KU’s Mount Oread Scholars program ending in favor of expanded Honors Program

After 16 years, a Kansas University program that aims to help high-ability freshmen adjust to the college experience has enrolled its last class.

The Mount Oread Scholars program will come to an end after this school year, KU officials said, because it was deemed redundant with another program for talented students, the KU Honors Program.

“I guess the best way to put it is that it’s being replaced with an expanded Honors Program,” said Sara Rosen, KU’s senior vice provost for academic affairs.

Rosen said it would simply make more sense to have one campus entity dedicated to helping high-ability students succeed, rather than two. Even students who were a part of one program or another were sometimes unsure about the difference between the two, she said.

“It was very, very confusing having two different honors-like programs running parallel,” Rosen said.

Many freshmen who may have been Mount Oread Scholars next fall will likely instead wind up as part of an expanded new class for the Honors Program. That program will aim for a new freshman class of about 400, said director Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett. That’s about a 45 percent jump from the classes of about 275 in recent years.

People who’ve worked with the Mount Oread Scholars program said, though, that it has served a different niche than the Honors Program. And it expanded itself this fall, bringing in about 250 freshmen for easily its biggest class ever after a program revamp.

Incoming students in the Honors Program, which has no hard-and-fast admissions requirements, this school year averaged an ACT score just above 32 and a 3.95 grade-point average on the four-point scale. The Mount Oread Scholars, meanwhile, admitted any student applicant who scored at least a 28 on the ACT (or 1240 on the SAT) and earned a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Kathy Mason, the program coordinator for MOS this year, said it differs from the Honors Program, which is focused more squarely on academics.

“We’ve stressed a little bit more of a holistic approach with the Mount Oread Scholars, that we want them to get connected with organizations and activities within the community as well as on campus,” Mason said.

Many Mount Oread Scholars end up applying for the Honors Program after their freshman year.

Jenna Domann, a KU senior, said she applied for the Mount Oread Scholars after she was placed on a waiting list by the Honors Program before her freshman year.

Domann grew up in Nortonville, a Jefferson County town of about 600 people. She said she was looking for something to help her connect with resources and people on a campus of thousands of students.

The MOS program did that, she said, with its extra attention from advisers, opportunities to make friends and monthly support sessions that offered advice to help get through her first year.

“It helped me just kind of develop study skills and just planted the idea in my head of how to get resources on campus,” Domann said.

Adam Smith, a 2012 KU graduate, is a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying student affairs. He was a member of the Honors Program as a KU undergrad, and he also worked for MOS, helping out with the program revamp that went into place this year.

Smith, who hopes to be an academic adviser, said the Mount Oread Scholars were built around the idea that talented students sometimes face their own set of obstacles when they come to college. It works to integrate them into college both academically and socially, he said.

“High-ability students coming from high school don’t generally know how to study,” Smith said. “They’ve never had to really study before.”

The Mount Oread Scholars this fall just introduced three new living learning communities, in which groups of 20 freshmen live near each other in the same residence hall while also taking introductory courses together. Dan McCarthy, a scholar adviser for the program, said those communities drew more interest than organizers expected, and students had given them rave reviews.

But as those fade away, the Honors Program will be adding three new living communities of its own, McCluskey-Fawcett said, bringing its total to four.

The Honors Program also offers special advising, access to honors courses and seminar courses designed just for first-year students. Both programs have boasted high freshman retention rates, and the Honors Program students have also graduated at rates above 90 percent.

McCluskey-Fawcett said she had positive feelings about the Mount Oread program — in fact, she helped found it 16 years ago. But both programs aim to help talented students succeed, she said, and now more students will get that support for the entirety of their college careers.

“I don’t think our missions are that different,” McCluskey-Fawcett said.

The expanded Honors Program will likely admit students with slightly lower test scores and GPAs than may have entered in the past, she said, though the admissions process also considers students’ participation in activities during high school, their high-school curriculum and an application essay.

“We’ve had to turn down some really good students in the past,” McCluskey-Fawcett said.

She said the program hadn’t yet decided for sure if the Mount Oread Scholars tradition of hiking up the hill each year — symbolizing a commitment for students to make the walk back down when they graduate — might continue in some form.

Domann, who has continued to help with the MOS program after her freshman year, said she’d be sad to see it go. But mostly, she said, she just hopes that students who need help navigating the waters of college as she did get the help they need.