2023 2023: Honors College enrollment increases by 32% in just three years

2023 2023: Honors College enrollment increases by 32% in just three years
Honors College enrollment increases by 32% in just three years

Growth follows change from a program to college, higher admission standards, and increased Honors courses and opportunities

Two female students looking at a laptop while in class
Class of 2026 Honors nursing students, from left, are Aubrey Rosenblum, Maria Psichopaidas, Ashley Sevigny, Ariana Ribeiro, and Ashley DeJesus.

UMass Dartmouth's Honors College—with its innovative learning environment for academically talented students—has enjoyed a boost in enrollment since transitioning from a program to one of the university's six colleges just three years ago.

Honors existed on campus as a program for several decades. Enrollment varied during that time, and stood at 333 in 2018. Two years later in 2020, when the program became a college, enrollment increased to 357 students. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the same year, forcing students to adapt to online learning, Honors College enrollment dropped slightly.

In 2021, Dr. Amy Shapiro, professor of psychology, was named director of the Honors College. Last year in 2022, the admission standard rose from a minimum 3.2 GPA to 3.5 and applicants' high school Advanced Placement and Honors classes were strongly considered. This fall, total enrollment has jumped to nearly 500 students, a 32% increase from 2020.

According to Shapiro, improving student retention, creating more opportunities for students to complete their Honors and major requirements simultaneously, and the exciting extracurricular and enrichment opportunities offered to Honors students are the main reasons behind the college's growth.  

"It has been my goal to build a college that provides strong value and tangible benefit to Honors students," said Shapiro. "The increased enrollment and retention numbers tell me we're on the right track.”

More course options are offered through the Honors College

To graduate as a Commonwealth Scholar in the Honors College, students must complete 24 Honors credits, which are included in the 120 credits all students need to graduate. All Honors students complete the Academic Project or Experience (APEX). The APEX demonstrates students' learning and can take the form of three tracks: traditional research, performance/expression, and applied service/internship. Dean Shapiro, along with dedicated APEX mentors, work closely with students to ensure an enriching experience that will ultimately make the students stand out in a field of job or graduate school applicants.

"A lot of students indicated that the reason they were dropping Honors coursework is because we didn't have courses in their major," Shapiro said. "While we offered courses that are required for University Studies, students really wanted more Honors courses in their major. I worked with department chairs, faculty, and deans to add courses that meet both major and Honors requirements.”

One example is Abnormal Psychology, a course required of all psychology majors but also fulfills a social science requirement for non-majors. The biology program partnered with Honors to offer major courses for Honors students and laboratory placements that provide research opportunities for students' APEX projects.

"Honors biology students are getting experiences fully enmeshed with their major," Shapiro said.

A new opportunity has been created for junior and senior Honors pre-law students to take a limited number of courses at UMass Law to earn credit toward their major (not law school). Also, the Political Science Department is offering an Honors sequence for pre-law, legal studies, and political science students.

The Honors College also offers one-on-one academic advising and mentoring to students to help them stay on track with their major and Honors course requirements, as well as complete the APEX. The college provides funding to support student travel for conferences and for their research projects as well as materials.

Additionally, the Honors College offers small class sizes that facilitate discussion and student-faculty interaction and research and enrichment opportunities aligned with students' majors.

Enriching extra- and co-curricular activities for Honors students

In November, pre-law Honors students will visit the Moakley Courthouse in Boston. They'll also travel to Washington, DC on a free spring break trip where they will meet members of Congress and lobbyists, see the U.S. District Court in session, and tour the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last year, Honors College students participated in a free spring break trip to Selma, Alabama to study the civil rights movement.

CVPA students have an Honors-only pathway through their first-year courses and may receive funding for materials for their APEX projects. Pre-Health and Pre-Med students in the Chan Medical School Baccalaureate MD Program Pathway will receive Honors funding for summer room and board and have the opportunity for physician shadowing and mentoring.

All Honors students are offered free admission to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Honors Student Council plans social events while Honors students can choose to live together in a Living and Learning community.

"All of these extra- and co-curricular benefits form a foundation of Honors education nationally," said Shapiro. "A philosophy behind Honors education is to provide thought-provoking and enriching opportunities that open students' eyes and minds to the many possibilities for themselves now and post-graduation.”

Courses offered in career and life skills

This spring, the college will offer a one-credit course in career readiness called "College to Career" that will help students relate the skills they've learned in college to the workplace. They'll learn how to market themselves, create an elevator pitch for interviews, and other job- and career-related skills.

Another one-credit course will be offered in personal finance that will cover financial matters related to life after college such as budgeting, saving, selecting a retirement plan, and buying a house.