More Focused, Less Expensive Degrees
The first universities began operating in the United States before the American Revolution. Since that time, the four-year bachelor's degree has been the standard program model in our country. But if current trends are any indication, that model is about to change.
A growing number of colleges and universities have begun to introduce three-year programs as an option for bachelor's degree students. The University of Washington, Lipscomb University and the University of Houston - Victoria have all implemented three-year degree programs in the past year. Many other institutions, including Arcadia University, Georgia Southwestern State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, recently announced that they would be following suit.
Three-year programs are an attractive option for students and families who are looking for ways to save on the cost of higher education. Although the price of tuition is often the same since these programs tend to mirror the requirements of four-year programs, students can save thousands of dollars on living and commuting costs.
But cost is only one of the factors driving the popularity of these new programs. Students who have the opportunity to graduate in three years rather than four can enter the job market in less time and avoid forgoing a year's worth of lost income. They can also begin pursuing graduate study at a younger age.
The Drawbacks of Three-Year Programs
Despite the many benefits of three-year programs, acceleration has its drawbacks. As many detractors of these programs have pointed out, the course load in a three-year program is much heavier then the course load in a traditional four-year program. This leaves less time for campus involvement, networking and other social enterprises.
Statistics also indicate that undergraduate students have a hard enough time graduating in four years, much less three. A study released last year by the American Enterprise Institute found that only 36% of bachelor students earn their degree in four years. More than half of students - 57% - need six years to complete their degree.
Of course, these figures do not take transfer students into account. They also vary wildly depending on the school and the program. For example, Harvard University has a four-year graduation rate of 97%, whereas Chicago State University in Illinois has a four-year graduation rate of only 16%.
Since most schools are gearing their three-year programs toward energetic students with high GPAs, graduation rates are unlikely to suffer. However, it may be wise for some schools to focus on improving four-year graduation rates before tackling the three-year model.