LOWELL -- Following a vote Wednesday by the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, UMass Lowell will be home to a Honors College.
While UMass Lowell has offered an honors program to students for nearly two decades, the elevation to an honors college will mean expanded resources, new courses and more opportunities for valuable real-world experience through co-ops in business and industry and service-learning projects around the world.
Since 2008, enrollment of honors students at UMass Lowell has increased from 298 to 733. This fall, the university saw a record number of first-year students - more than 270, with an average SAT score of 1285 - join the honors program and expects total enrollment to top 1,000 next year.
Among the new resources that will be introduced as part of the honors college are dedicated space in UMass Lowell's new $95 million student center at University Crossing, which will open for the fall 2014 semester, and the "Personal Librarian Project" that will assign a librarian to every junior and senior in the college to amplify the one-on-one attention students receive as they research and write their honors thesis. A dean will oversee the college, along with the UMass Lowell Honors Council, made up of faculty and student representatives.
In preparation for the move to an honors college, UMass Lowell has already taken several steps, including introducing specialized housing and living-learning communities for honors students; adding new research and service-learning co-ops for top first-year students; and expanding academic requirements and offerings such as interdisciplinary courses designed to teach students to use knowledge of more than one subject area to tackle important issues.
Aspects of the existing honors program that have been a hallmark of its success - such as small, seminar-style classes tailored to foster academic excellence and personalized advising to meet students' individual needs and interests - will continue as part of the honors college. More opportunities to engage in creative projects with one or more faculty members within or beyond a student's major will also be added.
"By raising our program to honors college status, we are investing in the educational opportunities of academically talented students who are already on our campus as well as those who will study here in the years to come. As enrollment at UMass Lowell has grown over the last six years, we have seen the academic qualifications of our students become even more impressive. By offering an honors college, we expect more of the best and brightest to choose our campus," said UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan.
The new honors college is the latest example of UMass Lowell's growth. As enrollment has climbed 45 percent since fall 2007, the academic profile of new students has also shifted upward, including a 63-point gain in the average SAT score and in average high-school GPA, up from 3.18 to 3.36.
UMass Lowell's research expenditures have grown 69 percent to $63 million and the endowment is up from $37 million to $66.1 million. Since 2009, the university has opened eight new buildings, including six that are newly constructed: state-of-the art academic facilities such as the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center and the Health and Social Sciences Building, along with two new all-suites residence halls and two parking garages. In July 2013, more than a dozen UMass Lowell athletics teams joined men's ice hockey in the NCAA's Division I.
At the same time, UMass Lowell's national reputation has also flourished. Ranked among the top national universities by U.S. News & World Report for the first time four years ago, UMass Lowell's three-year gain of 25 points is the second-fastest climb in the country. The university is also one of U.S. News' top 100 public universities in the United States. PayScale.com ranks UMass Lowell 10th in the nation among public colleges and universities for return on investment by students and first among New England public research universities for graduates' mid-career salaries. Forbes magazine ranks UMass Lowell - one of only two New England institutions to make the list - among its 25 Best Value Colleges.
"For the past six years, our honors program has ramped up academic opportunities for high-achieving, creative and intellectually curious students. The formation of an honors college affirms UMass Lowell's commitment to excellence in undergraduate education across all disciplines," said Prof. James Canning, director of the honors program and a faculty member in computer science. "Like athletics, the honors experience at UMass Lowell has gone Division I, too."