Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bachelor's Degree in Three Years

I've read that one of the reasons so many students take more than four years to get a degree is that they can't get the courses they need in a timely manner. How is that going to be resolved if schools try to push for a three-year degree?

In an era when college students commonly take longer than four years to get a bachelor's degree, some U.S. schools are looking anew at an old idea: slicing a year off their undergraduate programs to save families time and money.

Advocates of a three-year undergraduate degree say it would work well for ambitious students who know what they want to study. Such a program could provide the course requirements for a major and some general courses that have long been the hallmark of American education.

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.

On principle, I'm against cutting the number of units. I also think students should get a more well-rounded education than many are getting now.


silvermine said...

Really? Because those extra credits are things like required multiculturalism classes and such. Or maybe they could have fewer classes that overlap, or something. I swear, one of my classes I learned absolutely nothing in, because it was already covered in other classes. It was a waste of time.

My degree required 132 credits. I'm sorry, but when you have time-killing lab classes (1 credit for 6 hours in lab!) and a job (or volunteer in a lab at school for no pay!) -- 17 credits a semester is too many (which is what that averages out to).

I ended up taking 5 years, and included almost enough classes for a minor in russian, including a semester in Moscow. I also volunteered in a research lab for a year, so I could actually do real science with real tools (which is never actually taught in class), and I worked part time for a few years (some just for money, and others for more science/lab experience at a local business.)

Pomoprophet said...

I agree with you. I think a well rounded liberal arts education is important to our democracy. There are lots of technical schools for those who don't want GE classes. Cutting GE courses isn't the answer. If they want ways for students to get through school quicker, make technical schools more prestigious. I graduated in 3.5 years. And I did it by taking alot of courses, being in control of my own education, and passing AP tests...

Scott McCall said...

if they chopped all the BS general edd classes that would cut off two years right there.

Although i guess we do need some sort of *well-rounded* education, they could maybe cut off one years worth of gen edds.....cause it's a waste of time for alot of people

hobbitt said...

Two of mine did it in three. Clep and AP helped. Some summer classes. They took extra classes. Toward the end it hurt my son's grades. To many projects that last semester.

PeggyU said...

I've got an idea. Get rid of the damned gender/diversity class requirement. That would free up a little time and money, anyhow. I don't know of a student who would miss it.

Allow students to pass competency tests in place of having to take classes for credit. You may think this is what the AP classes do, but students only get partial credit toward their college classes. Our daughter got the maximum points and credit for her AP English test, but still had to take a senior year composition class in order to exit the school. It was completely redundant, and in fact the class she took was less intensive than the ones she had taken in high school. It also cost a chunk of change that could have been better used elsewhere.

mazenko said...

I've argued that we could provide a much more efficient and effective system if we utilized AP/IB ideals and the dual-credit system. Many of the students who are truly ready for college, and truly should be admitted to a four-year program, are ready much earlier than the current system allows.

Many kids can't take care of the general education requirements in a timely fashion, though for the top third of students, these are redundant and nothing but cash cows for universities. More colleges are refusing to give credit for AP/IB. They claim the students aren't ready; another theory is that it is a huge revenue stream for them

There's no reason kids "well-rounded education" should wait for the age of 18 - it should be integral to all levels of K-16. Newt Gingrich has been speaking extensively about the problems we've created by establishing and extending "adolescence" which is truly a twentieth-century invention. Ben Franklin graduated high school at thirteen; Emerson finished Harvard at eighteen. There is much to argue that we coddle teens for far too long. For more, see Robert Epstein's "The Case Against Adolescence."

There is much we could do to create a more efficient, effective, and streamlined system. I've written extensively about this in a piece for the Denver Post, if you're interested:

NYC Educator said...

I get stuff in my email all the time offering me degrees by mail. Why bother with any of that inconvenient, time-consuming school stuff at all when you can just send a few bucks, have someone print you a diploma, and be done with it?

Boy, all those years we wasted. That's what happens when you went to school before the internet. Wasn't there some political muckety-muck a few years back who got run out of DC when they found out he had a phony degree from some diploma mill?

Steph D. said...

The reason that British degrees "only" take 3 years is that now-unheard of "tracking." British students are grouped by ability and interest and have to take a variety of leveled tests before entering University - the tests basically give them the ungrad required courses before putting them into university to take 3 years of focused study in their chosen major. If students change majors - they start the 3 years all over again.

maxutils said...

If you make more courses available over the summer, and work a quarter system, you can do the same amount of work in three years. But -- all you save by doing that is food and lodging, which you would presumably have to pay somewhere else, and the opportunity to earn one extra year's salary, less what you could have earned in those summers. I don't particularly see the advantage.

Ellen K said...

The problem with extended college careers lies in many areas. First of all, too many degrees require courses that have little if anything to do with the major, but which salve the ego of the political factions of the faculty committees. In many cases, classes exist simply to provide grad students with jobs. In fact one of the biggest debates regarding AP programs is that a number of universities use lame excuses to deny students who make high scores on AP exams college credit. And that is because those freshman and sophomore level department foundation classes are taught by non-tenured profs or grad students. Then there's the money problem. In Texas, a surcharge per semester hours was levied on students that take too long to graduate. So working students, who must make the decision between taking out more loans, working more hours or taking more classes per semester are simply stuck with no good alternatives. Finally, there's the degree plan problem. Too many schools fill their degree plans with one hour credit for sixty hours of participation classes. At UNT, music majors must be in a performing arts class every year. But whether you are in a band, jazz band, choir, orchestra or other group, you get ONE CREDIT HOUR. In order to take a full slate of 12 hours per semester, it would take years to graduate. This is simply nonsense and keeps students tied up in degree programs where it's too costly to continue, but a waste of money to quit. I like the Canadian 13th year plan wherein all students get a basic liberal arts program and then move on to larger more degree specific schools. Maybe then we would avoid the glut of kid that have no business in college clogging up the system and getting all the scholarships.