Growth in honors program leads to overcrowding

John Buckley Hall, the default freshman honors housing, has had overflow into Shippee Hall for the past few years. Next year, a new dorm for honors STEM students will be available, although Connecticut Commons, another honors housing option, will be torn down to make room for the new recreation center. (Jason Jiang/Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut’s honors program has grown significantly in the past several years, resulting in overcrowding in some courses. 

The increase in honors enrollment began in Fall 2008 as part of an initiative by former UConn President Michael Hogan, said Jaclyn Chancey, who is the honors program assistant director for curriculum, assessment and planning. Overall, the program has increased by 738 students since Fall 2007, Chancey said.

“That initiative saw our first-year enrollments rise from approximately 300 honors students each year to approximately 425 each year,” Chancey said. “That target then increased to approximately 500 in Fall 2014 due to CT NextGeneration and the addition of 75 STEM Scholars.”

Chancey said this growth has not translated into larger class sizes, as the average capacity of an honors course during the 2014-15 year was 19.4 students, excluding independent studies, thesis writing or additional one-on-one courses. 

Despite this small average, some departments experience difficulty when class registration begins. UConn chemistry professor William Bailey teaches an honors section of organic chemistry. Enrollment in his course has more than tripled since Fall 2007, rising from 28 students to 90 this spring.

His class is “capped” at 90, and Bailey said this makes it difficult for students to arrange their schedules and creates a different learning environment.

In smaller classes, “you learn more and it’s much better for the professor, too,” Bailey said. “It doesn’t matter to me if there are 400 students or 20, but it’s a very different experience.” 

Chancey said that the honors program is constantly working to help departments pinpoint areas where additional honors sections are needed. 

“Ultimately, all decisions about course scheduling are made by academic departments," Chancey said. “This year saw additions in psychology and economics. There may be additions in introductory chemistry next year.” 

Honors sections are still subject to similar constraints other courses are faced with, Chancey said, including shortages in classroom space, lab space and available instructors. However, 97 percent of honors courses have 30 students or fewer, and Bailey’s organic chemistry course has 75 less students than the non-honors equivalent, Chancey said. 

Sixth-semester PNB major Samantha Rosicke said that the most difficult problem she faces in the honors program is receiving honors conversions for upper-level PNB classes.

“I've had professors say they don't do conversions for their class or that they only allow a small number of honors students to participate in an honors conversion event (like periodic discussions),” Rosicke said. “With a limited number of honors conversions available, it has been very stressful trying to make sure that I have enough honors credits to graduate with honors in my major.”

Other students said they find it challenging to fit certain courses into their schedules.

“I think that the real challenge is being able to fit in those specific honors sections into my schedule,” sixth-semester pathobiology and nutritional science double major Tulsi Mali said. “It is difficult to create a schedule with all the classes I need when there is only one honors section offered for a class.”

According to Chancey, the honors program has increased efforts to analyze the courses students will prefer to take as honors and communicate this information to departments to reduce the number of under enrolled sections.

“This has also helped us work with departments to identify areas where honors sections may be created most efficiently,” Chancey said.


Megan Krementowski is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at megan.krementowski@uconn.edu.