The role of honors education in workforce development

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photo by Joseph Thibault | Flickr Creative Commons

Honors education is not a new phenomenon. Institutions of higher learning have been offering honors opportunities to students at colleges and universities across the country for decades.

Though four-year colleges were the first to offer honors education, two-year colleges, where nearly half of all college students study, have offered honors opportunities over the past 25 years, too. Doing so has opened up incredible possibilities for students across the nation to sharpen their academic experiences while developing skills that make them desirable to transfer institutions and potential employers upon their graduation.

What do honors students take away from their education that makes them so valuable? Honors education prepares students to succeed in the classroom and also, more importantly, fill leadership roles in college and beyond. These classes also build the soft skills employers cite as critical to employee success.

Honors courses usually have small student-teacher ratios, allowing for maximum interaction between professors and students. Most classes are discussion-based, or flipped, classrooms where students come to class prepared to discuss course material with their peers.

Memorization of class material is less important than spending time deconstructing, digesting, debating, and critically evaluating course content. Students learn to work in groups, building trust and a sense of solidarity with one another along the way. They also produce quality scholarship, and many have opportunities to present their work at local, regional, and national academic events.

This ability to bring ideas forward, defend a viewpoint, and work with others is critical in developing employment skills. Honors students become employees who can solve problems, voice opinions yet listen to other views, and innovate. They show up on time and well prepared for whatever is required, bringing a strong work ethic and a readiness for any challenge.

Honors students often take courses or seminars on leadership development and most participate in leadership development opportunities outside of the classroom. Honors students frequently serve as peer mentors for new students, guiding them through the often-puzzling process of assimilating to college life. They participate in service learning projects on and off campus, devoting time and energy to a variety of nonprofit organizations and helping to serve a multitude of needs in their communities. They learn the value of servant leadership — to put the needs of others first and to foster a sense of giving, and thus leadership, in others.

Building on their enriched academic experiences, honors students continue to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in their roles as servant leaders. They learn the value of approaching problems holistically and thoughtfully, communicating effectively and with purpose, and the importance of developing a professional work ethic. They participate in a variety of cultural engagement opportunities, allowing them to understand and value the diverse populations and perspectives in their local communities. These experiences prepare them to contribute not only to their local communities as active, engaged citizens but also to the missions of employers who see these skills as imperative in an ever-changing marketplace.

The Greenville Technical College Honors Program proudly embodies all of the above characteristics. The program is the oldest, largest, and most fully developed honors program among the 16 institutions in the S.C. Technical College System. The program serves a wonderful body of students who excel in academics, engage in leadership development, serve their local community via service learning, and participate in exciting cultural engagement events.

Upon graduation, our honors program students go on to excel at four-year institutions and in the local and regional workforce. They become scientists, scholars, teachers, medical and legal professionals, engineers, and entrepreneurs. They carry the value of honors education with them throughout their professional and personal lives, and they exemplify the mission of Greenville Technical College, to drive personal and economic growth through learning, with pride.

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