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Senator Continues to Push "Three-Year Solution"

October 22, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

As tuition and fees continue to rise and students need more financial aid to complete their college educations, ideas on how to both keep costs for students low and bring schools' budgets under control continue to crop up among lawmakers.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has an editorial on the topic in Newsweek this week, where he compares the three-year degree track to a fuel-efficient car. It would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. And it would be up to the students to decide whether to complete their degrees in three years.

Many schools allow students to complete their degrees in three years, but few have official programs set up where students enter college knowing they'll be done in three years. Hartwick College has allowed students to complete their studies in three years for a while, but announced earlier this year a more official academic program for high-performing students that could be completed in three years. Students in that program will save about $43,000 in tuition and fees by forgoing a fourth year. This fall, 16 first-year students and four second-year students entered into the three-year program at Hartwick. Lipscomb University also unveiled a three-year option this year to students willing to attend classes in the summer. The state of Rhode Island has legislation on the table this month that would require all schools in the state to offer a three-year option.

On the other side, Waldorf College will stop offering the three-year programs it had set up as most students and staff preferred a traditional four-year track. Many students want the full four (or however many) years on campus. I still often wish I was back there. Students who have compressed a four-year program into three years have less time for what often makes the college experience memorable - time for friends, social outings and extracurricular activities that make you more well-rounded and able to juggle many aspects of your life at once. Alexander acknowledges possible obstacles in his piece, but maintains that something needs to be done to stay competitive and address an economic fallout that could affect schools for years to come.

Why not leave the choice to the students? What do you think of the opportunity to complete a college degree in three years? It could make sense for students looking at completing advanced degrees in addition to their master's. And the cost-saving aspect of the idea would turn many students on to the idea, especially returning adult students. Let us know whether you're planning on completing a degree in three years, and whether you think all schools should offer a three-year program as an option.


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