Students disappointed in honors program

Nikki Frankel came to Northeastern with 34 advanced placement (AP) credits and was eager to take new and challenging courses through the university’s honors program. She soon discovered this would not be the case.

The sophomore English major was initially assured by faculty that she would easily be able to take honors courses in her major. But when it came time to enroll, the promised classes were nowhere to be found.

“In a way, I think the honors classes hurt you,” Frankel said.

After freshman year it becomes increasingly difficult for honors students to find classes that fit into their schedules, especially if they have a double major or a minor, she said.

With her AP credits, Frankel already filled a majority of the core elective requirements that the honors courses typically satisfy, she said. she found it difficult to find appropriate courses to fit into her schedule, but eventually settled on taking Introduction to Philosophy and Introduction to Sociology for the honors requirements, but the classes only counted as general electives, she said.

Middler physics and mathematics major Jenna Urquhart called the electives she took for her honors requirements “ridiculous.” This semester, Urquhart is taking her last two out of six classes to fill the Honors Course Distinction.

“The program doesn’t nurture its students the way they claim they are going to do,” Urquhart said. “It’s totally worth it to get housing freshman year, but other than that most people just drop out.”

While honors students enjoy apartment-style housing freshman year in the newly-constructed West Village F and occasional discounted or free tickets to events around Boston, some students said it doesn’t have much more to offer.

“The honors program doesn’t do that great of a job explaining what it has to offer,” Frankel said. “It seems a little unfair for kids who already have fulfilled requirements … a lot of people are not taking any [honors] courses after freshman year.”

The Honor’s Viewbook, a yearbook given to freshman honors students, said students are “expected to complete honors coursework to earn at least one of the honors program distinctions [for graduation].” Students are expected to have completed six honors courses by the end of their middler years for the course distinction, the viewbook said.

Although students must complete the six courses – including one honors seminar – for the distinction, they can still consider themselves part of the program without that distinction, said Maureen Kelleher, director of the honors program.

Kelleher said students who decide to take on a dual major or minor in multiple subjects often have to choose between fulfilling those requirements or taking the six honors courses.

“We think there is enough range that most students should be able to get a healthy combination of honors courses [and be able to] come back and do research as a junior or senior,” she said.

At an open forum with President Joseph Aoun and Provost Ahmed Abdelal last week, Frankel raised her concerns about the honors program.

Abdelal said he encouraged students to do an honors thesis, a key component of honors programs at other national universities.

Frankel said she agrees with President Aoun’s encouraging students to take multiple minors, dual majors or classes that simply appeal to them in order to be “well-rounded students.” But the honors program doesn’t work with students who attempt to do this, she said.

“There is a disconnect between how students and administration see the honors program,” she said.

Limited choices

For the Fall 2006 semester, the honors program offered 35 different courses and seven honors seminars. A few classes, such as college writing and calculus, have more than one scheduled section.

Frankel said she hears most complaints about course offerings from students in the “lesser represented majors, especially the humanities where there are usually one or no honors courses offered.”

Many of the courses offered are introductory classes intended to satisfy the core requirements defined by each college. Of the offered courses:

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