“Three-year bachelor’s degrees need to become the norm,” report says

FSU campus, aerial view, 1969. Photo by David Fountain; State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Starting today and next week, Florida State University will be offering informational sessions about how students can get out of college early — meaning in three years or less, instead of four or more.

It’s not the traditional path — and not all students would be keen about leaving college so soon.  But it’s a concept that has gained traction over the years as tuition bills pile up and students go into deep debt.

FSU’s “Degree in Three” program says that “completing a degree even one year early can save a typical student over $20,000 in tuition, books, and living expenses.”

FSU isn’t alone in providing a three-year graduation program. Elsewhere, Lake Forest College in Illinois and University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have three-year programs. As do University of Iowa, American University in Washington, D.C., and several others schools, according to a May 2018 report by Paul Weinstein, Jr.

He’s a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Policy Institute and the director of the master’s program in public management at Johns Hopkins University.

“The trend toward three-year bachelor’s degrees is heartening – particularly since the vast majority of these programs have been established since 2005,” Weinstein wrote. “The creation of these programs is an important acknowledgement by some of these schools that tuition costs are out of control and that students need not only more financial assistance, but also a lower price.”

But he added, “If one were to assign a grade to the current crop of three-year bachelor’s degree programs, it would be an ‘F.’”

That’s because many of the programs “are merely four-year programs squeezed into a three-year window,” Weinstein wrote.

A successful three-year program should include cutting “course fat” such as unnecessary electives; studying abroad – but not through a university program, and ensuring that colleges give course credits to students who take Advanced Placement classes in high school and pass the AP exams, among other measures listed in the report.

Weinstein concluded that: “Three-year bachelor’s degrees need to become the norm, not the exception reserved for a few highly motivated students. That will require reinventing the college curriculum to impart in three years the core skills our students need to get good, middle-class jobs or go on to graduate school to acquire highly specialized skills.”


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