Colleges Offering Three Year Degree Option

By Staff

February 25, 2009

With families struggling to cover rising tuition costs, some colleges are creating three-year degree programs intended to save students money.

This week, Hartwick College in New York State announced that beginning this fall, students will be able to earn a degree and complete the standard 120 credits in three years, with a savings of about $40,000.

"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, in an interview with The New York Times.

To participate in the accelerated program, students will be required to have a high school grade-point average of 3.0 or more. The program will be offered in 22 of the school's 31 programs, and will allow students to keep their summers free for internships or jobs.

Some are calling the three-year degree an idea whose time has come. Earlier this month, Tennessee's Sen. Lamar Alexander, who served as president at the University of Tennessee, recommended at the American Council on Education annual meeting that colleges consider three-year degrees. Similarly, the Associated Press [from an article originally located at] reports that in Rhode Island, legislators are considering a bill that would create a standard set of college-level classes for high school students, allowing them to complete their higher education in three years.

Yet others are uncertain that the idea will catch on. notes that even though Bates College in Maine has offered a three-year degree program since the 1960s, few students have taken advantage of it.

"You have to be a very organized person to get through a rigorous four-year program in three years," said Bryan McNulty, a spokesman for the school, in "I don't think that many people can be that disciplined and organized to choose that option."

The Times notes that Upper Iowa University also began offering a three-year option five years ago, but only five students signed up for it, and not one completed a degree in three years.

The AP mentions a handful of other colleges offering the same option: Judson College in Alabama, Manchester College in Indiana, and Seattle University. At many schools, students with a significant number of Advanced Placement credits may be eligible to graduate early. But at Waldorf College in Iowa, where hundreds of students have earned degrees in three years, the program is being phased out due to lack of interest.

Yet as the economy continues to decline, the three-year degree may become more popular. "Three-year degrees are a very important option," noted Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, in The Times, "and I think we'll be seeing more of them."

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