History of Barrett

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Barrett Tempe Grand Opening Event - 2009

Since its founding almost 30 years ago, Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University has emerged as a preeminent honors college.

In 1988, the Arizona Board of Regents authorized the creation of the University Honors College at ASU. With this designation, the first four-year, undergraduate, residential honors college in the United States became a reality with Dr. Ted Humphrey as the college’s founding dean.

In the winter of 2000, Craig and Barbara Barrett gave $10 million to endow the University Honors College, the largest gift received by ASU and a U.S. honors college at that time. In the Spring of 2001, the University Honors College was named for the Barretts and later became known as Barrett, The Honors College.

In 2003, Mark Jacobs was named dean, ushering in a new era that would bring not only new leadership, but new and unprecedented growth.

Over the last ten years, freshman applications have almost tripled from 1,962 for fall 2009 to 5,364 for fall 2019. Total enrollment during this time has increased from 3,259 to more than 7,400 Barrett students across all four Phoenix metropolitan ASU campuses. Dean Jacobs also has overseen the growth in the number of annual Barrett graduates, which has swelled from a total of 275 in 2004 to more than 1,150 in 2019.

“The vast increase in applications and student population over this period reflects Barrett’s status as one of the best places in the country for intellectually-engaged undergraduates,” Jacobs said.

From its inception, the honors college has attracted stellar students including National Merit Scholars, National Hispanic Scholars, National Achievement Scholars, Gates Millennium Scholars, Presidents Scholars and Provost Scholars. Barrett also attracts high achieving international students from across the globe, including students from China, Canada, India, Mexico, South America, Africa, and Europe.

Barrett also helps produce some of the world’s best young scholars. In 2017, ASU was one of only four universities in the United States to graduate a Churchill, a Marshall, and a Rhodes scholar in the same year and they all were Barrett students. Over the last 10 years, ASU has consistently been among the top ten universities producing Fulbright scholars. The majority of “Fulbrighters” are Barrett students.

Barrett offers unique honors-only opportunities for students. Honors course offerings, such as the signature class called The Human Event, are supplemented by a study abroad program in Greece, Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, Peru and Costa Rica. The college also has an honors domestic travel/study program called Great American Cities in which students visit such famous locales as New York City, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and San Francisco.

With the support of a $2 million gift from Craig and Barbara Barrett, the honors college will continue to focus on global engagement programs for students. Funds will be designated for enhancing the college’s student travel programs and for bringing world leaders to Barrett to speak and share their expertise.

Barrett’s physical presence has exploded throughout the college’s nearly 30-year existence, with major growth happening during Dean Jacobs’ tenure. The college consisted of 198,132 square feet in 2003-04, and now contains over 1,600,000 square feet. In 2009, Barrett opened the nation’s only four-year residential campus for honors students on nine acres at the southeast corner of ASU’s Tempe campus. That Barrett complex has residence halls accommodating 1,700 students, classrooms, social lounges, a dining center, café, courtyards, an outdoor fireplace, an environmentally sustainable residence hall with a rooftop organic garden, and offices for administrators, faculty and staff.

Barrett @ Vista del Sol is the latest expansion of our four-year residential college community, which is so integral to the Barrett experience. Barrett @ Vista del Sol - a complex covering over 20 acres - accommodates 1,800 sophomore, junior, and senior students in an apartment-style living community that offers easy access to faculty and staff, classrooms, the dining hall and other services, support and amenities that are provided to all honors students. Apartments include a living room, full kitchen, and washer and dryer. 

Students living in Barrett @ Vista del Sol and all Barrett students have access to the swimming pool, barbecue and grill facilities, volleyball and basketball courts, 24-hour gym, and a recreational lounge. The Gold Dome is an outdoor venue that is used for student organization gatherings, yoga classes, and alumni events. The Barrett Student Center located at Vista del Sol has a computer lab and print anywhere station. It is a convenient location for meetings, events, and studying.

There are also unique honors-only living and learning communities at the ASU Downtown, Polytechnic, and West campuses. In every way, Barrett students at Downtown, Polytechnic, and West enjoy a fully developed honors experience with physical amenities designed to support their classroom learning, extracurricular involvement, professional development, and personal growth. 

At ASU Downtown, the Barrett Residential Community in Taylor Place is an engaging living and learning environment consisting of a diverse group of multi-disciplinary honors students. A new Barrett Headquarters space is opening this year at the Mercado complex on the Downtown campus. Barrett Polytechnic students live in the newly constructed Lantana Hall, which opened in Fall 2020 and also houses the Barrett Polytechnic Suite, where students can connect with honors advisors and staff and participate in Barrett events and programs. And at the ASU West campus, Barrett students live in the honors hall at Casa de Oro.  We encourage our website visitors to learn more about Barrett across ASU through our video tours and visit opportunities.    

Honors colleges throughout the country, including those in Indiana and Kentucky, are being modeled after Barrett Honors College. The New York Times has called Barrett “the gold standard” among honors colleges throughout the nation.

In his online review of honors colleges, John Willingham rates Barrett Honors College highly for its strong honors program, support for students, well-appointed residence halls, and a dean, faculty and staff committed to student success.

Dean Jacobs sees a bright future for the honors college. “The goal of attracting the state’s and the nation's best students to ASU and Barrett is being achieved and we are now focused on broadening our appeal and reputation in the world beyond. We are well along that path.”