Not much else seems to be helping keep down college costs, so
maybe this will: a three-year college degree.
It's an idea that's never really caught on, at least in the
United States, but it may be gaining traction with the economy in
On Tuesday, Hartwick College, a liberal arts school in Oneonta,
N.Y., became perhaps the most high-profile school yet to announce
it would offer a broad range of students the opportunity to finish
a bachelor's degree in three years, saving a full year of tuition
and fees (which run $42,705 there this year).
It's probably not a solution to the national problem of surging
college costs. Faculty may object and worry about standards. And at
big public universities, it's already hard enough to get into all
the classes you need. Sometimes students are lucky to get through
in five years.
Still, the economic troubles seem to have generated more buzz
around the idea.
At the American Council on Education's annual meeting earlier
this month, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and a former university
president, pressed college presidents to offer three-year degrees.
In Rhode Island, legislators are considering a bill that would
create a standard set of college-level classes for high schools, so
all students could have an opportunity to finish college in three
Three years is the norm for undergraduate degrees in Europe, and
a handful of U.S. colleges offer variants of a three-year program,
including Judson College in Alabama, Manchester College in Indiana,
and Seattle University. Others, such as Bates College in Maine,
offer highly qualified students some three-year options. And of
course, at many schools, students with a large number of Advanced
Placement credits may be able to graduate early.
Still, the idea has hardly caught fire, despite rising college
costs. Students seem to like spending at least four years in
When Upper Iowa University offered the option a few years ago,
just five students took it - but all decided to stay four years
after all. Nobody has signed up since.
A three-year degree "would be attractive to someone who knows
right now what they want to do with the rest of their lives," said
Lincoln Morris, Upper Iowa's vice president for enrollment
management. "Most students don't have it all figured out right
now, and that's fine."
Also in Iowa, Waldorf College has graduated several hundred in
three-year programs over the years, but is now phasing out its last
one. Most students wanted the full four-year experience -
academically, socially, athletically.
"What we're finding they're saying is, 'Why did I want to grow
up so fast?"' said spokeswoman Joy Newcom.
Hartwick says its program is distinctive, because it won't
require online courses or summer school (so students can still do
internships). Students will take an expanded course load each
semester, plus courses during Hartwick's January term. Only a
handful of majors are excluded.
President Margaret Drugovich emphasized students that still have
the four-year option. She isn't sure how many will sign up. But as
a parent, she thinks it will resonate.
"She's planning to go to medical school, she's got a long
educational horizon in front of her," she said of her daughter,
who attends another college. "It's something I'd recommend she
look at, if it were available."
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