Doug Cohen: The 3-year degree

As acceptance letters are mailed throughout the country this month, parents may begin to wonder, “How am I going to pay for GW?”

With tuition soaring and scarce financial aid resources being exacerbated by tight budgets and funding cuts, college is as expensive as ever. While schools and families will continue to look to traditional means of financial relief, they should also consider another non-traditional option.

GW should create a program allowing students to complete their undergraduate degrees in three years. This idea, championed by our very own former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, can make a serious difference for families that are struggling financially.

The idea is to pack the traditional eight-semester undergraduate degree into six by having universities operate throughout the year. A three-year bachelor program can take numerous forms, such as having classes through traditional school year vacations, or by having students stay full time over the summer.

In schools where this idea has been implemented, students and families have seen their tuitions go down significantly. At Hartwick College, it is estimated that students save 25 percent in tuition by completing their degrees in three years, while at Lipscomb University three-year degree students save approximately $11,000 per year.

Why not experiment with a program that allows countless more aspiring young academics to pursue their goals of higher education?

There are also academic benefits to a three-year degree. Students who have a clear vision of what they want to study in school can achieve that faster without having to complete requirements that do not contribute to their intellectual pursuits. This allows some to enter the workforce faster and gain a competitive edge in their professions.

What are the benefits for universities? Trachtenberg wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year that a three-year degree will serve to “increase the number of students who can be accommodated during a four-year period, and reduce institutional costs per student.”?

Universities can operate in a more efficient manner, as facilities that remain idle during the summer or prolonged vacations can be used.

The process of streamlining students in and out of school at a faster rate will serve to lessen the fees and expenses that universities typically accrue over a four-year period. This will allow universities to allocate their resources more effectively, allowing them to invest more in the student body and faculty.

A three-year undergraduate program is not for everyone. Some majors or fields of study might be best completed in four years. Furthermore, some students might want to complete school in the standard four years so as to have time to enjoy the traditional college experience.

An accelerated three-year program might certainly hinder one’s social life and ability to participate in extra-curricular activities, internships and jobs.

While these concerns are valid, it does not mean that students should not consider a three-year undergraduate program. The option to complete college in three years does not have to become standard, but we should recognize the benefits for students who are looking to relieve the financial burden of higher education. With thousands unable to achieve the essential dream of attending a university because it is unaffordable, there is no excuse for disregarding the idea of a three-year degree. Doing otherwise would be a great disservice to too many.

Dough Cohen, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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