On a university campus with nearly 14,000 students enrolled, there are between 400 and 500 honors scholars at ETSU.
ETSU’s Honors College is exclusive, but the programs reap great benefit from that. One way to measure that success is the National Collegiate Honors Council.
Each year, the council holds a conference to “support and enhance the community of educational institutions, professionals and students who participate in collegiate honors education around the world.” They facilitate this conference by a display of undergraduate research abstracts.
Typically, universities have two-thirds, or 67 percent, of their submissions accepted into the council. Since beginning submissions three years ago, ETSU has had a 100 percent acceptance rate, with one in 2013, five in 2014 and four in 2015.
Joy Wachs, University and Midway Honors Scholars Director, attributes these successes to the programs’ ability to facilitate one-on-one mentorships between faculty and students.
“Everyone in the Honors College completes mentored research and undergraduate theses,” Wachs said. “Many schools have given up on that because of time and recourses. We have faculty who are committed to both undergraduate and graduate student research.”
The ETSU Honors College has 26 different programs. Students in the University Honors program enter as freshman and complete all four years within the honors curriculum.
The Midway Honors program is specifically for transfer students, which Wachs says is a unique program, being the “only one that [she] knows of in the country.”
Another program is Honors in Discipline, and depending on the respective department, this program admits both freshman and transfer students.
“We have extraordinary students and terrific programs,” Wachs said. “Each student completes research and are funded in one way or another through scholarships that allow them to do everything that they are involved in.”
However, despite inherent successes, there have been rising concerns from students and administration that the exclusivity of these programs may deter students who may otherwise pursue an honors degree.
ETSU President Brian Noland has expressed that he hopes to increase honors enrollment significantly in the coming years, which may result in some changes to the current honors system.
“One of the factors that limit students in honors are the scholarships,” said Wachs. “There are a lot of students on this campus who would make great honors scholars, but there are not the resources for them.”
There are currently 22 University Honors scholarships for either in- or out-of-state for tuition, fees and a book allowance, 20 Midway scholarships and 110 in-state for Honors-in-Discipline scholarships for each graduating class.
“The other issue is that if we really want everyone to do research, there is a finite number of faculty who can do that research,” Wachs said. “If we have 5,000 honors students we don’t have the resources to continue supervising research.”
“I think if you were to look at other honors program, and look back at the origins of ours, the distinction is clear,” Wachs said. “Dr. Rebecca Pyles was our founding dean and it is her leadership and vision that created this honors college into what it is today.”