College may be “the best time of your life,” but it’s also one of the most expensive. There’s a price to pay for joining a sorority, going to parties every weekend and hanging out on the quad while you pretend to study —depending on where you go to college, tuition and fees can be tens of thousands of dollars each year. (The College Board reports that over one-fourth of full-time private nonprofit four-year college students attend schools that charge at least $36,000 per year in tuition and fees annually.)
Full-time college students are traditionally expected to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Although U.S. Department of Education statistics found that only 78% of full-time undergrads actually earned a degree within six years in 2007-08, some students are speeding up the process to graduate as quickly as possible. AP classes or dual enrollment programs during high school along with accelerated summer courses that allow students to earn a semester’s worth of college credit in just a few short weeks can help students earn a bachelor’s degree in three years rather than four to six.
A few U.S. colleges and universities have even started offering three-year bachelor’s degrees for students that want to wrap up their college experience as quickly as possible. According to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, OH and Grace College in Winona Lake, IN both began offering three-year programs in the fall of 2011, as did Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. State John’s University is launching a three-year degree program at its Grymes Hill campus to offer students the chance to save up to $29,000.
“The economic downturn has encouraged more students and families to consider the three-year option, and for academically well prepared and highly focused students, these programs can be very attractive,” NAICU Director of Communication Tony Pals explained to U.S. News and World Report.
American University in Washington, DC launched also launched a 3-year degree program in fall 2011 and although the potential to save money is there, the program is geared more toward advanced students that want to start graduate school a year early.
The Washington Post reports that the University of North Carolina at Greensboro launched a three-year program in 2010, but only five of its 17,000-plus student body took advantage of the opportunity. Interested students have already dropped out of the three-year degree program offered by Indiana’s Manchester College. As one student explained to The Post, enjoying the college experience seemed more important than rushing through it in an extra year.
The Post also reports that Bates College, located in Maine, has offered accelerated degree programs since the 1960s but only 36 students actually graduated with three-year degrees between 1999 and 2011.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in three years rather than four can help students save time in the long run, but students’ schedules will be intense. Taking extra courses during the fall and spring semesters and going to summer school means little or no time for extracurricular activities and social lives, let alone part-time jobs.
So perhaps the 3 year degrees sound better in theory than they actually are. “A lot of students are interested in it,” Machester College executive vice president Dave McFadden, explained to The Post. “A smaller number of students sign up for it, and an even smaller number finish it.”
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Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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