Honors Program to Grow With $6 Million Kenan Gift

The number of students in UNC’s undergraduate honors program will nearly double with a $6 million donation from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. A 50 percent state match makes the total gift worth $9 million.

The program will be able to add faculty to teach honors courses – a minimum of six assistant or associate professors who will become William R. Kenan Jr. Fellows or William R. Kenan Jr. Scholars, respectively.

The money helps move the University toward a long-sought goal, and it’s a coup for the outgoing and the incoming chancellors. In 2002 Chancellor James Moeser proposed doubling the program to increase the number of high-ability students at the University while adding faculty to high-priority areas in the College of Arts and Sciences. Chancellor-elect Holden Thorp ’86, who has been both a student and a professor in the program, had made broadening it a priority as dean of the college.

The program has received other significant private support recently. In September 2007, an anonymous donor gave $5 million to fund five new professorships, and state matching funds made it a $7.5 million endowment. In December 2007, the Morehead-Cain Foundation endowed a professorship in art history for $2 million, which, with the state matching funds, will create four honors courses in art history. The combination of these recent private gifts and state matching grants totals $18.5 million in endowed support for the Honors Program.

“We are grateful to the Kenan Trust for helping extend the reach and scope of an honors program that has long been regarded as one of the best and most accessible of its kind in the country,” Moeser told the UNC trustees at their meeting May 22.

About $4 million more is needed to double the program, and Moeser said he planned to make this fundraising goal a top priority in his last four weeks as chancellor. The expansion of the program is important in drawing high-achieving students to the University.

The Kenan Trust gift comes at a time when the honors program has become a deciding factor for students who choose Carolina over distinguished peer universities, said James Leloudis ’77, associate dean for honors. A limited capacity to serve all qualified students has caused the program to lose hundreds of talented applicants to other schools, he said.

“Of the 3,800 students in the Class of 2011, 200 first-year students were invited to join Carolina’s Honors Program,” Leloudis said. “With the past year’s new gifts, and more available honors courses, nearly 10 percent of entering students in future classes will receive invitations.”  “This gift will greatly help our ability to recruit top undergraduates, as well as keep talented North Carolina students here at home.”

Currently, any of the 120 honors courses are open on a space-available basis to all students with a B average. Students who have not been invited to join the program are able to apply during their first three semesters. Each year, more than 300 students in 51 departments and curricula complete senior honors theses under the supervision of college faculty.

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