The lack of Honors benefits: A retention issue

by Darby Ratliff

Future Opinion Editor

As registration for rising seniors draws near, I decide to sign up for yet another All-College Honors class. I will be filling the Literature requirement for the third time over and following through once more on why I was attracted to the program in the first place: its classes. However, the classes are one of the few remaining perks that the department is able to offer anymore. With the movement of the freshmen Honors floor out of Dugan and into Bosch, the loss of George Martin as exclusive Honors housing, and the consistent refusal of administration to allow Honors students any form of priority registration, Honors is being robbed of the few perks it has. These benefits are provided in most other schools. Their lacking could eventually lead to a decrease in enrollment that may be the end of the program in and of itself.

To be fair, it’s not that I think Honors students are better than students who follow the Common Core. Many of my good friends either aren’t in All-College Honors or turned down the program when offered. In fact, Dr. Bruce Dierenfield and the Honors Student Board both typically welcome non-Honors students to many of the events we hold, wanting to encourage an integration into the Canisius community and awareness of Honors’ presence on campus. However, I think that if Canisius is willing to have such a program exist (and it absolutely should–students who want to challenge themselves in this way should be able to, and it helps retention, who are we to argue?), then it has to commit to its success. Yet, I’ve watched the program be crunched into a small office in Churchill, run by a dedicated professor and an Administrative Associate a building away who each have many other responsibilities to which they must attend.

Between friends at other institutions, working in Admissions, and having attended various conferences at other schools, I’ve heard how other institutions have us beaten on different counts. While Canisius’ community, in my mind, will always win out, Honors follows a similar pattern in which it is, in some respects, miles behind its other Jesuit counterparts. We can no longer offer an Honors floor in an air-conditioned dorm. We can’t give students the ability to take more classes than the norm (another common perk). We have one of the smallest Honors budgets in the Jesuit higher education family (both a symptom of our financial troubles but also perhaps an ignorance).

I would like to point out that a certain president is a graduate of Canisius’ All-College Honors Program (and it isn’t President Obama), and while patronage isn’t my style, it would be great to see him at some Honors events. When I was a prospective student, he came to Presidential Scholars Day (now sans “Presidential” after the loss of full tuition scholarships for Honors students), and it was surprisingly one of the most memorable speeches I’ve heard since I first started considering this institution. So memorable, in fact, that I recognized it when he gave extraordinarily similar remarks just over a month later when I came for Accepted Students’ Day. I do understand that the president is a busy man, and I’ve enjoyed many of my interactions with him. However, just as “Always a Griffin” is building in prevalence on campus, it would be nice to see a similar loyalty to the All-College Honors Program.

All is not lost. With the ratification of the Honors Student Association’s constitution in Senate not too long ago, Honors students are offered a new way to build community on campus, especially through events that are open to more than the Honors College itself. The professors themselves have offered the best classes I’ve had at Canisius, one of which even pushed me to change my major. My thesis, as grueling as it was, is one of my favorite pieces of work (it probably helped that I wrote on Captain America), and it was great to work with the grandfatherly Dr. Bob Butler over in English.

In the end, treating the problem of the All-College Honors Program isn’t going to find a cure to our institutional financial and administrative troubles, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Honors students should at least be able to register with the class before theirs, if only to ensure that they are able to finish their requirements with the limited options we are able to offer each semester. The Honors College and its benefits can prove to be an important marketing tool, especially if Canisius is looking for “an academically strong student body” as President Hurley suggested in his Convocation Address. We can certainly be more competitive in both the Honors and non-Honors arenas, and while I’d love to see Dr. Dierenfield’s Atlas-esque dedication carry the day for the program, I’d also hate to see him break his back.

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