Above: Honors College Dean Toni Doolen delivers the 2018 State of the Honors College address. Photo taken before the pandemic. Please practice social distancing and wear face coverings.
On February 16, 2021, Honors College Dean Toni Doolen gave the annual State of the Honors College address via Zoom. Nearly 100 people attended the event, more than have ever previously participated. In the address, Doolen portrayed a college that, while certainly impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, continues to grow and to improve student outcomes each year.
The presentation was organized around the four strategic priorities outlined in the college’s 2020–2025 Strategic Plan and drew on data from an annual survey administered to students during spring term. In spring 2020, 41% of the students enrolled in the Honors College submitted a response.
Doolen began her presentation by recognizing both the 26th year of the Honors College and its continued enrollment growth, sharing that the class of incoming students in fall term 2020 was the largest in college history. The Honors College currently has approximately 1,600 students, representing 5.6% of the total Oregon State University undergraduate population, with undergraduates at both the Corvallis campus and OSU-Cascades.
In spring term 2020, just under 200 Honors Baccalaureate degrees were awarded, marking the largest graduating class in the history of the college. A new honors degree, the Honors Baccalaureate of Music, will be available alongside the existing Honors Baccalaureate of Arts, Honors Baccalaureate of Fine Arts and Honors Baccalaureate of Science starting next year.
The sudden shift to remote learning at the beginning of last spring was challenging for students, faculty and staff alike. The Honors College saw this reflected in both direct feedback from students and in the number of students participating in college events.
“We definitely saw a decline in the engagement of students in cocurricular activities [in spring term 2020]; part of this was definitely the result of the pandemic. When we moved in spring term very quickly to remote, we did offer a decent amount of programming, but for a lot of students just even being successful in their coursework was difficult,” Doolen explained.
Spring term proved to be a valuable testing ground for remote programming, though, and fall term 2020 saw an increase in the number and diversity of offerings.
“In many ways, the ability to provide programming remotely has allowed us to pull in more alumni and give [them] an opportunity to connect and mentor and support our current students,” Doolen added.
The Honors College is one of the units at Oregon State that requires students to pay differential tuition — a cost above the rate of credits and fees billed to all students. The college, Doolen explained, recognized the burden of differential tuition and is continually fundraising to help students overcome the barrier the tuition might raise.
“Our goal — and a lot of the work that I do in terms of fund development — is to try to get to the point where all of our students with significant financial need have an opportunity to have some sort of Honors College tuition scholarship that would at least offset the differential tuition that is specific to the Honors College,” she said.
Doolen acknowledged that trends over the past several years point to the need for more assistance for students from backgrounds with high financial need.
“One of the things that we’ve seen in the last two years is that our students who come to OSU, basically, with higher levels of financial need, oftentimes experience the Honors College in different ways,” she explained. “Once we have this sort of insight, we can actually then focus on what we need to do programmatically and what we need to do in terms of creating community to address the different types of experiences that students have.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Honors College has worked to provide increased support for students. For instance, engagement with HC advisors – an important indicator of student success — reached 77% of honors students in the 2020 academic year, up from 48% in 2016.
Doolen closed by looking forward to continued growth toward approximately 7% of Oregon State undergraduates enrolled in the Honors College, with similar levels of participation across all academic colleges.
“We expect this year almost 1,900 applications to the Honors College, so that’s really exciting,” she said. The Honors College should enroll about 1,800 students in fall term 2021.