A two-year pilot program at Community Colleges of Spokane is expanding and putting students on a fast track to elite universities nationwide.
American Honors offers the same academic rigor a student would find at a four-year university, but for much less – $6,750 annually at Spokane’s community colleges. Tuition and fees for the first two years of college through American Honors is about 15 percent lower than at Washington’s four-year regional universities and about 45 percent less than Washington’s state universities.
Such savings are the goal of Denver-based American Honors, which worked with Community Colleges of Spokane to launch the program.
Starting in the fall, American Honors will operate on nine community college campuses nationwide, including Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College. Another 100 students will be able to participate, for a total of 250, college officials said.
Gonzaga and Whitworth universities are among 27 public and private schools that have agreed to partner with American Honors. Both private colleges promise to admit the program’s students as long as they are in good academic standing.
“We are really excited about the partnership,” said Chris Romer, American Honors president. This really helps “talented students broaden their options and curbs college costs.”
Russell Vannoy and Liz Fischer are two former community college students reaping the benefits of participating in the program. Both attended SFCC; now Vannoy is attending Georgetown University and Fischer is at Stanford University.
Stanford is not an American Honors partner, and Fischer, a math major, said she considered her application a reach. She thinks being in the community college program “was a big help.” “That was one of the things that was unique about my application.”
The Spokane woman attended mainstream community college classes in 2011-12 and enrolled in the American Honors program in fall 2012.
“The first year still felt like high school classes,” she said. American Honors was much more rigorous.
Students who apply for the specialized program are screened for grade-point averages, competitive Advanced Placement and SAT scores, and extracurricular and professional accomplishments. Most students are low-income and eligible for Pell grants, officials said.
Many classes are taught online, and counselors work with students individually on credits and applying to their ideal college.
“We know the power of student engagement,” said Christine Johnson, chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane. “American Honors facilitates a different kind of learning. It’s about having students interact with each other and with the instructor.”
The partnerships with four-year universities did not come easy.
“It has taken a lot of hard work to get those initial 27 on board,” Romer said. “Those that have joined are looking for ethnic and geographic diversity.”
Whitworth University officials feel confident these students will fit in and do well.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with the program director and we feel pretty confident that given the time they’ve spent building the curriculum, it has the rigor we expect,” said Marianne Hansen, Whitworth’s director of admissions.
Universities guaranteeing admittance require students to be in good academic standing. At Whitworth, that’s a 2.6 grade-point average or better if the student has taken challenging courses.