Honors program sees dramatic increase in numbers

By Matt Daray

Intelligence proves popular at SIU, with numbers in honors program showing a drastic increase.

SIU has reported a substantial increased number of students in the university’s honors program. The number of participants has doubled since 2010, according to the report.

Lori Merrill-Fink, director of the honors program, said SIU has 433 honors students and 24 honors classes compared to the 220 students and 15 honors classes the university had two years ago.


“This is an exciting time to be a part of the honors program,” Merrill-Fink said.

She said the rise in numbers is a result of the chancellor asking to increase the amount of students in the honors program.

Merrill-Fink said she has recruited more aggressively without lowering any standards. She said the program has expanded because of student word of mouth, honors students talking to potential recruits and faculty encouraging students who show potential to be honor students to enroll in the program.

Merrill-Fink said more than 10 percent of students on the campus qualify to be a part of the honors program, however most are discouraged by the idea of the program.

She said most of the honors classes are small, but they allow for higher learning through more in-depth class conversations where students are more responsible for their own learning. She said honors courses substitute for normal courses in their respective areas of education.

All honors students are expected to be in at least one honors class a semester.

“The doubling of our honors program is part of our overall campus plan to improve student success and grow our enrollment,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.


Cheng said the program provides an excellent experience for high achieving students, and it is great preparation for professional school.

She said the honors program has exceeded her expectations and is a direct result of the leadership and vision of the entire program.

Aside from student and recruiter recommendation, faculty members such as Edward Brunner, a professor of modern American literature, also encourage students to take honors courses.

He said the honors classes are always more intense, have more animated discussions and allow teachers to discuss problematic material.

Brunner said he is teaching his fourth honors class next spring. He said the honors program draws teachers from almost every college in the university and emphasizes cutting-edge topics such as sustainability, the American dream, and the evolution of the human brain.

Another faculty member pushing for more students to join the honors program is Jonathan Bean, a professor of history.

Bean said honors programs are almost as strong as Ivy League college classes. He said his seminars on literary philosophy from the 16 century to present day requires students to read a book a week and provide extensive summaries of the material to the class.

Bean said his honors classes bring out longer and more intimate conversations than his normal classes have time for.

Students looking to join the program must fill out an application. Freshmen students are expected to have an ACT score in the 90 percentile, and all students should have at least a 3.4 GPA after 12 hours of coursework.  Students who do not meet these standards can still enroll in the program by listing exceptional extracuricular activities, volunteer work and references.