Save our four-year degrees
Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 16:06
A recent column in the Washington Post discusses how three-year bachelor's degree programs are not a big hit with students. These new accelerated programs were originally provided in response to the recession, and they aim to save students money by compressing the academic calendar into 36 months.
Fast-tracking a bachelor's degree is a bad idea, and students just are not responding.
"The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a campus of 17,500 students, enrolled five students last year in its inaugural three-year degree program. The Fast Forward program at Manchester College in Indiana enrolled 20. The Degree in 3 program at nearby Ball State University served 30," the Post reported.
Some exceptions exist, such as a new Global Scholars Degree program at American University in Washington. This program is expected to enroll 58 students in the fall, according to the Post. Another three-year program, located at Hartwick College in upstate New York, served 47 students last year and is expected to serve about twice as many this fall, according to the Post. This still represents a very small amount of the overall student population of these universities.
Advocates of this new three-year program say that it would benefit American colleges, allowing them to use buildings that might otherwise be empty during the summer and winter breaks. They also say it presents an opportunity to expand online study.
Students who come in with a stack of Advanced Placement credits or credits from International Baccalaureate exams may be able to finish even faster, depending on how the programs are structured.
Shortening this degree to a three-year program leaves open the possibility of removing critically important courses that students will need in their later careers. This type of drive-through experience could end up leaving students shortchanged in the long run.
Shortening the experience this way will also lead students to become less involved in the social aspect of the university experience. Things such as joining clubs or becoming involved in student government may become less attractive to students in these programs, since their goal is now to get out as quickly as possible.
Students in four-year degree programs have several tools at their disposal that allow them to finish their degree in an accelerated fashion. Taking courses over the summer can speed up the process, as well as coming in with AP credits or credits from IB exams.
For students not wanting to invest a full four years into a degree program, other viable alternatives do exist. Associate in Science degree programs, offered by community colleges, offer students affordability and a way to expeditiously enter the workforce. Technical certifications and trade schools are also viable options.
There is nothing wrong with electing programs like these that offer a more focused and direct educational track. Students investing in a bachelor's degree, however, should experience the full measure of this education. It should not be shortened simply to save students money during difficult economic times. If anything, this is a moment for colleges and universities to improve the quality of these courses and become more competitive. Adapting to a new economic environment requires change, but that change should not include shortening the length of what has become a hallmark of a university education. We must fully preserve four-year bachelor's degree programs.