas in particular, recruitment and advising, have been difficult for us. I found Lisa Avery’s discussion of the benefits experienced by Community Colleges of Spokane especially important to consider. It is one of the only actual examples of what happens when a college works with this organization, and she addresses recruitment and advising specifically. She notes that the assistance with recruitment resulted in 147 students enrolled in the program in the first year after the pilot program launched in 2012-2013, and she states that more than 700 people applied for admission to the program (36). She also describes the advising, explaining that “From the day students enroll, they are paired with an honors mentor, provided by American Honors, who is their single point of contact throughout their duration in the program” (36). Furthermore, the “mentors provide academic, personal, and intensive transfer support in a ratio of less than 100:1” (36). Moritz also describes the advising, noting that it involves “weekly contact with each student” and interventions “when red flags arise from low attendance, low grades, or financial aid issues arise” (31). These appear to be excellent benefits to the students and to the college.
As much as I would like to see our students receive more one-on-one advising, and as much as I would like to see higher numbers in response to our recruitment efforts, it is important to remember that students bear the cost of the recruitment and advising provided by American Honors. Avery acknowledges that honors students pay approximately 40% more in tuition (36), a cost that would certainly have prevented some of Lane’s best honors students from participating in the program.
Spokane’s relationship with American Honors is also still very new, and it remains to be seen how it will evolve and what student population it will end up serving.
After reading through all of the essays in the forum, I concluded that joining with an organization such as American Honors is in conflict with our mission statement. We are the community’s college yet we would be asking students to pay a company to provide services, such as advising, that our college should provide. This isn’t partnering, as American Honors would like us to describe it. It’s outsourcing. And it’s paid for by students. It limits the people who would receive a “Lane” honors education to those who could shoulder almost $3000 more in tuition rather than including many of the exceptional people who are currently in our program or who have graduated from it. That’s a financial cost for the students and an ethical cost for the college I don’t think either can afford.