Honors program lags behind in enrollment, diversity

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Honors program lags behind in enrollment, diversity

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DePaul senior Sean Brogan joined the honors program his freshman year of college solely because his parents wanted him to. If he had to make the decision whether to join again or not, he said he would because the courses are easier than his other courses for his major.

“The only real benefit I can see is putting it on applications because places I’ve applied to are like, ‘Oh you’re in the honors program,’ and assume it’s this challenging thing,” Brogan said.

Brogan said the application process was very easy, and he has only ever known one person who was not accepted into the honors program.

Although some students might not join because they want to focus on their major, that has not been a problem for Brogan because he is also in accountancy honors.

In 2016, DePaul enrolled a record of 267 freshmen, 11 percent of the incoming freshmen, joined the honors program , according to the 2016 Enrollment Summary from the Division of Enrollment Management and Marketing. The first year students who enrolled in the honors program came from 224 different high schools and 36 states, according to the 2016 Freshman Admission Summary. Although the honors program is geographically diverse, it is not as ethnically diverse.

The director of the DePaul honors program, Rose Spalding, is finishing up her five-year term, but she said it is an ongoing process to increase diversity within the honors program. She said there are usually around 850 students in the Honors Program. Spalding said no one is automatically accepted into the program when they apply to DePaul. Invitations to the honors program are usually sent to high ranking students with their acceptance packets. If they want to join, students can fill out a separate application which includes writing an essay.

According to data from the Admissions Office, 58 percent of students who were invited to apply to the honors program were Caucasian, 38 percent were from diverse minority populations and 4 percent were not reported. Although almost 40 percent of students invited were students of color, only 29 percent enrolled in thehonors program while the number of Caucasians who applied and enrolled increased to 67 percent.

“This is where the problem emerges, clear 10 percent drop off in the number of respondents,” Spalding said.

Denise Macias, a senior majoring in marketing with a French minor, joined the honors program because it was a distinction and she wanted to challenge herself. She said she likes that the liberal arts classes are more organized because you take one of each subject such as religion and philosophy.

Even though she is not the type to participate in class a lot, Macias said she liked the smaller class setting because it encourages her to participate because it is a smaller, more organized discussion than some of her other courses.

“I tend to really like the discussions in the honors classes — as hard as they may be and as much as I may complain about them — because they take up a lot of my time,” Macias said. “I feel like in the end, I really do value what I learn because it made me take classes that I wouldn’t have otherwise taken.”

Although she has liked the courses she has taken, Macias has noticed that there are fewer options. She said her freshman year she wanted to take a Latino Explore Chicago course, but was unable to because it was not an honors class. She said there should be more options because the courses were drier for the honors program.

Macias also thinks her courses for the honors program have been significantly more challenging. “My last quarter for my senior year I want to focus on my major, but I feel like I can’t really do that because I’m so worried about my honors classes,” Macias said.

Although DePaul had seen an increase in the number of students of color from 8,229 in 2015 to 8,316, or 36 percent of students, in 2016, Macias said she has not noticed the increase in her four years at DePaul.

Macias said she thinks her honors program classes have not been as diverse as her other courses. Although she has had an even amount of male and female professors, Macias said almost all of her professors, with the exception of one, have been white and a majority of students are white as well.

“Out of the twenty kids there’s maybe like five that are not white,” Macias said. Even though she feels just as comfortable in the learning environments of her honors program courses as in her other courses, Macias said she would like to hear a more diverse perspective.

Despite 39 percent of the 2016 freshman class being students of color, the honors program does not have the same numbers. While 29 percent of freshmen were eligible for the federal Pell Grant for low-income students and 85 percent applied for financial aid, Spalding said around one-fifth of students in the honors program are eligible for the Pell Grant. In addition, 32 percent of freshmen are first generation college students, but only one-fifth of students in the honors program are first generation.

“We try to improve, strengthen our presentation of our diversity on our website, so we’re hoping that the message that the students get is that this is a place that is inclusive and is committed to the multiple voices that represent our community,” Spalding said. “And we do that by describing our activities, our speakers, our book, our themes.”

Spalding said one day she would like for there to be scholarships for honors program students and study abroad program initiatives especially because of the language requirement.

“There are lots of things that we can think of that are not available to us at the present, but it might be something down the road that we can hope to do,” Spalding said.

Reaching out to current and transfer students is one way the honors program can increase diversity and enrollment. Spalding said it is a simple process to join the honors program even after freshman year. They would have to meet with honors program Adviser Nancy Grossman to speak about their interest and write an essay. In addition, students who have completed between 64 and 96 hours of college work and are already in the later stage of their college career can join the honors associate program. They would take a reduced number of honors courses and complete their senior thesis.

Spalding said she and other honors program staff are working on increasing enrollment and diversity by meeting with guidance counselors from Chicago Public Schools to reach out to students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program.

“We think there is a natural affinity between IB Programs and the DePaul honors program especially with language learning and students’ intellectual aspiration and willing to take on the challenge,” Spalding said.

DePaul freshman Bertha Huerta was in the IB program at Prosser Career Academy but did not join the honors program because she did not know it existed until winter quarter this year. Huerta said if she had known about it her senior year of high school, she would have applied because she would have loved to be a part of it.

“Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence, sometimes it’s being overwhelmed with all the applications,” Spalding said.

However, it is also a lack of communication about the honors program for prospective, transfer and current students.

If there had not been information about the honors program included in her acceptance packet, Macias said she would not have applied.

Macias thinks some students might not join the honors program because they do not want the workload or would rather focus on their major. In addition, there is a lack of knowledge about the honors program.

“Even once you’re on campus, you know about the honors program, but you don’t really know how to go about it unless you like specifically search out how to apply,” Macias said.