U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott meets with leaders of Virginia honors programs

U.S. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D.-Va. 3rd, talks with leaders of Virginia honors programs during...
U.S. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D.-Va. 3rd, talks with leaders of Virginia honors programs during a meeting at VCU's Honors College Monday, June 19.
Photos by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

Speaking Monday at Virginia Commonwealth University, U.S. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott, D.-Va. 3rd, said incorporating more Pell Grant funding currently is the biggest issue facing Congress in terms of higher education.

“Our priority is access — make sure people can get into college — and affordability — make sure they can afford it,” Scott said at a lunch meeting with representatives from 10 Virginia honors programs at the VCU Honors College. The group included public, private, two-year and historically black institutions with common challenges and opportunities for students.

Scott, who has represented the Third District since 1993, is ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He and the honors programs representatives discussed the unique role honors programs have in Virginia higher education.

Honors programs vary greatly, but find common ground in “engaging high-ability, highly motivated students in more individualized instruction emphasizing the creation of knowledge,” said Barry Falk, Ph.D., dean of VCU Honors.

“We get absolutely extraordinary students not just from Virginia, but across the nation,” Falk said.

One challenge honors programs face is helping high-achievers decide how to focus their time and energy.

“They’re so ambitious and they want to do so much, they would want to do four majors,” Falk said. “They are leaders on campus and engaged in every activity you can imagine.”

Scott and Barry Falk, Ph.D., dean of VCU Honors College.
Scott and Barry Falk, Ph.D., dean of VCU Honors College.

Honors advisors serve a special role for undergraduates because they are not promoting one school or major. Sandra Via, Ph.D., director of international programs and study abroad at Ferrum College, agreed with Falk that honors participants are highly engaged in the campus community and beyond.

“If they are not doing something constantly, they find something to do,” she said.

Scott asked the group several questions during the meeting, including one about entry points into honors communities. VCU has about 1,000 honors students. Roughly 200 are freshmen. Upperclassmen and nontraditional students join annually.

Brad Newcomer, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College at James Madison University, said JMU has three paths, including one for upperclassmen who seek to complete honors senior capstone projects.

Timely graduation rates are another piece of the puzzle. Daniel Roberts, Ph.D., executive director of global and special initiatives at Virginia State University, said honors students graduate at a higher rate than their peers, no matter where they attend college. All representatives Monday agreed that their programs are designed to help ensure that honors students can graduate in four years.

Leaders also spoke about the importance of developing articulation agreements between honors programs in community colleges and honors programs in four-year institutions. Other topics discussed Monday included study abroad, student debt and the unique value of liberal arts education.

“It’s transformative in terms of what it does to you as a person,” Scott said of a college degree.

The meeting was organized by Falk with support from the National Collegiate Honors Council, of which he is a past president. Also in attendance were representatives from J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, George Mason University, Radford University, Virginia Wesleyan University, Northern Virginia Community College and Shenandoah University.

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