In the South wing of Gearhart Hall, there is an inviting, wood-paneled room with several nap-worthy couches, desks, armchairs, natural lighting and, occasionally, snacks. This is the UA Honors College study lounge, one of the many resources and perks intended for honors students at the UofA.
Being a member of the Honors College since day one has certainly given me advantages over most other students, but as I’ve progressed in my education I’ve begun to question the ethics that guide how these advantages are distributed. I’ve also become critical of the idea that a student’s GPA sets the course for what resources are available to them.
Currently, the Honors College at the UofA evaluates students based on their GPA, or, for incoming freshmen, their ACT score. Regardless, a student’s honors status depends entirely on one number. This one number opens or shuts a door that could eventually lead to career altering opportunities.
GPA assesses only one aspect of a student: his or her ability to take tests. It completely ignores other components such as community involvement or work ethic. This is problematic for several reasons.
Foremost among them is the clear relationship between a student’s socioeconomic background and their academic performance. Data taken from the ACT records shows a difference of 4.1 points between higher income and lower income students in 2016.
Academia is often incorrectly viewed as an equalizer. While money may not be able to buy intelligence, it can buy significant advantages such as tutors and better schooling. Because of this, students from high income backgrounds, who already have more opportunities than their less-advantaged their peers, are immediately viewed as smarter and as having more potential. The result is that many students from wealthy families receive even more opportunities, which escalates the imbalance.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with high-achieving students taking classes that are more challenging and forming an exalted academic community. However, because of the aforementioned flaws within the current system of evaluation, honors schools like the UA Honors College bolster a system of privilege and inequality that excludes students who have an equally legitimate claim on the academic resources that are reserved for honors students.
To suggest that some students are more deserving of opportunity and special treatment is to contradict the fundamental purpose of higher education. Although I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given through the Honors College, I also think that the UofA should adjust the measuring stick to more accurately determine who is given these opportunities.
The advantages of being an honors student range from perks as minor as early registration to ones as significant as reserved classes, which give honors students the opportunity to work more closely with professors.
This process gives honors students a leg up when it comes to career advantages like recommendation letters and networking. The common denominator is that these advantages give a boost to students who are already academically privileged.
While investing in academically-driven students is not inherently wrong, it would be irresponsible not to consider whether or not these perks come at the expense of the majority of college students. Restricting privileges to honors students sends the message to non-honors students that they are not as deserving of their university’s best resources.
Evaluating a student based purely on a single number leaves out crucial elements that make up a whole individual. There are other areas of achievement just as important as the ability to be successful in a classroom, and the Honors College would do well to recognize this and make a place for students who excel in different branches of education.
At the very least, some form of community involvement should be a requirement for membership in the Honors College, such as participating in the Razorback Food Recovery program or logging a certain amount of hours as a tutor at the Center for Learning and Student Success (Class+). If honors students are going to receive special opportunities from the UofA, they should be required to earn their honors benefits by giving back to the community in some way.
A long-term solution is opening honors classes to all freshmen. In this way, the focus would shift away from a student’s GPA and toward their work ethic and drive to achieve. By opening honors classes to the entire student body, the Honors College would make its resources accessible to students with a more diverse range of talents.
The Honors College at the UofA has benefited me greatly, but there are plenty of other students who deserve the same. By evaluating honors students based off more than their GPA, the UofA will be better able to provide its students with the resources warranted by their overall academic abilities.