Honors programs cut college costs

Dual enrollment, AP classes and community college honors programs can curb college costs and raise graduation rates, writes Chris Romer, co-founder of American Honors, in the Denver Post.

Students who earn college credits in high school — either through dual enrollment or passing AP exams — can earn a degree more quickly and cheaply, writes Romer, who introduced dual enrollment legislation as a Colorado state senator. They’re also better prepared for college demands.

Lastly, and perhaps the most exciting option, are community college honors programs that are providing rigorous courses, small class sizes, and personalized academic advising. This model is often known as “2+2,” meaning students complete their first two years at a community college and then finish their degree at a four-year college or university. Honors programs combine the low-cost structure of a community college with a challenging curriculum, preparing students to successfully transfer.

. . . American Honors, is saving students between 30 and 40 percent of the cost of a typical four-year education. After two years, students earn an associate’s degree with honors and are well-poised to transfer to leading colleges and universities like Amherst, Middlebury, Auburn, Gonzaga and Brandeis, to name a few of the 27 participating schools.

Only a few community colleges offer honors programs, writes Romer, but the idea is gaining popularity.

Colleges join ‘honors’ transfer network

Quad Learning‘s American Honors is creating a national transfer network to help high-achieving community college students earn bachelor’s degrees at selective colleges and universities, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Twenty-seven colleges and universities, including Amherst, Swarthmore Colleges, Purdue and UCLA, have agreed to recruit and enroll honors college transfers. Last week, New Jersey’s Mercer County Community College and Union County College joined Community Colleges of Spokane and Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College in starting American Honors programs.

The American Honors vision is to wrap a rigorous academic honors program developed and delivered by the host community colleges themselves within a bundle of American Honors-provided advising and other services that exceed what financially strapped two-year institutions usually manage themselves. (For instance, the programs have one academic adviser for every 100 or so students, compared to a ratio of about 1,000-to-1 normally.)

Quad Learning, a for-profit company, doesn’t develop the curriculum and has no plans to seek accreditation for American Honors, said president Chris Romer.

The curriculum is delivered in a blended format, with both on-ground and synchronously delivered online courses; academic and other advising is delivered both online and in person, and mandatory “transfer coaching” is done face-to-face.

Spokane’s first graduates have been accepted at institutions such as the University of Washington, Cornell, Stanford and Vanderbilt.  The program, which has tripled its enrollment, is drawing students who wouldn’t have considered community college without an honors option, said Lisa Avery, vice provost for strategic partnerships at Spokane.

Ivy Tech also is expanding American Honors to more campuses.

“From what we’ve seen, these American Honors students are going to be really good students who are well prepared and can persist and graduate,” said Kasey Urquidez, associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at the University of Arizona, which is joining the program.

State universities often have agreements with community colleges in their own states to automatically admit transfer students who meet certain academic standards, and to accept certain credits. But those deals generally do not cross state lines or apply to private colleges, which organizers say makes the new alliance the first of its kind.

A handful of universities in the group will offer automatic admission to some American Honors graduates, though the criteria for that, like grade point average, will vary by institution. None have pledged to accept all of the students’ community college credits, but administrators say they have committed to accepting as many as possible.

Some community colleges already have honors programs. Miami Dade College‘s program was a model for American Honors.

American Honors students pay more than the normal community college tuition but considerably less than they’d pay at a four-year institution.

Will students pay more for an honors degree?

Community colleges are known for low tuition — and low prestige. A new company called Quad Learning is teaming with community colleges to offer an online honors curriculum, reports Inside Higher Ed. Investors hope students will pay more for an honors degree.

American Honors is being piloted at Community Colleges of Spokane and at three campuses of Ivy Tech Community College, in Indiana.

Students enrolled in the program — which is delivered in an online, synchronous format, but with extracurricular and other face time — pay more than they would to enroll in the traditional academic programs at their institutions, but significantly less than they would at most public and private four-year alternatives.

Next year, students will compete for 160 slots in Spokane’s program, paying $5,985 for the year, compared to the normal $3,921 tuition for in-state students.

Colleges will use the extra tuition to pay Quad Learning for its technology and coaching services.

For those extra dollars, students have much smaller classes, significantly more interaction with academic coaches from their colleges and from American Honors, and much more help in college guidance to help them prepare to transfer once they’re done, said Lisa Avery, dean of American Honors and global education at Community Colleges of Spokane.

Community college instructors in the American Honors network will collaborate on curriculum development and set common learning outcomes. However, each college will be able to adapt learning materials and assign its own faculty members to teach the honors courses. Honors graduates will find it easier to transfer to top universities, predicts Quad Learning.