This post was updated July 7 at 12:19 p.m.
Gold and purple cords mark the students who graduate from the honors program at the end of four years.
But as it stands, not many will make it out with flying colors.
This past fall, the UCLA College of Letters and Science Honors Department announced its College Honors Pilot Program, which will create new requirements for students within the Honors department.
Currently, students must achieve a 3.5 cumulative GPA and complete between 36 and 44 units of honors coursework by their senior year. In addition, not all honors units coincide with major courses, making it difficult to balance the two. The pilot program goes further, requiring students to complete at least three experience-based courses, such as research or entrepreneurial studies. As seniors, they must maintain their coursework load and complete a culminating project or capstone in their senior year – possibly balancing it with the capstone already required by their major.
The Honors department has long promoted itself as an organization that helps students stand out in the academic pool, and the pilot program hopes to create a more connected and collaborative department.
But rather than being hands-on, the new requirements for the pilot program are all-consuming.
In order to be truly immersive, the Honors department has the responsibility to provide tailored counseling in order to combine honors material with the material for students’ majors. Students within the Honors department are often already inundated with work, making an increased honors course load difficult at best, and a deterrent at worst. Ultimately, the pilot program has the potential to force high-achieving students out of the department because they will have even more work with no increased reward.
And that is just what’s happening.
Navkaran Gurm, a first-year public affairs and economics student, said the Honors department has failed to consider the differing needs of students.
“As a public affairs and economics double major, I have found it difficult to finish the honors requirements,” Gurm said. “An honors program shouldn’t prevent students from pursuing dual degrees. To me, an honors distinction is not worth sacrificing my academic experience.”
Instead of helping students with existing requirements, more are added. And for students with double majors, leadership positions or jobs, the honors program quickly becomes out of reach.
Many honors students dedicate their time to building a robust resume outside the classroom. But with such stringent academic requirements on the part of the program, their endeavors suffer – along with the communities that benefit from them.
Ironically, the program designed for high achieving students leaves them in the dust.
Jennifer Lindholm, the director of the Honors program, previously told the Daily Bruin this new initiative was created to deliver on a request for an increased sense of community.
But any semblance of community within the program is bound to be overshadowed by an increased work-load. Rather than building a community, the pilot program prevents students from being part of the rest of UCLA. Instead, they are forced to choose between an honors title and a college experience.
And it’s not like the existing community knows much about the program anyway.
Lucy Scott, a third-year economics student in the Honors department, said she had no idea there were changes being made to the program.
This lack of communication from the Honors department is nothing new – faculty also feel the effects of constantly shifting programs.
“This year I turned away about 150 students,” said Peter Katona, a public affairs professor whose class experienced an influx of students after it was added to the Honors registrar.
This lackluster communication is a detriment to the students and faculty who are part of the program – especially considering the careful planning required of students to complete their required coursework.
And the quiet addition of the pilot program only furthers this harmful pattern.
Unit requirements vary wildly between majors – a general chemistry student has 90 units of coursework to complete for their major alone, making completing extra honors units a difficult task. But more often than not, students with busy course loads are pushed further into the periphery without proper support or guidance.
In order to create a program that serves its students, the Honors department must work with them on an individual level. An honors certificate is a symbol of an education supplemented by the challenge of honors coursework – not overwhelmed by it.
Granted, honors programs are made for students who are well-equipped to handle this level of coursework – in fact, students asked for this change in the 2010-11 UCLA Academic Senate 8-Year Program Review Process. But by failing to provide the necessary flexibility and counseling, the Honors program is merely loading on the coursework – and effectively excluding certain students in the process. The requirements of this program are not being rejected by students because they are too difficult, but because they are often impossible to complete for high-unit major or double-major students.
Succeeding in the Honors program shouldn’t force students to sacrifice other worthwhile endeavors.
For now, though, a gold and purple tassel might mean just that.