Want to save $50,000? Try a three-year college degree.
With costs soaring, some colleges offer students a way to graduate early with a three-year college degree. But critics say students lose out on gaining breadth of experience.
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Bates College, Franklin & Marshall College, Lipscomb University, Manchester College, and Southern New Hampshire University are among those offering three-year programs. Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a bill that requires all state schools to create a three-year bachelor's program by this fall.Skip to next paragraph
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The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is also considering an "accelerated" three-year program for students, meant to save them money. This, no doubt, in response to student protests about tuition hikes at the state university.
"It's an idea that's been around for many years in the background," says Roland King, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "Once we got into seriously looking at dropping the cost of a college education with the economic downturn, it's moved to the forefront."
The idea got an added jolt last year from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, a former Education secretary, when he compared a three-year degree to fuel-efficient cars that outcompeted gas guzzlers.
Not all students want it. Bates's program has existed for nearly 45 years, but few students take advantage of it: just 34 over the past 10 years. At Hartwick, however, 22 percent of this year's applicants expressed interest in the quicker degree.
Margaret Drugovich, Hartwick's president, says she launched the program after seeing the number of families who wanted a liberal arts education but couldn't afford the high costs. Students take an extra course each semester, get preferred registration, and are required to take a course during the school's optional January term. Study abroad is still possible – often during that "J-term" – and advisers help students fill all their requirements. "It's a student-by-student thing," she says, noting the option works best for students who are more organized and mature.
Those who choose to graduate early sometimes have mixed feelings. Ryan Schwartz, a media relations specialist in Austin, Texas, graduated from Stanford University in 2006 in just under three years, due in part to AP credits from high school. "At the time, I was really excited. I was ready to get out into the real world ... and Stanford was ridiculously expensive," says Mr. Schwartz. But he's come to regret some of what he missed: senior year with his friends, extra classes that interested him, a final research project and thesis. "College gives an opportunity for you to really expand on your vision for your life. By finishing in such a short time, you miss out on widening your horizons."
Still, Mr. Zemsky points out, only a few students are looking for a liberal arts experience. Others agree that changes are worth at least investigating. "I don't think there's any magic in 120 credit hours," says William McKinney, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Indiana University-Purdue in Fort Wayne. "The concern I have is that we're letting [the issue] of cost drive the conversation."