in Higher Ed

Three year bachelor’s degrees the wave of the future?

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The four-year bachelor’s degree has been the model in the United States since the first universities began operating before the American Revolution. Four-year degrees were designed in large part to provide a broad-based education that teaches young people to analyze and think critically, considered vital preparation to participate in the civic life of American democracy.

The three-year degree is the common model at the University of Cambridge and Oxford University in England, and some U.S. schools have begun experimenting with the idea. To cram four years of study into three, some will require summer work, others will shave course lengths and some might cut the number of credit hours required.

So is it going to happen in more places or not? I don’t think cramming a four-year degree into three is the answer, nor is the plan that most who want to graduate early already employ (summer classes, community college credit, etc.) and so, I think this will take a bit of creativity.

I’m not sure that most places could afford to do it, though I can see industrious schools with a broad base using this as a way to tout their programs and show they’re in touch with the needs of the community (namely, less tuition or whatever) and yet, I think it might end up being adjudged by some to be lesser if it somehow manages to require less credits than a four-year degree and that’s the reason the idea seems DOA.

  1. Well..I think there is a mechanism for getting summer aid, though it’s quite limited. But no I doubt there is a financial infrastructure for year-round school, though I suspect if schools found a way to keep tuition rates flat over an entire year (ha) that it might manage to even out.

    I think the real question is going to be how schools justify their prices as the economic crisis depends. (Ironically, I blogged about this in a post that’ll publish later today.)

  2. On a more basic level, are grant and loan programs in the U.S. even set up to provide assistance for year-round schooling? If not, then there is an institutionalized disincentive.

  3. Yeah, I know for fields like engineering it’d never work. I guess the question I’d have is whether 3-year degrees would be adjudged to be lesser than their 4-year counterparts.

    I think it’s something a lot of liberal arts programs might consider, but it seems the 4-year degree here is entrenched and isn’t headed the way of the dodo anytime soon.

  4. Three-year baccalaureate degrees may be conceivable for some disciplines. But for other fields, especially those that rely on much math, science and technical expertise in addition to liberal arts prerequisites — i.e., most engineering fields — to graduate in three years would be nearly impossible. On our campus, most engineering students take five years to complete their bachelor’s degree. But part of that time includes one or two semesters of full-time employment as part of a co-operative education program. That co-op program pays great dividends in the future and the work experience looks great on a resume.

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