Please do not consider me for your honors college

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During my recent visit to University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I was struck by how the school’s honor’s program was presented as it’s own elite institution rather than an accelerated program within the university.  At the information session, the representative boasted about how the honors students get the best education the university had to offer. In addition to special honors seminars with smaller class sizes, they get access to personal advisers, paid fellowships,  first pick of classes, a brand new dorm, and even exclusive workshops, seminars and speakers reserved only for honors students. The program sounds less like a challenging academic program and more like a first class plane ticket. Universities often use the term “close-knit community” to describe life at these honors colleges, but what they are really saying is “exclusive community.”

As college tuition has skyrocketed in recent years, public universities, as well as less competitive private universities, have found a way to attract academically strong students: give them all the attention and coddling of a small, private liberal arts school but at a public university price. The influx of top students increases the  school’s selectivity and academic reputation, and in a few years time, the school will have a network of wealthy alumni ready to give back.

These honors colleges have a huge appeal to Townsend Harris students who often have the grades to gain admission to top colleges, but who might not be able to afford the $30,000-$60,000 a year price tags. It is no surprise then that Townsend Harris is one of the top feeder schools to the Macaulay Honors college at CUNY. The Macaulay program offers free tuition, a free laptop, private housing,  interdisciplinary seminar courses, personal advisers, and a network of internship opportunities. While all these perks can offer a great educational experience, it is only available to those who have the grades.

By giving the smart kids extra attention and rewards, we are dividing students into socioeconomic classes before they even graduate. The message these schools are sending is that the A+ students will receive more attention and be wealthier than the B students. It also sends the message that they are more deserving of these rewards because they have worked harder, when in reality the majority of them are simply more capable than the average student.

What baffles me is why these colleges give all of these benefits to the smartest students. If they’re  already smart then they should be able to find a way to learn and to get a job regardless of whether or not they received benefits. What schools really need to be doing is offering these small class sizes and career advisors to all of its students, not just the smart ones. Average students are not stupid, lazy, nor undeserving. If they are given the opportunities that the best students are getting they will undoubtedly improve.

If we want to improve this country’s education we should focus on educating all of our students, not betting all of our resources on the few at the top.

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