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Three-Year College Degrees: Is That a Good Idea?

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I recently stopped off at my local natural food store to pick up a box of my favorite organic breakfast cereal. The stuff tastes like maple-flavored cardboard, which I prefer to strawberry-flavored cardboard.

This cereal is expensive, and when I picked up the box, I noticed it seemed too light–like it was only half full. I realized then that the cereal manufacturer was hiding its rising costs by giving me less for my money instead of charging me more.

Something like that is happening in higher education. According to Inside Higher Ed, "Higher education thought leaders" and several colleges are developing three-year college degree programs.

Why? Because a college education has gotten intolerably expensive, and a three-year program would theoretically reduce the cost of a college education by 25 percent.

Several models would slash the total number of credit hours from 120 to 90. Sort of like my breakfast cereal. Colleges keep their costs down by offering students fewer courses.

Is this a good idea?

Maybe. Most people agree that many students are taking required courses that don't interest them in the least. Why should an engineering student have to take a course in biology?

But the "thought leaders" are forgetting one critically important fact. Most students don't complete their college degrees in four years. In fact, only a little more than half the students at public universities (57.6 percent) get their degrees in six years!

Private colleges have a slightly higher graduation rate. Still, only about two-thirds of private-school students graduate within six years.

That tells me that most college students are in no hurry to complete their degrees and enter the world of work.

Some experts think that three-year college programs have significant drawbacks. A Connecticut college discontinued its three-year program because it "did not allow for the psychosocial and academic development of 18- to 22-year olds" that would occur if students were on campus for four years.

In an article published ten years ago, the Washington Post reported that three-year college programs are not catching on. Some students dropped out of the three-year option, the paper said, because they wanted more time to participate in student activities.

I applaud any effort to cut the cost of going to college. And maybe some of those required classes should be dropped. When I was a student (in the previous century), I took required courses in history, geography, biology, and chemistry.

Except for my American history course, which I loved, the information I got from my required classes went in one ear and out the other. I remember selling my chemistry text within an hour after finishing my final exam. (I got a C.)

Let's keep working on ideas to cut the cost of going to college. We've simply got to get tuition prices down and keep students from taking out student loans they can't repay. Three-year college programs may be part of the answer.

But let's not cut history courses from the college curriculum. I took an American history class when I was a college freshman, and I still remember why Washington crossed the Delaware.

Why did Washington cross the Delaware, and who cares anymore?

Finopulse

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