Honors College will start charging membership fee to honors students

Photo by John Reecer/WKU Herald

John Reecer

The WKU Honors College will start charging incoming freshmen a membership fee starting for the first time this upcoming semester.

Craig Cobane, executive director of the Honors College, said that the fee will be $180 a semester for freshman students and will decrease by $20 for every year the student is at WKU.

Students who enrolled in the Honors College before 2016 will not have to pay any kind of fee as Cobane said that “philosophically, I didn’t want to charge students who we recruited knowing that there was not going to be a membership fee.”

Cobane said the money from the memberships fees would go towards minority, need-based and financial need scholarships as well as the creation of more honors courses for students to take.

“The number one thing the funds will go towards are minority and need-based scholarships,” Cobane said. “In the 2014 graduating class, less than five percent of African Americans who graduated from Kentucky high schools were college ready, that means having an ACT of at least 21. In the Honors College the average ACT score is over 30.”

“When we recruit and admit those students they are one of the more highly sought-after demographics in the United States,” Cobane said. “We are just unable to compete with other institutions that are offering minority students a lot more money. We are hoping this will help to diversify the college and also use it for retention.”

“The number one complaint we get from students is that there is not enough honors sections, especially in specialized disciplines,” Cobane said. “Probably a third of the money that we will bring in will be used to buy out more sections so we can have more honors courses.”

Cobane said that when he first came to WKU in 2005 President Gary Ransdell told him to make the Honors College as highly ranked as the photojournalism program was.

However, Cobane said the state would never be able to fund an Honors College that Ransdell would really like, so other ways to fund an Honors College had to be found.

Cobane also said to the Herald that the last budget increase the Honors College received was probably in 2009 or 2010 when the college was half the size that it is now and that the college has “less money to invest in scholars.”

Private funding from alumni has been an area that the Honors College has went too for assistance, however, Cobane said that 90 percent of the alumni of the Honors College are around 30 years old and are not donating money to a university at this point in their lives.

The membership fee was approved in 2014 and it will take into effect in the upcoming fall semester. Cobane said that such a fee is actually standard in many Honors Colleges around the country.

“What we do at the Honors College is that we do everything that we can to be like a top-25 liberal arts school,” Cobane said at the Finance and Budget Committee meeting on Monday. “Probably 85 percent of the time, Honors Colleges in the United States have membership fees. At the Honors College at the University of Oregon, their membership fee per year is about $3,500.”

At the Finance and Budget Committee meeting on Monday, Faculty Regent Barbara Burch raised concerns about the fee.

“A membership fee sounds strange to get admitted to a college and the honors (College) is one of our shining successes,” Burch said. “I don’t really understand the membership fee.”

Cobane was able to respond that the fee would help continue to keep the WKU Honors College at a level of national respectability.