By Chelsea Diana
BOSTON -- For Madeline Koufogazos, getting accepted to UMass Lowell's honors program was an important factor in her choice to attend UML over other universities.
"Looking at other schools honors programs, they didn't seem as strong," said Koufogazos, a junior English major from Dracut.
Koufogazos has spent the semester working on a research project with Professor Diana Archibald, focusing on Charles Dickens and his relationship with France. Without the honors program, Koufogazos said she would not have this opportunity.
UMass Lowell moved one step closer to elevating the honors program that has attracted star students such as Koufogazos to a separate Honors College after the UMass Board of Trustees unanimously approved the plan on Wednesday.
"An honors college will raise the university to a higher level and enhance the profile of UMass Lowell," Chancellor Marty Meehan said in a telephone interview. "It will encourage higher-achieving students to select Lowell as a top-choice school."
Meehan said UMass Lowell has looked into advancing the honors program for three years. As the quality of applicants, student interest and enrollment have increased, the university is primed to make the Honors College a reality.
The honors program is an innovative, interdisciplinary program that selects the university's top applicants to participate in seminars, co-ops and international experiences for college credit. Begun in 1995, the program joined a network of state honors programs in 2002 that include 23 public, private and community colleges across the commonwealth.
In the last six years, UMass Lowell has climbed 25 spots in U.S. News & World Report's college rankings to 158th. It also saw an increase in average SAT scores of incoming freshmen by 63 points, from 1,071 in fall 2008 to 1,134 in fall 2013.
This year the honors program enrolled a record 270 incoming freshmen. About 700 students in all grades are enrolled in the program, with SAT scores averaging 1285.
The next step is for the UMass Lowell board to approve the Honors College, which Meehan said will likely pass next week.
Once approved, the Honors College will operate as an equal in the multi-college university with a full-time dean at the helm.
"The program will expand and formalize to the level of the five other colleges," Meehan said. "With its own dean it (the Honors College) will better communicate goals with the other colleges."
The new curriculum will include a first-year seminar, a thesis workshop, honors- student housing, campus events and a designated honors area in the student center. Each student also will be assigned a librarian to help with his or her research.
The college will have little financial impact since UMass Lowell has provided incremental increases to the program since 2008.
The Honors College will start accepting applicants for the September 2014 academic year. Students who are already enrolled in the program, such as Koufogazos, will be grandfathered in.
"As honors student council secretary, the council is always looking for new faces," Koufogazos said. "We hope the Honors College will bring in a lot of new students with bright ideas to the university."