New York Times
February 25, 2009
An Option to Save $40,000: Squeeze College Into 3 Years
By TAMAR LEWIN
Here’s one way of cutting college costs: get a degree in three years, instead of four.
This fall, Hartwick College, a small liberal arts college in Oneonta, N.Y., will offer students the option of doing just that, at a savings of more than $40,000.
In the college’s three-year degree program, students will complete the standard 120 credits, taking 18 credits in the fall, 4 in a January term and 18 in the spring. Students will be able to keep their summers free for internships or jobs.
Whether for a three-year degree or a four-year one, Hartwick’s tuition next year will be $32,550, 3.9 percent higher than the current year. Room and board will be about $9,000.
“We anticipate a great deal of interest in an option that lets students get a top-quality education and save a whole year of tuition,” said Margaret L. Drugovich, president of Hartwick.
Although most American students now take longer than four years to complete their degrees, the idea of three-year degrees has been gaining favor in some circles, with several colleges talking about or experimenting with such programs, often involving online courses or summer school.
Earlier this month, at the American Council on Education’s annual meeting, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican who served as education secretary and president of the University of Tennessee, urged colleges to consider three-year degrees, calling them the higher education equivalent of a fuel-efficient car.
Molly Corbett Broad, president of the council, said she believed the three-year degree option could help private colleges attract students as more families struggle with tuition costs.
“Three-year degrees are a very important option, and I think we’ll be seeing more of them,” she said. “They won’t serve a large proportion of students since a three-year degree requires that you finish high school college-ready, enroll full-time and be focused.”
Some schools that considered the three-year approach have encountered strong resistance from faculty — or little interest from students. At Upper Iowa University, for example, a three-year option created about five years ago remains on the books, although only five students signed up for it and not one actually finished a degree in three years.
Three-year undergraduate degrees are the norm in Europe, but for the most part, students there have an extra year of schooling before going to a university, apply to a particular department and do not take general-education courses.
Although a growing number of American students arrive in college with several Advanced Placement credits, the College Board discusses that program not as a route to early graduation, but rather as a tool to promote on-time graduation.
Hartwick’s three-year program will be open only to students with at least a 3.0 high school grade-point average and will be offered in 22 of the college’s 31 programs.
“This is not an easy thing for a college to do, and there are some programs, like music education, where we just didn’t think students could get through in three years,” Dr. Drugovich said. “In each program, students signed up for a three-year degree will have a special adviser to help them move through their courses.”