Posted by The Editorial Board
Skidmore College's Periclean Honors Forum exists to promote the College's goals of "foster[ing] academic inquiry and creative thought and expression." Its stated goal is "to encourage students to take ownership of their academic and co-curricular education and to reflect meaningfully on their personal and professional goals."
In former years, the Honors Forum did not fulfill these goals, being far too inclusive and giving students little motivation to stick around for all four years. For many students, the Honors Forum was not something they needed to work for, but something they, to their pleasant surprise, were invited into and attempt to complete because it could look good on their resume.
However, the Honors Forum has made significant strides in the past few years working to throw off its reputation as an easy add-on to students' resumes that provided little challenge for those who actually bothered to stay in it until the end. Since then, the Honors Forum has become more competitive and desirous for students, a transformation that hopefully it will continue to undergo as the years continue.
The Honors Forum broke from Admissions in 2011, making the Class of 2015 the last class to be invited to Honors Forum based on high school merit. On average, Admissions invited approximately 75 to 80 students per class, which resulted in large numbers of dropouts from students, most commonly when faced with the Citizenship Project each Honors Forum member must undertake.
Now, students must apply to get into the Honors Forum based solely on their Skidmore merit, with the full knowledge of and willingness to complete the minor's requirements. According to Honors Forum Director Dr. Catherine Golden, of the 95 students who applied to the Honors Forum this year, 60 were accepted, 40 in the Class of 2017 and 20 from the Class of 2016.
Now that the Honors Forum members are students who actually want to be there, the disqualification rate is lower than ever, with only three students dropping out this past term and 14 put on probation. In previous terms, as Dr. Golden said, the number typically ranged from 24 to 30 students who were placed on a probationary period.
The Honors Forum has also been steadily increasing the number of honors courses available for students, with 33 courses to be available this fall semester in different departments ranging from Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, English, Mathematics, Religion, History and Psychology. In addition, students can make any class an honors class with an Honors Forum add-on or independent study.
However, life after Skidmore is just as important, and current Honors Forum students could really benefit from events that involve Honors Forum alumni. Currently, the Honors Forum website (http://www.skidmore.edu/hf/index.php) hosts only five alumni profiles, which in its current form is limited and should be added to. The Forum should also host more events like the Living the Liberal Arts College Honors Forum Induction, which invited alumni to speak about their experiences in the Honors Forums.
While the Honors Forum has made significant improvements over the years, certainly it still has room to grow and can become even better. For example, the requirement for graduation with the lowest level honor of cum laude is a GPA of 3.65. The Honors Forum's requirement is 3.5, which is by no means a low GPA, but is inconsistent with what the College determines to be exceptional. Raising the GPA requirement is in line with those for graduating with honors will not only provide the esteem students want in their honors program but, by becoming more exclusive, may build a stronger Honors Forum community.
Other, similar schools offer certain benefits to its Honors members that Skidmore's Honors Forum may want to consider. For example, at Union College, a member of the New York Six with Skidmore College, the honors program is highly competitive (up to 25 students per year accepted) and offers academic and monetary rewards. An international class is built into the honors curriculum and students receive a $2000 scholarship for travel and several other, smaller scholarships during their tenure at Union.
With its offices scattered between Bolton Hall, the Dana Science Center and Ladd Hall, a major concern for the Honors Forum is its ability to create a sense of community--something that many students have felt is lacking. While the Honors Forum has had housing Wiecking Hall for the past four years, it could certainly benefit from a more centralized location detached from a dormitory many upperclassmen tend to abandon in favor of the fancier apartment buildings. The Forum's study location on the third floor of Ladd is removed from the central traffic on campus that flows through Case Center and the Library and as a result it is not frequented as a study location.
The Honors Forum has certainly made strides in improving its reputation and participation rates on campus. However, there is still room to grow. Continuing to increase the number of Honors classes, hosting more events, and raising the average GPA will all contribute to a greater sense of community within the Honors Forum. An increased sense of community will improve the Honors Forum experience for all who are lucky enough to participate.