Blitzing through college in three years is a well-known trick for students and families looking to save money. In the past year, both the New York Times
and the Washington Post
have run stories on the helpful recession-time tactic. This week, though, former education secretary Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a longtime fan of the three-year-plan, has a new idea: Rush students through in three years not only to help students, but to save colleges.
Sound strange? Take a look at the outline of Alexander's argument, and how it stacks up against others:
- A Problematic, Outdated System, Alexander writes of the college system in Newsweek. The current school year means institutions lose money over the summer to maintain facilities; tenure prevents "critical" faculty turnover, while "soar[ing]" tuition costs remain a constant concern. Alexander suggests that the three-year degree could repair some of the American university's nagging problems:
Expanding the three-year option or year-round
schedules may be difficult, but it may be more palatable than asking
Congress for additional bailout money, asking legislators for more
state support, or asking students for even higher tuition payments.
Campuses willing to adopt convenient schedules along with more-focused,
less-expensive degrees may find that they have a competitive advantage
in attracting bright, motivated students. As George Romney might have
put it, these sorts of innovations can help American universities, long
the example to the world, avoid the perils of success.
- Three-Year Degree Is a Four-Year Degree Without Study Abroad, Tim Carmody points out at the Snarkmarket blog. "[T]he real problem," he writes is that "many [students] ... are wasting their time in Europe." He agrees that having post-graduate work extend to the early thirties is hardly ideal, but says he doesn't "think that hurrying the entire
process along is a) where we are headed or b) where we want to head."
- Three-Year Degree a Raw Deal First of all, writes Denny Wilkins at Scholars and Rogues, "[c]olleges do not need to formally
offer three-year degrees"--students can already achieve a three-year bachelor's on their own. Secondly, a three-year degree is really only a good idea for a very small portion of freshmen, and "if ... colleges assert that the three-year degree is of the same
quality as the four-year degree, they’re misleading their market." Fun in college is important, Wilkins argues, as is time for "reflection and meditation on what's been learned." He soundly rebuffs the notion that the three-year degree would in fact help students get ahead:
Proponents of three-year degrees argue that students get a "head
start." On what? Life? That’s specious, given increased life
expectancy. The work force?
... if the freshman arriving with
AP and college credits stays a fourth year, perhaps she'll walk across
the stage with two majors and two minors or a dual degree (bachelor’s
and master’s) or one major and three minors.
She will likely
have earned 135 to 142 credits. She will be more marketable than others
on the stage with her because she will be far more accomplished. She
will be easily distinguished from her peers.
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
hhorn at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.