Representatives from a dozen colleges recently met at Georgetown University to lower the costs of a college education. What makes their proposal particularly intriguing is that it involves creating a “true” three-year bachelor’s degree. By “true,” we mean a degree that only involves three years’ worth of courses and expenses (think 90 to 100 semester hours) as opposed to other various accelerated programs that have students taking four years’ worth of courses in a consolidated time frame (think 120 semester hours).
This idea came up about 14 years ago and failed to gain traction. Will this time be different? Well, while we don’t have a ‘crystal ball,’ we are glad to report that the dozen schools that met at Georgetown are all either running pilots or developing pilots. We also believe the prevailing attitude towards higher education has changed of late and, given the stifling pressure from the mounting amount of student debt, there will be more pressure on universities and their accreditors to bring this to fruition.
Should this degree option come to be offered by a large proportion of US colleges and universities, we expect it will quickly become accepted by a significant number of students. When the job market is hot, employers will not hesitate to hire applicants with three-year degrees. After that, the career success of those degree holders will depend more on how well they perform their jobs.
The way-too-early analysis of how this degree will be viewed by graduate schools is as follows. Research-oriented programs would likely have a strong bias towards the traditional four-year undergraduate degree. However, we could see top MBA programs and law schools making offers to candidates with three-year degrees when their work experience, test scores, and undegraduate grades are equal to those with four-year degrees.
Three-year degree students would have to understand they wouldn’t have as much time to “recuperate” a low initial GPA as their four-year counterpart and would have to make an even greater effort to start off on a strong note if they thought graduate school might be in their future!