The growing trend toward three-year degrees in America has not been a quiet transition. Many of the major media outlets have covered the seemingly sudden phenomenon that will undoubtedly change the landscape of American higher education. Experts and politicians have sounded off on how the new model will redeem struggling institutions and answer problems associated with rising tuition costs. Others have disparaged the idea, citing already low four-year graduation rates and raising concerns about losing important material from the curriculum for the sake of condensing the educational experience.
While this trend is causing a lot of noise, at many schools the three-year-degree model is limited at best, marketing a more economically savvy way to do college without providing students the resources to support it. When students are required to transfer in a large amount of credits, or must overload on extra classes year-round, they may miss not only some of the economic benefits of the three-year degree, but also the college experience as a whole. What's more, many schools offer just one or two accelerated degrees, and it seems that only a handful of schools carry this idea over to their masters programs.
If we're going to convince students they can accelerate their education and gain a competitive advantage, shouldn't we give them a real chance? It's unfair to lure students in with the promise of a quicker degree and thousands saved and then change the process with the fine print after they've signed on the dotted line.
At Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind., where I have served as provost since 2007, we want our academically aggressive students to work hard for their accelerated degrees. At the same time, however, we want our accelerated degree options to work for them.
Next fall, we'll begin offering the three-year accelerated degree option in each of our 50-plus major areas of study. If the students are willing and capable to cope with the added challenge of a quicker pace to the finish line, shouldn't they be able to do it in a major that meets their goals?
I believe the three-year option should be a real choice for all of our students, even those in disciplines with a tighter schedule of study, such as teacher education or pre-med/biology. It's a way of valuing the financial needs and educational goals of every student in every discipline.
We value the needs and concerns of hard-working students and families. A three-year option is one way to make education more affordable for them, while at the same time not compromising the quality of the educational experience.
Grace will continue to be a four-year school. Not every student will choose the three-year option, but every program has strengthened its curriculum so a three-year pace is doable for students who choose it.
Instead of requiring a significant amount of credits transferred in or year-round schooling--which account for hidden costs in the supposedly cheaper three-year route--we have redesigned Grace's curricular calendar with full confidence that the new plan will allow students to earn their degrees at an expedited rate without sacrificing academic rigor.
While we will still hold to a two-semester calendar at Grace, each will be split into two eight-week sessions, where students will typically focus on two or three courses. Students who wish to graduate in three years will take, on average, nine credits (or three classes) per session each semester, and will also take two tuition-free online classes each summer, enabling them to live and work anywhere.
The new structure seeks to strengthen our competency-based curriculum and heavily emphasizes applied learning. Students will have at least 12 credit hours of hands-on learning experiences, such as study abroad, internships, collaborative research projects, and student teaching.
Three-year degrees are also appealing to those who want to complete a bachelor's degree at the same time they complete a master's degree. We offer master's degrees in business and ministry that can help graduates enter the workplace sooner.
We don't see the three-year option as the sole solution to students' financial needs and concerns. We do see it as part of a package of solutions that will make our educational experience practical and affordable. And if this is our aim, we believe it should be an option for all.
--Bill Katip is the provost at Grace College and Seminary (Ind.).