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Oregon State’s honors degree online exceeds expectations, finds strong demand

A person writes in a notepad while seated at a table, with a laptop and smartphone in the foreground.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the 2024 issue of the Honors Link magazine from Oregon State University’s Honors College.

By Gary Dulude

When Oregon State University’s Honors College extended the Honors Baccalaureate to students earning their degrees exclusively online via Oregon State Ecampus, the expectation was for around 15 students to enroll by the beginning of fall term 2023.

Instead, there were more than 50.

Demand has been strong because the Honors College value proposition aligns with the wants and needs of online students, most of whom are already in the workforce and pursuing a degree to advance their careers or transition to a new career path.

“There are very few universities that have embraced an honors pathway fully for distance students,” says Honors College Dean Toni Doolen. As one of the first, Oregon State is drawing new honors students from across the U.S. and from as far away as Ukraine and South Africa.

Experience the academic excellence of the OSU Honors College online

Pursuing an honors baccalaureate degree online with Oregon State will enable you to participate in enhanced curricular and co-curricular experiences, engage in research with OSU faculty and write and defend an honors thesis on a topic of your choosing. Learn more »

Leanna Dillon, Honors College Ecampus coordinator and academic advisor, meets with every admitted student before they enroll. She says she’s been impressed by their motivation and clear goals. They want the research experience from the thesis. They want professional development. And they want to make connections with faculty in their field, mentors who can open doors to internships, jobs and other opportunities.

“I love working with these students,” she says. “They have a why for why they’re here.”

One of the hallmarks of the Honors College experience is community engagement, and Dillon is building a new model with input from online students. She created and manages an interactive Honors College Ecampus Community in Canvas, Oregon State’s online learning management system, as well as a more informal Honors College Ecampus social community on Discord to encourage students to have conversations with her, with faculty and with each other.

Students want opportunities for live conversations using the Zoom video platform, including participating virtually in Honors College events, Dillon says. “Students are seeking out this type of engagement. It’s part of my job to make sure that events and resources are accessible and relevant to Honors College Ecampus students.”

Several Ecampus students have started the early phases of their thesis, including completing the Stage 1 thesis course that’s required of all honors students. Dillon says the Honors College learned how to make the research and thesis-writing processes work for distance learners during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those support structures remain.

“As a college, we’ve shown over and over we’re … always centered on how to create an experience that is transformative for these really great students.”

A year in, the Honors College is still building capacity and developing more online classes, including three- and four-credit courses students need for their major. Associate Dean Susan Rodgers says faculty who teach colloquia classes are encouraged to develop an online version or create a unique Ecampus course. She adds that honors faculty who are new to online teaching have been enthusiastic, including one who emailed at the end of the term, “Please, can I do this again?”

Significantly expanding Ecampus enrollment is one of the priorities in Oregon State’s new strategic plan, and that will include many more students earning the Honors Baccalaureate online. Already, the addition of more nontraditional students has helped create an honors community that is more representative of the OSU student population, Doolen says. And it fulfills her longstanding priority to make the transformative honors experience accessible to any qualified Oregon State student.

“Ecampus students not having access to the honors degree was never an option. We needed to get here,” she says. “As a college, we’ve shown over and over we’re very good at trying things out, learning quickly, adjusting, moving on and always centered on how to create an experience that is transformative for these really great students. I’m super proud of how we’ve done it.”

Find details about pursuing an Oregon State honors degree online, how to join the Honors College and read frequently asked questions.

Learn more about the OSU Honors College

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