Despite the rhetoric of valuing a liberal education, many institutions are implementing a business model of education as a consequence of increasing costs and decreasing state funding. Honors programs serve as one of the isolated arenas in institutions of higher education that explicitly foster and encourage a liberal arts orientation. Based on interview data, we examine honors students' learning orientation in light of this. Using the analytical concept of an "ideal type" we identify "liberal scholars," "players," "critical players," and "getting by" as the four student learning orientations expressed by honors students. Our analysis reveals that some honors students experience conflict between the business and liberal education models that co-exist at institutions of higher education and relatively few students embraced a liberal arts orientation despite honors programs' attempts to facilitate one. We conclude by critically discussing the larger cultural context that encourages honors students to view learning simply as a means to an end.
Despite the rhetoric of valuing a liberal education, many institutions are implementing a business model of education as a consequence of decreased state funding (VanValen, 2001). The instrumental nature of the business model encourages students to pursue four-year degrees that will expeditiously lead to jobs, careers, and financial stability. In contrast, the goals of a liberal arts education are to foster an individual's capacity for introspection, reflection, creativity, and, simultaneously, sustain democratic ideals of freedom while cultivating individual humanity (Gaff, 2004; Mihelich, 2005). College students are products of our culture, and thus, their personal approach to education reflects these conflicting learning models. In this paper we examine honors students' orientations towards learning in higher education given the emphasis of a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum in the honors program.
The pursuit of a higher education credential holds different meanings for students. For example, Holland and Eisenhart's (1990) study explored peer culture and its influence on college women's attitudes towards schoolwork. Some women perceived academic work as arbitrary; others viewed it as a mechanism to receive accolades, and some saw schoolwork as a way to learn from experts. Moffatt's (1989) ethnographic study of college life revealed students pursue high grades in majors that led to a good vocational and economic outcome. More recently Pope (2003) discovered students viewed school as a means to an end rather than a learning and life enhancing experience. As a result, students "do school" using any means necessary, including cheating or manipulating teachers in order to "make the grade" (Pope, 2003).
The literature indicates that students experience external rewards and pressures to do well in school in a way that minimizes their interest in and commitment to a liberal education. We add to this literature by examining an elite group of students groomed to be liberal scholars through their membership in honors programming and by exploring the variation of these students' orientation towards learning.
Symbolic interactionism is a useful theoretical perspective to understand the subjective meaning of self, society, and one's role within society. Meaning is a social product that emerges...
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