Honors College Dean Toni Doolen delivered the fourth annual State of the Honors College address on March 10, 2022, to a Zoom audience of about 65 alumni, faculty and staff, family members and current students.
As in past years, Toni organized her presentation around the priorities outlined in the 2020-2025 Honors College Strategic Plan (linked here). Within each priority are smaller goals to help measure specific outcomes.
Much of the data used in the State of the College presentation comes from an annual survey given in spring to current honors students. In spring term 2021 — the most recent data available — 427 survey responses were received from the 1,400 students in the college at the time.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the 2021 academic year (AY21) unlike any in the college’s history; for the first time, Oregon State University and the Honors College conducted nearly all instruction remotely. While students still lived on and around the OSU campuses in Corvallis and Bend, instruction and co-curricular activities remained mostly remote, both for safety and to allow students living elsewhere to participate.
These changes had an impact on engagement: Students participated in fewer co-curricular and experiential learning opportunities in AY21 compared to previous years. Still, in spring term 2021, the college conferred the most honors degrees ever, with over 200 honors bachelors of science and honors bachelors of arts degrees awarded, continuing the upward trend of recent years.
However, as Toni explained, the Honors College faces continuing work to improve student access and outcomes. In AY21, 38% of students who left the college cited cost as the most significant factor in their decision. In order to support all students with high- or medium-need status, Toni estimated that the college would need to give $800,000 in differential tuition scholarships. This year, the college made $233,000 in scholarship offers, an increase over past years, but still short of the need.
The college has made structural and programmatic changes to support improved student success and retention, as well. As of fall 2021, all first-year students take a required course that highlights the value of the thesis and provides an overview of the support structure and process.
“The thesis is the largest barrier for a lot of students to honors degree completion,” Toni said, “thus the huge investment that we’re making from an advising support perspective, as well as the new Stage 1 course and some of the other changes in tracking progression.”
Beyond the college’s offerings, students themselves came together to create community in honors, despite the challenges of remote learning. The Honors College Student Association worked throughout AY21 to transition honors community events to virtual formats and to create new, engaging opportunities. As a result of this and other efforts, more students reported in the annual survey that being in the Honors College was important to them and they felt like they belonged in honors.
The college continues to grow toward its goal of enrolling 7% of the total OSU student body. The Honors College received 1,933 applications for admission in 2022. Starting in fall term 2022, the Honors College will admit its first Ecampus students, adding to the college’s ability to support diverse student populations and needs.
Increasing and supporting diversity remains a major college priority.
“When we disaggregate the data, we find there are certain populations of our students who don’t experience interactions within the Honors College as positively as other students do,” Toni explained. “For example, we’ve seen a trend where students who have a lower socioeconomic status oftentimes feel left out when they’re part of the Honors College community.
“Similarly, in the past, non-gender conforming biases and ableism were reported by students, so these are definitely places where we continue to have work to do,” Toni said.
Ongoing efforts are being made to address feelings of exclusion and inequity, and the Honors College Student Leadership Circle has focused on issues of diversity and inclusion across the student experience this year.
Follow this link to watch the 2022 State of the Honors College address on YouTube.