Barrett is becoming a ‘big’ deal — here’s why that’s OK

“Barrett students have the unique advantage of experiencing a small, intellectually and socially vibrant environment while having access to the vast resources of the major research university at ASU” reads the opening line on the Barrett, the Honors College website. However, an increasing amount of Barrett upperclassmen are complaining, “Aren’t we getting just too big?”

These complaints seem substantial because of the large number of incoming freshmen. With welcome week still ringing in our ears, we are bombarded with all the new experiences ranging from freshmen life to seniors preparing their theses.

JessicaFletcher-01I understand the concern around an elusive word like “expansion” within a community that is listed as small and exclusive. Despite this harbinger of a larger student body — and possible danger of dilution — I believe that Barrett becoming a “big” deal is actually an excellent thing for the honors college and University at large.

Here’s where it gets sticky. Barrett is supposed to be a “small, intellectually and socially vibrant environment.” It seems like that word, “small,” automatically nixes any argument for expansion. However, we have to think in terms of context. In a 2013 azcentral article, Dean Mark Jacobs writes, “In the past decade, the number of students at Barrett has more than doubled to 5,000, the equivalent of an entire Stanford University of undergraduates.” So, Barrett may be larger, but it is larger in its number of brilliant students comparable to Stanford.

Let’s keep talking about context. ASU holds some records as a New American University. Given ASU’s roughly 80,000 students, I think Barrett remains a “small” community within the 6 percent bracket. In a school this large, even a hefty community feels small — the key part being community.

The course rigor and intellectual environment remains. The requirements for Barrett haven’t changed, and the current average SAT score and incoming GPA are 1297 and 3.8, respectively. Students are still taking honors courses and the Human Event. All students also engage in a year-long (or more) thesis.

Also, Barrett has “access to vast resources of the major research university.” With an 18:1 student to faculty ratio, Barrett has plenty of Honors Fellows to assist in their research endeavors and theses. Beyond that, there are numerous honors professors that teach honors sections. This bumps up the numbers to a 4:1 ratio. There are opportunities for research in biodesign, positions on Lux, the honors literary journal, and access to scholarships such as the Fulbright, Marshall, and Goldwater. Even with more students, the opportunities are countless.

But then I took a closer look at these incoming freshmen. We aren’t letting just anyone in; we are gaining a larger group of National Merit Scholars — more than schools like “MIT, Duke, Brown, Stanford, and the University of California-Berkeley.” Our college has landed a secure niche in the line of sight of stellar students around the country. No longer in the periphery, Barrett has transformed what an honors experience means. Right now it might feel like a large influx; we are at the baby-boomer bulge equivalent with our National Merit Scholars. But the community has not been lost.

Why is this growth good for Barrett and the University? More students of great quality, diversity and different states enhance the community. This means that a large number of students choosing Barrett are also turning down other Ivy Leagues, placing our public, New American University right up there among the top ranks. We beat out the others, which exerts a positive ripple effect on other areas such as funding, prestige and attraction from potential advocates and investors.

Think about it: It can’t be so bad to have more creative students who care.

 

Reach the columnist at jessica.m.fletcher@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @jmf1193

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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