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University Honors Program flying high

May 7, 2012
An NIU Honors student looks for a book at Founders Memorial Library.

An NIU Honors student looks for a book at Founders Memorial Library.

Bolstered by a set of new recruitment efforts, Vision 2020 initiatives and the new Honors House that will open in August, the Northern Illinois University Honors Program is building major momentum heading into the 2012-13 academic year.

University Honors’ May graduating class will be a record setter at 166 students, compared to 104 in 2011, said Christopher Jones, associate vice provost for University Honors.

Not to worry, though. A new crop of stellar students will more than replace those graduating seniors.

The entering University Honors freshman class stands at 212 students with months of recruiting left. That compares with a freshman class of 165 in August of last year. What’s more, the credentials of the new honors freshmen are higher than ever, Jones said.

To date, 185 high-ability freshmen have accepted NIU scholarships, and more are expected.

Most of these students have joined or will join the University Honors Program. They boast ACT scores of 27 or higher and have high school GPAs of at least 3.75 or are ranked in the top 5 percent of their classes.

“Twice the number of students who meet these academic criteria have confirmed their admission when compared to students who enrolled at NIU last fall,” said Anne Hardy, director of the NIU Scholarship Office. She added that 28 of those scholarship recipients scored 32 or higher on the ACT.

The Vision 2020 Initiative, chaired by NIU President John Peters, has helped spur University Honors’ growth.

The initiative aims to create and implement a new vision for NIU: becoming the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest and establishing strategic goals for the coming decade.

An NIU Honors student uses a library computer.

An NIU Honors student uses a library computer.

“Vision 2020 makes the success of University Honors an institutional priority, and I’m very pleased with the trajectory of the program,” Peters said.

“By attracting more top high school students, providing significantly more academic scholarships and engaging more students in University Honors, we are meeting our objectives and demonstrating NIU’s commitment to providing a world-class education for high-performing students.”

University Honors’ total enrollment currently stands at 993 students. That represents an impressive 15 percent increase over August 2010 totals and is ahead of May 2011 enrollment.

It doesn’t hurt that NIU is relocating its living-learning community for honors students. The Honors House will move from Douglas Hall to the state-of-the-art new residential complex in August.

“We now have students coming to NIU because they want the complete package – strong academics, the Honors Program, the Honors House, engaged-learning opportunities and merit scholarships,” Jones said. “Because those things are available, we’re having success recruiting exceptionally strong students.”

Other signs of growth abound. The University Honors Program:

  • Will kick off a major new initiative in the fall semester whereby the number of stand-alone University Honors courses will double the number offered in fall 2011.
  • Recently initiated its first mini-capital campaign, the Rachowicz Giving Challenge, made possible by a generous matching gift from Earl and Cindi Rachowicz.
  • Finalized a new College of Engineering-University Honors Program that will be launched this August. It will ensure a new group of high-ability students graduates from NIU with honors, and it provides a model for customizing honors education in other NIU colleges.
  • Laid the groundwork for an increase in the number of University Honors students from traditionally underrepresented groups, thanks to collaborative links with campus units, such as the Latino Resource Center, Asian American Center and Center for Black Studies.
  • Increased support for students studying abroad, thanks to strategic planning and other resources and an ongoing collaboration with the Division of International Programs.
  • Started a prestigious University Honors Summer Scholars Program as well as a new summer camp for high-ability high school students, with the hope they will become future NIU honors students.
NIU Honors students relax around the piano.

NIU Honors students relax around the piano.

Jones, who stresses these positive changes are the result of a broad campus-wide effort, said he is indebted to all who have supported the Honors Program and makes special note of faculty contributions.

“The bottom-line is there would not be a viable University Honors Program without the  academic support of many dedicated faculty members who direct honors capstone projects, teach stand-alone honors courses, oversee honors in-course contracts and lead honors mini-sections,” Jones said. “A stronger University Honors Program will lead to a stronger NIU and have positive impacts that extend well beyond individual honors students and the Honors Program.”

For more information, visit Room 110 of the Campus Life Building, call (815) 753-0694 or email [email protected].