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As statewide cuts to higher education have Kansas University schools and programs facing shrinking budgets, one university program is expanding.
Starting last year the KU Honors Program budget got a $200,000 bump to swell its ranks and, program administrators hope, help persuade top-tier college applicants to go to KU.
Tuition increases approved in 2012 fund the bigger budget, which has so far allowed the honors program to increase its incoming student numbers by 45 percent, from 275 to 400, beginning with this school year’s freshman class. The incoming class also includes the largest contingent of international students to date, with 30 total.
Bringing more students into the honors program will help the university as a whole attract high-caliber students, said program director Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett.
“We’ve had to turn away so many incredibly good applicants” in the past, she said. “We just couldn’t accommodate them.”
Those students often go elsewhere after being turned down by the honors program. McCluskey-Fawcett sees the expansion as a way to lure students to KU who might otherwise attend storied academic heavyweights such as Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Northwestern and Washington University, all of which the program considers its competitors.
The budget increase helped bring in additional faculty and new staff members to help with recruiting and events, as well as repurpose facilities to make room for the additional bodies.
The increase also provides for guest speakers, the rights to movies shown in the program’s film series and food served at events, which now have more than 125 extra mouths to feed.
Chris Wiles, an associate director of the program in charge of admissions, said the extra staff has helped them engage recruits one on one and maintain a thorough selection process.
“We’re getting to know the students better,” Wiles said. With the added staff, recruiters are better able to travel the country, attending events and visiting high schools to woo students.
By the time the enlarged freshman honors class walked up the hill at this year’s Honors Convocation on Aug. 25, many were already familiar faces. “We’ve been recruiting a lot of those kids all year, so we already know them pretty well,” McCluskey-Fawcett said.
McCluskey-Fawcett and Wiles both said standards for admission into the honors program have not changed since the expansion. The administration wanted to ensure they “weren’t watering down the program and its benefits,” Wiles said.
In determining who gets into the program, staff look at a students’ test scores, resumes, high school grades, the difficulty of the classes they took (measured against what their high school had to offer), all in addition to an admissions essay.
The goal is to find well-rounded, committed students who will treat the program “as an opportunity, not a credential,” McCluskey-Fawcett said.