To Drop or Not to Drop?

By Jami Glatter

The clock is ticking dangerously close to midnight. Senior Bobby Lee is still working on the assignment
he started as soon as he got back from class.

It’s not for a class that goes towards his major or minor. He’s not staying up late to continue his search for
a job. It’s also not going towards his senior thesis, a major project that weighs heavily on every
graduating student.

Instead, it’s for one of his Honors College (HC) classes.

This was the typical night for Lee before he left the HC during his last semester at Adelphi University in
fall 2016.

Although he enjoyed the discussion-based seminars, he said, “I had to assess my priorities on how much
work I was willing to put in just to say I graduated with the HC seal versus taking a large amount of
Honors courses.”

Many HC seniors are in Lee’s place, finding it unnecessary or burdensome to continue with their
education through the highly selective program in their senior year.

In fact, a whopping 22 percent of the senior class left last year, according to statistics run in the
Registrar’s office. This is a noticeable increase from last year’s 17 percent.

HC officials say they’re taking steps to address this problem, but add they can only do so much if a
student is unmotivated to finish the program.

What causes students to drop out – and often so close to completion? Wouldn’t seniors want to finish
strong in their last year in the Honors College?

The Course Load

The main aspect of the HC that distinguishes it from the rest of the university is that it has different
general education requirements than the standard ones.

The HC curriculum consists of rigorous courses that fulfill three or four credits each. These requirements
alone take up 43 credits in a student’s schedule throughout their four years. This is comparable to the
standard general education credits which requires a minimum of 30 credits.

Seeing as credits are based on the amount of hours a course is given per week, HC students already put in
more classwork time than the average student.
“Ultimately the Honors College held me back a semester because of all of the credit requirements and my
desire to take on a minor in Spanish,” Olivia Autry, a Dec. ’15 alum says. “I graduated a semester
later…which was a bit disheartening.”

Students who left Honors say the pressure of the course load during senior year was a big factor in their
decision-making process.

“The best part about leaving is certainly the large course load off my shoulders,” Lee says. “I have felt the
pressure before in the Honors College but this was something else entirely and I was glad to not have that
weighing on me.”

Most of these courses are based in thorough reading and analyzing of texts that range from Emily
Dickinson’s poetry to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto to the Bible. Students are expected to come
prepared to discuss elements in the texts that will give them grounds on which to base a future
assignment.

Students easily spend upwards of 10 hours per week on HC homework assignments. Besides reading the
texts, students are also assigned written responses, outside research, presentations and group projects. On
average, papers and essays are required to be a minimum of 5 pages.

Additionally, a 3.3 GPA must be maintained in order to graduate with an Honors diploma.

Unfortunately, unlike majors, there are no academic advisers who specialize in advising HC students. As
a result, students seek help in scheduling and fulfilling their requirements mainly from their peers or
professors and deans who are not their adviser.

Beckerman agrees that the reduced pressure was a positive. “The good thing about leaving was purely the
pressure was off my shoulders,” she said. “I had the time and energy to finish the rest of my coursework
and to look for a job post-graduation.”

The Senior Thesis

A common reason given by students is the HC thesis, which is an accumulation of extensive, topical
research usually in the form of a paper. This year-long project must reach at least 50 pages.

Students must agree on a topic by mid-October with their thesis adviser, who is a professor in the HC. In
the spring the student must present their thesis to readers before whom it is defended. However, if an
adviser thinks a student’s thesis is going in the wrong direction or will not be ready to be defended in
spring, they are allowed to reject the student’s submission.

Students are also encouraged to grow their thesis out of a project started in their sophomore or junior
year.

A student must receive a B- or better on their thesis in order to earn an Honors diploma.
Sarah Beckerman said she left the HC in April of her final semester at Adelphi because the criticism she
received on her thesis came too late to make changes. She was told by a professor that “the amount of
work I put in wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t allowed the chance to defend my thesis. I was…given the
ultimatum to do a completely new project or to graduate without Honors.”

What’s being done?

New programs are being put into place for freshmen, like individual meetings with the Dean of the HC,
Richard Garner, to guide them better through the process. However, measures taken to ensure seniors’
success are few.

Dean Garner, says he has tried to combat the incompletion of the senior thesis by implementing checks in
the process. Some of these deadlines include a one-page description of the thesis due in October and a
progress report due in December.

Ultimately, Garner says the student must take responsibility for their deadlines.

“You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink it,” Garner said. “There has to be a certain
amount of responsibility. Students are supposed to meet with their advisors regularly, they're supposed to
meet with us a couple of times each semester, they have the deadlines…So we have things that are really
supposed to motivate people if they really want to finish it, but…it's just like even within a given
course…you can't make a student write the papers, or take the test, or get a passing grade in the course.
Students ultimately by and large make that choice for themselves.”

Staying in the HC seems to be dependent solely on the student’s personal responsibility.

What’s the take-away?

Besides the rigor and amount of coursework that students take on, the worth of an Honors diploma is also
up for debate.

Lee says, “It’s hard for me to say what I gained from Honors as there’s no real metric to go by.”

Garner says the stress and pressure might not be worth the recognition.

“It's nice to have the Honors diploma, but I think sometimes it makes sense not to make yourself crazy in
order to try to get the diploma,” he says. “If you're already into…law school or…medical school, and that
was your goal…I'm sure it won't make a big difference whether you have an Honors diploma or not.”

Some students, however, believe completing the HC was worth all the trouble.

Autry says she learned practical skills through the Honors College. “The Honors College taught me how
to channel a logical, researched approach to issues emotionally charged issues so that the rhetoric remains
respectful and productive.”
Lee and Beckerman also say that the Honors College helped them outside of the classroom.

“The biggest gain for me was the encouragement to think critically,” Beckerman says. “It made me feel
like my opinion mattered inside and outside the classroom, so it gave me more confidence.”

Lee says, “The Honors College forced me to take classes I never would’ve taken otherwise, so it allowed
me to get outside my comfort zone.”

The HC provides students with years of what most would deem a valuable education. But many students
don’t it find it worthwhile to continue working under the stress that comes with it during their senior year.  

The question as to whether or not a student should stay in the HC all the way to graduation rests with the
individual student. For some, it’s just not worth it and for others, they would have it no other way. Since
the numbers show that a significant percentage of students drop HC late in the game, it seems like the
administration is aware and looking to make some changes in order to lower the percentage. Let’s hope
these changes can make a difference!

 

year # of seniors enrolled* # of drop outs
2013 – 14 71 14
2014 – 15 96 16
2015 – 16 101 22
*this includes the fall, spring and summer sessions of that year