Is an Additional Epic Fund Necessary for A More
Challenging Academic Environment?
Earlham aimed to enroll 10 percent of the incoming class of 2022, in a newly-created honors program. The decision has been met by both excitement and unease within the student body. Neal Baker, Director of Lilly Library who has helped co-ordinate this latest iteration of the Honors Program, stated that the selection process is based on “ACT/SAT scores, GPA, and perceived difficulty of high school curriculums.” At the moment, 36 students have joined the program.
In the past, Baker reports, Earlham has offered similar opportunities to students, such as “the Fall 2016 Global Scholars Program via EPIC, the Spring 2015 Honors Colloquium… and honors colloquia with multiple sections taught in 2001 and 2002.” Recent years have brought increasing pressures to establish a program for highly-motivated students as more and more institutions offer competitive Honors tracks and as “We’re now competing with major and regional state universities for “honors” students, not to mention other liberal arts colleges,” explained Baker.
Requisites and Incentives:
Students in Earlham’s Honors Program must maintain a 3.4 GPA and attend required courses. These courses include attending Honors seminars both semesters of the student’s first year. These seminars are focused on reading and analyzing the New York Times as well as non-US news sources. In the spring semester of their second year, honors students will take a course which, Neal describes, will involve “using the liberal arts as a tool to solve complex, real-world issues.” And in which “Each student will select their own topic and use multiple disciplines to leverage possible solutions.” Details of the third and fourth-year requirements for honors students are still being discussed but will reportedly involve “Additional opportunities dependent on academic interests.”
Amal Tamari, an incoming freshman this year, was one of the students who first heard about this program via email, and, “debated saying yes.” Tamari explained, “but they offered a second Epic, so I couldn’t really turn it down.” Each student who received this offer was informed that they would receive a free iPad and an additional funded Epic term, valued at $5,000, upon agreeing to enter the program. So far, Tamari says the program has “been good overall,” but that “It’s not super academically challenging at the moment… this year was more about learning to work in groups and be creative in what we do. It took time, but it didn’t take a lot of brain-power.” Tamari did mention that she believes the program will improve with time.
Masha Morgunova agrees with this sentiment. “I definitely think there has already been a positive shift in the curriculum,” Morgunova said. “Since last semester, the program for my class, specifically, has started to get more academically demanding, non-US centric news sources have been introduced and it’s just gotten more fun.”
Tamari also voiced a certain level of discomfort in the program’s arrangement, “I feel like there are so many people who should be in the program that aren’t. I don’t think it is a fair system overall, and I feel bad – it’s like the perks are too good.” Morgunova felt that it was not necessarily the program’s arrangement, but that, “it would be better if students were allowed to send in applications because high-school grades are not always the best indicators of an individual’s complete potential.”
This uneasiness has been expressed by other Earlham students as well, who have raised issues such as whether an additional Epic Fund is relevant to a more challenging academic environment. Morgunova felt that, “it would be better if students were allowed to send in applications to ma
The benefits and offerings of the Honors Program may continue to change as the honors program grows and develops. “Questions very much on our minds are: selection criteria, how to enroll into the program students who find their academic voice during the course of their first year at Earlham but perhaps not in high school, how large the program might be relative to budget realities, and how to connect with existing majors/academic programs.”
Fiscal uncertainty is an increasing concern for nearly every department at Earlham as the college faces impending budget cuts, and the new Honors Program is no exception. Both Baker and students are aware of the fragility of this new program. Shared Tamari, “They mentioned that there have been other Honors programs that have run through Earlham’s career, but they’ve never really lasted, so I don’t even know if this one will last.”
“Donor generosity makes it all possible,” reports Baker. The latest, new Honors Program is a work in progress and planning in terms of which faculty might do what next year — individuals, departments, programs, divisions — has become more tentative given the $8 million budget reduction underway.”