The Arizona Desert Lamp

Regent supports more focus on three-year degrees?

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 22 October 2009
An example of how to advertise three-year programs (via Mount St. Mary's University, in Maryland)

An example of how to advertise three-year programs (via Mount St. Mary's University, Maryland)

Lamar Alexander, one of the few U.S. Senators with a modicum of respectability, penned an op-ed in Newsweek advocating for greater use of three-year degree programs:

Just as a hybrid car is not for every driver, a three-year degree is not for every student. Expanding the three-year option or year-round schedules may be difficult, but it may be more palatable than asking Congress for additional bailout money, asking legislators for more state support, or asking students for even higher tuition payments. Campuses willing to adopt convenient schedules along with more-focused, less-expensive degrees may find that they have a competitive advantage in attracting bright, motivated students. As George Romney might have put it, these sorts of innovations can help American universities, long the example to the world, avoid the perils of success.

It’s an unfortunate, Friedman-esque metaphor, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a thought-out piece by an elected official, as rare a bird as the vermillion flycatcher. This article caught the eye of Twittertific Regent Ernest Calderon, who sent out this most pithy of enigmas:

RT @silveredu: Senator Lamar Alexander promotes a 3 year degree solution:… EC: Can do!

“Can do!” what, exactly? No noise has been made about three-year degrees since this summer, when ASU floated the idea of a “network of three-year colleges.” Such a proposal, while novel, ignores the fact that institutions have certain built-in advantages of reputation (a loose term, in light of the school up north) that keep them coming back like Kevin Bacon after each new tuition beating, and that students won’t through away the prestige factor for a mere tuition discount. Far better to simply implement “Graduate in Three” programs within the university, a simpler and (in all likelihood) cheaper process than starting a school from scratch.

That tweet was followed up today with a link to a Newsweek symposium on college education and three-year degrees, featuring none other than ASU’s own Michael Crow. Along with Dr. Robert Zemsky of UPenn, he argues for the three-year degree. Unfortunately, it’s not the most sound of arguments:

CROW: Let’s just assume that the students are prepared to do university-level work. The thing that we’re working on here at a very large public university is not allowing some historic factor of time to dominate. Thomas Jefferson didn’t go to college for four years. It may be that students attain multiple degrees. It may be that some are three years, some are four years, some are six years. It would depend on what they are attempting to achieve.

His overall point stands, but “Thomas Jefferson didn’t need it” is not exactly a compelling point. These quibbles aside, it’s great to see that there is a genuine push in favor of these degrees. It’s also rather disappointing to see Robert Shelton and the entire transformation process sitting on their hands, and Advising Center Director Roxie Catts openly advocating against the idea.

Some further elaboration on the sorts of things that could be looked at, now, within the current existing universities, to make three-year degrees a legitimate possibility:

Add a “Graduate in Three!” section to Honors Advising webpage. This would do nothing to change policy, but would make students aware that this is a policy that the University supports. Rather than making students prod advisers for the three-year degree, advisers should make such a program no more difficult to access than a “graduate in four” plan.

Offer three-year scholarships with more money per year. In other words, $75,000 over the course of three years, rather than $80,000 over four. This provides a direct financial incentive to graduate in three, and saves money for the university’s scholarship fund. Students could still continue to attend after three years will be permitted to do so, just as students on four-year scholarships are allowed to attend if they stay on for a fifth year.

Send out “Graduate in Three” information to those enrolled in pre-professional majors and minors. These are the kinds of students who benefit the most financially from graduating in three years, and who are rather unlikely to simply stop their intellectual exploration.

Offer fee waivers for students taking AP, IB, CLEP, and other placement tests. This is especially pertinent for graduating seniors who may not be inclined to take that extra AP test (senioritis, and what not). It may seem minor, but transfer credit represents a pure infusion to the University, which loses nothing from more students testing out of more classes.

More online classes during the summer/winter. The school already does a good job of having offerings outside of the normal semesters, but streamlining this process and adding more opportunities simply makes things better.


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