Why Our Report on Honors Growth Missed the Mark

On March 7, the Exponent published an article about the growth of MSU’s Honors Program, “Expanding Honors Program seeks space, new designation.” We included the piece as part of an ongoing series entitled, “Growing Pains or Growing Gains?”

The concept of the series is to explore the complex challenges brought about by MSU’s rapid growth and examine university officials’ plans to address them. Other installments include reports on student housing capacity and straining faculty resources.

I think the series has real importance for our community, and I am proud of our news team’s effort to take a deep look at MSU’s resources and ambitions. However, our decision to include the report on MSU’s Honors Program, as it was written, was an error in judgment. In attempting to fit the story within that broad narrative, our report misrepresented the program’s growth and poorly characterized its staff’s views.

First, a matter of disclosure: Readers should know I am a member of the Honors Program, and that my education has been supported chiefly through a Presidential Scholarship administered by it. Realizing this inherent conflict of interest, I have taken the utmost care and sought multiple perspectives in addressing our coverage, but readers can decide whether my efforts have been successful.

A typographic error regarding program enrollment exacerbated the misportrayal and merits clarification. The size of the freshmen honors class has tripled since 2001 from 104 to 317 students. Additionally, the article states that most of this growth has occurred over the past five years.

While the incoming class has indeed grown 190 percent since 2006 — accelerating from a rate of 160 percent over the preceding six years — the size of the incoming class has remained stable since 2010. At the same time, the quality of applicants as measured by average ACT scores has remained steady, and applicants for the program’s Presidential Scholarship are increasingly competitive, according to Director Ilse-Mari Lee.

As the report did make clear, the program’s yet-to-be-submitted proposal to become an Honors College is less a matter of pursuing future growth than obtaining a designation that reflects the level of services already being provided.

The remainder of the report, however, highlighted future hopes by program officials for possible expansion, including honors lounge space and additional housing for honors students. Our coverage presented these plans in a manner that might suggest program officials feel strained for resources and are lobbying the university for more. That characterization, though unintentional, was inaccurate by my best editorial judgment.

A full picture of the program was unfortunately absent in the published report. At a university, growth always involves allocation of limited resources — a process that is inherently political. In order to appropriately frame the story within the context of “Growing Pains or Growing Gains?” our reporter needed to ask a different set of questions and obtain additional information. The result was a report that may have distorted the situation to our readers.

It’s important that we at the Exponent, in assuming the responsibility for narrating our community, are accountable for our work. I apologize to our readers for this error in reporting and editorial judgment. With every story, we’ll continue our efforts to earn your trust.