College: Graduate in 3 years

The Three-Year Solution: How the reinvention of higher education benefits parents, students, and schools.


Hartwick college, a small liberal-arts school in upstate New York, makes this offer to well-prepared students: earn your undergraduate degree in three years (six semesters) instead of four, and save about $43,000—the amount of one year's tuition and fees. A number of innovative colleges are making the same offer to students anxious about saving time and money. The three-year degree could become the higher-education equivalent of the fuel-efficient car. And that's both an opportunity and a warning for the best higher-education system in the world.

Comment: A great idea.

I like this quote (as it could apply to any organization):

In The Reckoning, his chronicle of the American auto industry's troubles, the late David Halberstam wrote about George Romney, the square-jawed, upstart president of American Motors who saw the Big Three as a "shared monopoly … musclebound and mindless in the domestic market—increasingly locked into practices that their best people knew were destructive but unable to break out of so profitable a syndrome." Romney warned, "There is nothing more vulnerable than entrenched success."

Summer ... a wasted season (but on the other hand some students need to work to earn $ for tuition!)

But as I discovered myself during my four-year tenure as president of the University of Tennessee in the late 1980s, in some ways, many colleges and universities are stuck in the past. For instance, the idea of the fall-to-spring "school year" hasn't changed much since before the American Revolution, when we were a nation of farmers and students put their books away to work the soil during the summer. That long summer stretch no longer makes sense. Former George Washington University president Stephen J. Trachtenberg estimates that a typical college uses its facilities for academic purposes a little more than half the calendar year. "While college facilities sit idle, they continue to generate maintenance, energy, and debt-service expenses that contribute to the high cost of running a college," he has written.

Six years to graduate?

Meanwhile, tuition has soared, leaving graduating students with unprecedented loan debt. Strong campus presidents to manage these problems are becoming harder to find, and to keep. In fact, students now stay on campus almost as long as their presidents. The average tenure of a college president at a public research university is seven years. The average amount of time students now take to complete an undergraduate degree has stretched to six years and seven months as students interrupted by work, inconvenienced by unavailable classes, or lured by one more football season find it hard to graduate.

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