Is a Three-Year College Degree Really Worth It?
One of the more interesting ideas in higher education that has been advanced by politicians is the three-year college degree. In fact, the governor of Ohio required each of the Buckeye State’s public universities to develop plans for three-year degree programs, even if it was unlikely that students would sign up for them. The University of California system also considered three-year options for some degree programs.
I can appreciate the concept of a three-year college degree, especially from a publicly-supported university. A student saves time and enters the job market or further education a year earlier. The state saves money; they subsidize this student for only three years through a scholarship or direct assistance to their public institutions. The universities can enroll more students if enrollment turns over faster. It is conceivable that students will study harder because the work will come faster. If they study harder, some might reason, they will have less time for mischief.
But a three-year college degree is not really a three-year degree.
it’s four years of college credits rolled up into three.
In order to truly graduate from a college in three years, a student would need to enter with at least 30 credits of advanced standing earned through Advanced Placement (presuming the school awards all of the credits) or by taking college courses while still enrolled in high school. Or that student would need to accumulate credits during semester breaks, an option which is becoming more popular in higher education. In that case the student will have paid for almost four years of credits. S/he would just accumulate them in less time.
But a college degree is about more than an accumulation of credits.
If managed properly, it can be an effective lifetime plan to help you learn what you truly want to do. Sometimes that involves pursuing a degree, such as education, engineering or nursing, that could be exceptionally difficult to complete over a three-year schedule. Other times it may require pursuing a second major or one or more minors. And some times it involves back-tracking, where a student who has been enrolled in a program where s/he was not happy must move into another that is more fulfilling.
And then there’s an always-important argument; much of the college experience happens outside of the classroom. Among the things that a good college does is provide a network for life. That network might start with friends, but it will also grow to include faculty, administrators and alumni, among many others. A three-year degree gives full-time students less time to build their network. I have to wonder if an effort to increase the number of three-year degrees might actually result in fewer donor dollars from these degree holders in the future.
A three-year college degree is fine for students who do not seek the traditional college experience, maybe someone who wants a shorter road to law school or medical school, and is so focused that s/he is not interested in much beyond studying. It is also fine for the adult student who has a job and other responsibilities. There are schools that grant credits for competencies gained through employment as well as previous academic coursework. But it is not the best option for a student who hopes to enjoy college or is undecided on an academic direction at the very start.