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Three-Year College Programs Gain Popularity

by Nicole Gorny | Syracuse University

F Posted in: College P Posted on: March 31, 2012
college Image courtesy of Flickr, user Sterling University.

At least five additional private colleges will begin to offer accelerated, three-year degree programs in the 2012-13 school year, contributing to a campus affordability trend that has gained momentum in recent years.

These colleges are Ashland University in Ohio, Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio, Thomas More College in Kentucky, Urbana University in Ohio, and Wentworth Institute of Technology in Massachusetts, according to a list published by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

“The economic downturn has encouraged more students and families to consider the three-year option, and for academically well-prepared and highly focused students, these programs can be very attractive,” Tony Pals, director of communications at NAICU, told US World & News Reports. “These programs can represent a significant cost savings for consumers.”

Financially conscious consumers are an important factor in the expansion of three-year degree programs, especially as tuition and fees at private, nonprofit four-year colleges and universities increased at an average rate of 2.6 percent each year beyond inflation between the 2001-02 school year and the 2011-12 school year, according to College Board.

However, colleges have less benevolent motivation for adopting creative, cost-cutting measures.

“By offering a more competitive price, they are ultimately hoping to attract more students — and increase their bottom line,” Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial aid website Finaid.org, told CNNMoney. “This is about boosting enrollment, local competition and improving an individual school’s finances rather than any noble purpose.”

As a result of their efforts toward campus affordability, most private, nonprofit colleges continue to meet, and even exceed, their target enrollments, according to NAICU. While these accelerated degree programs offer many benefits, especially to financially conscious students and those who intend to pursue graduate degrees, they are not reasonable or advisable for every college student.

Nearly 32 percent of all college students transfer schools before graduating, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and more than half of college students change their majors at least once, according to the National Research Center for College and University Admissions. For these students, graduation in three years would be improbable, although not impossible.

Because three-year programs offer much less flexibility to explore different interest areas, Emily Brincka, a freshman at American University who applied to the accelerated Global Scholars program, does not regret not being accepted to the capped program. Brincka entered AU as an international relations major, and has since changed her major to public health.

“I do not think I would have had the opportunity to explore public health,” she said. “Three-year programs do not necessarily have that degree of flexibility in being able to take a lot of courses outside of the prescribed major simply because you have to graduate one year early. I am very happy that I am not pursuing an IR major at the moment.”

In addition to academic consequences, three-year programs remove a year from the college experience that, for some, is necessary for social development.

Lisa Chimes, a junior at Syracuse University, plans to graduate one semester early to save money and to have a break before entering graduate school.  She said many students are not mature enough to graduate early.

“I have friends who are not ready to graduate, even seniors,” she said, “As much as I have loved undergrad, I‘m ready to be finished just because I know I have five years ahead of me. It depends on what a person is going into. I’m not technically going into the real world.”

Chimes said that she has taken two summer courses, but takes an average number of credits each year. She said she has not felt any adverse effects on her social life or college experience because of her course load or plans to graduate early, but recognized that balancing academics and social life can be difficult for some.

“Both are important,” she said.

Bailey Marks, a Syracuse University freshman who plans to graduate one year early, also said that she did not expect any major social or academic obstacles to stand in her way of graduating early, even though she would have to take 5 classes in one subject area one semester.  Marks entered SU in the fall with over 50 credits from AP courses and a dual enrollment program with a local community college at her high school.

In addition to financial motives, Marks hopes to graduate early so that she can spend what would be her fourth year of college in the Peace Corps or a similar organization.

“It will be more financially feasible because I won’t have to worry about as much debt,” she said.

Marks acknowledged the possibility of missing out on the stereotypical “college experience” by graduating in three years, but said she appreciated her own experiences more because she knew she would have a shorter time on campus.

“You want to enjoy and develop the most you can out of your college experience,” she said, “but college isn’t the only experience that you can have.”

Nicole Gorny Nicole Gorny Nicole Gorny is a NGJ College Reporter and a freshman newspaper and online journalism and Spanish double major at Syracuse University. She also spends much of her time working on campus publications, including the Daily Orange and 360 Degrees.

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