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August 16, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

Should we move to more 3 year degrees? (or get rid of 4 year degrees)

Some colleges are moving to 3 year options. Unfortunately, its not being well received according to the press I read. The concept makes decent sense:

The concept would cut “one fourth of the time and up to one third of the cost,” he said, calling three-year degrees the “higher ed equivalent of a fuel-efficient car,” compared to the traditional “gas guzzling four-year course.”

You do highlight an interesting point at Charles Murray points out:

For everyone else, four years is ridiculous. Assuming a semester system with four courses per semester, four years of class work means thirty-two semester-long courses. The occupations that require thirty-two courses are exceedingly rare. In fact, I can’t think of a single example. Even medical school and Ph.D.s don’t require four years of course work. For the student who wants to become a good hotel manager, software designer, accountant, hospital administrator, farmer, high-school teacher, social worker, journalist, optometrist, interior designer, or football coach, the classes needed for the academic basis for competence take a year or two. Actually becoming good at one’s job usually takes longer than that, but competence in any profession is mostly acquired on the job. The two-year community college and online courses offer more flexible options than the four-year college for tailoring academic course work to the real needs of students.

While, I don’t agree with Murray and certainly he omits the value in the diversity of educational options, of creating people ready for democracy, and of creating more T-shaped (i.e. have both depth and breadth).

One issue to consider with the 3 year program is that its that college needs to be more experientially different (i.e. more internship, apprenticing, and experiential learning). I guess this would provide opportunity to provide more options (but the cost cutting advantage would then probably be nullified because you’d still have to pay tuition).

There are additional concerns which Inside Higher Ed points out:

Adelman also questioned whether the focus on three years would help the students most in need of help. The three-year model is based on full-time enrollment, he noted. The population growing more quickly — and more in need of additional institutional support — is made up of part-time students, he said. Colleges should focus on their needs, even if they will take much longer than traditional students to graduate. “Life is not necessarily an easy road to a bachelor’s degree,” he said. Most students can’t take a full-time course load, let alone more, Adelman added. “If you want to improve graduation rates, three-year degrees are counterproductive.”
He characterized the push for three years as coming from those whose ideas about higher ed amount to: “get it over with and get it over with fast.”

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said he also worried that the European three-year degrees were not an appropriate model for the United States. A more common high school curriculum and limited expectations about general education, he said, are key to the three-year approach.

Nassirian suggested that if three-year degrees are created simply by squeezing more content into shorter time periods, “I’m actually skeptical that you would save much money.” Further, he said, while efficiency and economy are important values, they aren’t the only values that matter.

“There’s no question that the way we do it has all kinds of avoidable inefficiencies. I’m not suggesting that what we have is perfect,” Nassirian said. “But it’s very important to be upfront with people and explain the trade-offs” of trying to finish college in three years instead of four. “You wouldn’t be able to go from physics to philosophy or philosophy to physics,” he said.

And without agreed upon standards for program content, he said, there is a risk that three-year programs could just be less time and less substance.

Sources:

Charles Murray: http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008…
Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/ne…

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