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Honors program striving to strike the right balance

By Raoul Biron, Contributing Writer

It’s no surprise that when having to choose between prioritizing one stressor over another, a college student will occasionally choose the snooze button, one last beer with friends or another round of video games over their studies. For the roughly 800 (active and inactive) students in the University of New Hampshire Honors Program though, the average strains of college are increased with having to take 16 credits of honors discovery courses, honors-in-major work, honors-specific seminars and maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.4.

According to the UNH Honors Program website, honors students have “access to wonderful small classes in every college,” “social events, cultural opportunities, speakers, films and advising sessions,” as well as the opportunity to “know their faculty better” and even be “recruited for post-baccalaureate opportunities.” While the support mechanisms for students that perform in the top 10 percent of their respective colleges are in place to be more than an incentive for prospective honors students, they are increasingly becoming a point of contention for some.

Schools across the country provide specific academic resources, dorms, lounges as well as scholarships and study opportunities exclusively for honors students, and some students have voiced issues with this inconsistency. “On one hand, it may create a culture where the only viable way to get a good job from college career counseling is be in the honors program,” said junior and human geography/international affairs major Jacob Moss.

“On the other hand, honor students work very hard to maintain the required GPA, and what more perfect reward would there be than to have perks like better facilities, more support and better opportunities for jobs after college?”

UNH currently only offers two scholarships that require participation in the honors program. Most of the scholarships awarded to members of the honors program are not exclusive to it. Dr. Katherine Gaudet, the assistant director of the University Honors Program emphasized that causing a potential rift between honors and non-honors students is at times a concern.

“It’s always a balance; we want to be able to offer really great experiences for these honor students, but at the same time, we’re a public institution and need to serve all of our students. We are very conscious of that balance,” she said.

UNH offers members of the honors program specific classes, available only to students meeting the requirements of the program. “The classes are meant to be at a higher, more challenging level for students who are willing to work their schedules to accommodate that. I want to mention that the benefits aren’t limited to honor students,” Gaudet said, explaining that Inquiry Courses, 444 seminars and even its thesis programs originated within the honors program before being made available to every student. “In a way, the honor students are guinea pigs for ideas that later get extended to the whole student body.”

The honors program is closely tied to the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research and the study abroad programs, neither of which is exclusive to honor students.

Unusually, there is also no exclusive dorm for honors students on campus. While honor students get priority to live in Hubbard Hall, they only make up around a third of the residents. The rest live under a “making the grade” theme, generally expressed as a desire to live in an environment with slightly higher academic expectations.

While the university’s non-honor students don’t actively voice a grievance with the perks of being an honors student, there is a slight concern within the honors program regarding its own sense of community.

“We don’t feel that our honors community is very cohesive; we don’t want our honors students to be separate from campus. We aren’t a gated community,” Gaudet said.

UNH’s Honors Program is looking to unify the students participating in it further and be as inclusive as it can be but also remain a major attraction to prospective students as well. “One of the goals of the honors program is to attract some of the best students coming out of high school, students that might have other options when it comes to college and providing them with a challenge,” Gaudet said.

Of the UNH students who start as an honors student, about a third will actually graduate with honors.

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