The Reinvention of Honors Programs in American Higher Education, 1955-1965

Open Access
Chaszar, Julianna K.
Graduate Program:
Higher Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 13, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Roger Lewis Geiger, Committee Chair
  • William Pencak, Committee Member
  • David Post, Committee Member
  • Patrick T Terenzini, Committee Member
  • honors education
  • honors programs
  • undergraduate education
  • history of higher education
A wave of interest in honors programs occurred at American colleges and universities in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although honors education emerged in the U.S. some thirty years earlier, its scope had been limited primarily to private institutions and allowed upper division students to undertake independent reading and research in their major field. In contrast, the period of revitalization and new program formation beginning in the late 1950s was characterized by expansion in several directions, including the introduction of programs for freshmen and sophomores, creation of honors options in general education, adoption of honors education by major public institutions, and collaboration between colleges and secondary schools to identify and encourage academically talented students. The Inter-University Committee on the Superior Student (ICSS), led by Joseph W. Cohen at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was a significant force behind the renewal of interest in honors work during that period. This dissertation traces the formation and activities of the ICSS, which operated from 1957 to 1965 with financial support from major foundations and was succeeded by the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC). The study also explores ideals and practices regarding the organization, content, and role of honors education during the ICSS period, through the words of honors advocates and with specific examples from institutions.