On February 19, 2020, Dean Toni Doolen gave her second annual State of the Honors College address, providing updates and insights to honors alumni, current students, family members and supporters of the college. In it, she portrayed a college that is serving more and more students each year by remaining grounded in its core values and innovating to continually improve the student experience.
The presentation was hosted via remote meeting, meaning that supporters and friends of the college could engage from wherever they were. It was also recorded for those who couldn’t attend to view later.
Dean Doolen began by looking at the results of two recent climate surveys completed by honors students, designed to help the Honors College administration better understand how students feel about their current experience. The results were largely positive; however, they also indicated some room for development in establishing a culture that was welcoming for students from some underrepresented groups.
She then dove into one of the key current challenges for the Honors College: retaining students through graduation. When students withdraw from the Honors College, they are asked to give the primary reason for their decision from a list of options. Finances remain a major reason for withdrawal, despite the progress the college has made toward providing scholarships and grants. While fewer students cited cost as the primary reason why they dropped the Honors College in spring 2019 than in spring 2018, building scholarships resources is a continued priority of the Honors College.
Doolen emphasized that overall, though, the college has been in a period of sustained growth. Last year, the Honors College received over 1,800 applications for approximately 450 spots in the class entering in fall 2019. The college has consistently received more applications each year – even as total applications to Oregon State have remained steady or declined – and the Honors College has grown 57% since 2016. This growth has been reflected in increases in diversity and a growing focus on personal and professional development for students outside of the classroom.
“The idea here is that as individuals come into the college, we expect them to explore who they are, their identity, and that when they’re here at OSU that they are not just pursuing growth toward their academic and professional goals,” Doolen explained, “but that also part of the higher-ed experience is growth around personal goals that you have, and we see those as really going hand-in-hand.”
In fall 2019 alone, 61 external stakeholders were involved in Honors College events. These events connect honors students with alumni, community supporters and other friends of the college who have valuable professional and personal experiences to share.
“This is really critical, because part of what we’re doing is helping [students] start to think about what happens when they leave OSU,” Doolen said. “It helps them really set up their professional networks and again gain perspective from folks who are a few years further along in life than they are, and we think that’s really important.”
The increasing range of programming and coursework in the college has helped address one of the key concerns about growth; that students would become less engaged and less active in the honors community. Ninety percent of the most recent cohort of students had already completed an honors course by the end of their first term on campus. By the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, 60% of students that entered in fall 2018 had completed more than half of their required honors credits.
“Even as the college has grown significantly since 2016, we are getting more and more of our students to engage with an Honors College advisor,” Doolen said, pointing to expanding opportunities to meet informally with advisors as a primary cause for this growth. Some students are currently in a pilot program where advisors check-in via text message, and early feedback shows that the program is working well.
Doolen closed by thanking everyone for their attendance and reminding the audience that she is always open to any feedback or questions about the college. She also reminded the audience of the upcoming Day of Giving on April 30, 2020, when the Honors College will focus on building experiential learning scholarships for students.