Preliminary Results from the Survey of Community College Honor Programs: Student Equity Implications

Chair, Equity and Diversity Action Committee

According to the Honors Transfer Council of California (HTCC) website (, over 50 of the California community colleges belong to the council, represented by an honors or scholars' program director (a faculty member) and a designated honors or scholars' counselor. The Equity and Diversity Action Committee's survey of honor programs administered earlier this year elicited 58 college responses, though only 36 from colleges with an honors or scholars' program. In a belated response to Resolution 20.04 from Fall 1999, EDAC sponsored a breakout on the survey results at the Spring 2007 Plenary, which generated discussion and information, particularly for several colleges that are about to start or have only recently started programs.

Of the 36 colleges that responded that they had an honors or scholars' program, the overwhelming majority (34) reported that their programs were designed to provide for more academic rigor for transfer students. In line with HTCC, 31 of the colleges replied that the basic goal of their honors program is transfer. Most (33) use specific criteria to determine a student's admission to the program, including grade point averages (33), a certain proficiency level in English (23 require students to be eligible for college-level English), and a separate application process for the program (30). Moreover, the majority of the students in these programs transfer to the University of California system, ranging from 70-75% for some programs or in terms of numbers, as many as 250-300 students.

Given the focus and goals of these programs, student equity issues should be considered. Yet, only 11 of the 36 colleges provided some data regarding the numbers of students they actually had in their programs, and of those, only eight provided a profile of the student population participating in their programs. Moreover, given the costs associated with these programs, the implications can give pause. Half of the surveyed programs (18) provide early interventions to help students. Ten of these programs are administered by instructional faculty alone. Seven programs provide release time to the program administrator and additional funding. Moreover, 20 of the programs provide smaller classes to their honors students and 18 set aside specific course sections for students in their programs.

The area that elicited the most discussion in the breakout centered on the students in these programs disaggregated by gender and race, especially because of the focus on transfer, particularly to the University of California system. The data on the following page show that female students tended to be disproportionately more likely to enroll in these programs.

However, when examining the programs by ethnicity/race, one can draw two very different conclusions. To some degree, the smaller programs appear to "cherry pick" students for the program and have profiles somewhat close to or exceeding the proportion of students, particularly Latino/a students, than their proportion at the college. The larger programs, on the other hand, show a disproportionately high percentage of Asian American and/or White students.

The data generated a great deal of discussion, especially in light of post-Proposition 209 transfers and admissions of Latino/a and African American students to the Ucs. Issues of recruitment, the development of programs focusing on the transfer of minority students, and ensuring the success of all students provided more topics of discussion.

At a minimum, all honors and scholars' programs need to keep data on their students because of the student equity issues. Only when local colleges have a clear view of who their honors or scholars' students are can they begin to address these issues.