The Honors Program at the University of South Dakota experienced a slight bump in first-year enrollment for the 2014-15 term, continuing a trend dating back to 2009.
In 2013-14, the Honors Program hosted an incoming class of 140. One year later, the class size has increased to 148 — marking the fifth consecutive year Honors enrollment has gone up.
This trend began in the 2009-10 school year when the program ushered in a class of 91 students, and the next year 108 first-years enrolled in honors.
Director of the Honors Program Scott Breuninger said the program has put some effort into expanding, but credits its growth to demographic and economic factors.
“There is an intention to expand the publicity of the program,” he said. “I think some of (the growth) is due to that — maybe, also demographic and economic trends. College is expensive and students are finding out that if they can receive a good education from staying in state, more and more choose that instead of traveling away.”
Susan Hackemer, associate director of the Honors Program, said as long as the program can continue to provide the same level of service to its students, she welcomes its expansion.
“We want to be able to continue to provide a rich, meaningful experience for our students — as long as we can do that and the university can continue to provide resources to maintain that, then growth is a good thing to see,” Hackemer said.
While the program is consistently expanding, retention is another matter. Only 38 percent of the 2010 class graduated with Honors.
He said retention is “something we are concerned with,” but knows the honors experience doesn’t fit the needs of every student initially enrolled.
“Ultimately, we want the students to have whatever experience is best for them,” Breuninger said. “Ideally, we like to think going through the honors is challenging and they get a lot out of it… but what we are more concerned about is that they have the information at their disposal to make the best decision for them.”
That’s where Leslie Pusey comes in. As the program coordinator for the Honors Program, Pusey joined the staff two years ago with the goal to create a sense community between the students and faculty.
To do so, Pusey has planned a number of events throughout the semester to help students wind down, while appealing to the academic side of the program’s mission.
“We are all very intrusive advisors,” Pusey said. “We try to get to know the whole person and having an additional person on staff dedicated to the connection part I think has really helped this increase happen.”
First-year Honors student Liz Reed said she’s aware of the drop-off of first-year and sophomore students, but is optimistic about the opportunities the curriculum will provide as she prepares for law school.
“It seemed like the natural step to say,” she said. “I didn’t want to get bored in college. So far, I like it. The small size of some of my honors courses, like speech really is a good transition from high school into college.”