Post-Secondary Honors Programs are Effective for Some High-Achieving Students
Although many universities support undergraduate honors education, the effects for participating in honors are poorly understood. Using an analytical method referred to as propensity score analysis, in which students’ likelihood to enroll in honors is calculated based on several characteristics, a researcher found that honors students see an improvement in their first-year cumulative GPA, especially if they are at the lower end of the propensity score continuum. The findings suggest that participation in a post-secondary honors program improves the academic performance for students whose propensity values were smaller, challenging the notion that their performance will suffer if they participate in a post-secondary honors program. Cumulative GPA was used as the benchmark for academic performance outcomes in this study.
“These findings are important because there are many students who are eligible for honors programs but believe that it will hurt their GPA,” said Dr. Scott R. Furtwengler, who did the study. “In fact, I found that the opposite is true: High-achieving students who do not participate in honors can experience a setback with regard to first-year cumulative GPA, which can be difficult to recover.”
Dr. Furtwengler, Director of Institutional Research at Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, TX, conducted research on the effectiveness of a post-secondary honors program for his dissertation when he was a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston College of Education. The research was conducted in 2013 on three groups of first-year students. Furtwengler recently presented his study, “Effects of Participation in a Post-Secondary Honors Program using Propensity Score as a Covariate,” at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association in Chicago, IL.
Furtwengler examined the three groups separately and found similar results for each. The difference in cumulative GPA, especially for students at the lower end of the propensity score continuum, provided evidence to conclude that such programs are beneficial to a sub-set of high-achieving students.
“While we have to be cautious about generalizing these findings to honors programs in all types of institutional contexts, such as small liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and highly selective universities, we can say that some high-achieving students will do much better in their first year as a result of participating in honors than if they hadn’t,” noted Furtwengler. “There is a positive effect for participating in honors, but the effect isn’t constant across the sample. In other words, the effect varies across the group.”
The results will be published in an forthcoming issue of the Journal of Advanced Academics.
Scott R. Furtwengler, Ph.D.
Director, Institutional Research
phone: 618-924-1145, 979-230-3256
Instructor & Affiliate Researcher, Urban Research Talent Institute
College of Education, University of Houston
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