College Guide


December 10, 2009 3:49 PM College in Three Years?

By Daniel Luzer

Since college has become so frighteningly expensive, many consider that the solution might be to just lop off a year and offer a bachelor’s degree in three years. An article in yesterday’s Republican (Massachusetts) explains:

Who says college has to be a four (or more) year experience? The drive for more colleges to offer the three-year degree interestingly is rather timely as the increased cost of college combined with the downturn in the economy has many prospective students looking at any way to save.

It’s an idea that appeals to many. In October Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee praised three-year degrees and said they “could become the higher-education equivalent of the fuel-efficient car.” Judson and Bates Colleges already offer shorter programs. Earlier this year Hartwick College announced that it would offer a three-year bachelor’s degree.

A good idea? Well, maybe. According to the College Board, the average college student currently takes six years to graduate from college. Only 37 percent even finish in four years.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • problemwithcaring on December 10, 2009 5:03 PM:

    Or they could stop inflating the cost of college tuition.

    There's that....

  • jharp on December 10, 2009 6:53 PM:

    It took me 5 years, all paid for by Dad.

    If I would have gotten off my ass and actually done my work it'd have been easy to do it in three. Maybe 2.

    B.S. in Business Administration. Major in accounting. Big Ten school. 1978-83.

  • snds4x4 on December 10, 2009 7:45 PM:

    There is a college that give a BS in 3 years. It's called DeVry. My son got a IT degree there. They work through the summer and have 3 semesters a year.

  • Bob on December 10, 2009 9:17 PM:

    It really comes down to how much education a student received not how long it takes to get it. If 3 years means 90 credits - that's a piss poor idea for most fields of study.

    When I was an undergrad (SU '85) one could take up to 21 credits/semester without incurring an extra charge. Only the brightest, most dedicated could take advantage of that situation. Even with summer semesters, I don't see how most students could hack 120 credits in 3 years.

    More likely they'll cut "non-essential" classes. The problem is that many of the classes that help you become a well rounded employee with sharp critical thinking skills are in areas likely to get cut - humanities, philosophy and just about anything not in your major.

    In 10 years we'll be complaining about how much less prepared students are than they were in 2009 (much like we are complaining about them today as compared with 10 or 20 years).

    The academic system isn't broken. Some of the problem is an inevitable conclusion of pushing more students through the system - digging deeper into the intelligence/ preparation pool. Some is the result of cuts to student aid programs (thank you Ronnie Reagan) and public higher education.


  • Shannon on December 11, 2009 9:18 PM:

    In most other countries Bachelors degrees are three years full time. However, students enter university much better prepared and the courses are much more academically rigorous. I was appalled when I moved to the United States, after spending a year at a university in Australia, with how remedial many of the courses I was required to take were... It felt like I was in year 10 of high school again.