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AU honors program

University to combine Honors and Scholars programs next fall

Students express concern over changes to merit scholarships

Two major academic programs, AU Honors and AU Scholars, will undergo significant changes next semester. 

AU Honors will expand the number of students in the program and alter how merit scholarships are distributed. The AU Scholars program will end and essentially combine with AU Honors in the new program.

Currently, the AU Honors program is made up of a first-year living-learning community, four semesters of required courses, and a research component for upperclassmen. In comparison, AU Scholars has a similar first-year living-learning community but only two required classes, a Scholars specific section of a “complex problems” course in the fall of the first year and a research course in the following spring.   

“We’re taking the best of AU Scholars and the best of Honors and trying to make a stellar honors program,” said Jessica Waters, the dean of undergraduate education and vice provost for academic student services who is overseeing changes to the program. 

The new iteration of the program will change how much merit aid honors students receive. All current AU Honors students receive a $30,000 scholarship. While all new honors students will receive some merit money, the amount will vary by student, according to Waters. 

“I’m really worried about the financial aid component,” said Nathalie Peek, a sophomore in the honors program. 

Peek explained that for many honors students, the $30,000 scholarship was the only reason they were able to afford AU and that removing the guaranteed merit aid would make it difficult to attract a diverse group of applicants.  

For Claire Mills, a freshman in the honors cohort, a variable scholarship would better serve the different financial needs of students. 

“It’s a way for AU to give a scholarship to students who need the money or another incentive to come here,” Mills said.

One of the most visible changes to the program will be the size of future cohorts. The current AU Honors freshman class has only 23 students. Next year, Waters predicts the program will look to matriculate around 60 new first-years.  

Unlike current AU Honors students, who take a designated honors class for their first four semesters, those new students will be able to choose one of four sections of complex problems courses designated only for the honors program.

These changes come after a year-long review process. Last spring, the University brought in a team of outside experts to review the current iteration of the honors program. Those experts held a series of focus groups to solicit student feedback. 

Jess Bach, a sophomore in the honors program, attended one of the focus groups. Bach said they were asked questions about their classes, team teaching and possible changes they could make to the program. The experts presented a report of recommendations to the honors administration. 

Some of that feedback included confusion over the differences between the scholars and honors groups. 

“A lot of different academic advisors didn't really understand the honors program, which was frustrating as a freshman,” Bach said. 

By condensing the two programs, Waters hopes that the new honors program will alleviate these concerns and produce a better overall student experience. 

“Running multiple honors and scholars programs can get muddled,” Waters said. “If we are able to all of our efforts and resources and time into one program, I’m pretty convinced we can have a blockbuster honors program.” 

This article originally appeared in The Eagle's March 2019 print edition

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