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Bearden: Why State Schools Should Offer Three-Year Programs

by Caroline Bearden

When a person thinks of college, they imagine the best four years of their life, the years where they learned about what interested them and their social life was more than fulfilling. But what if those four years could be three years, saving families money and allowing a student to jump into the labor force more quickly? The time is now to implement change in the way we think about college, and state schools are where these three-year programs should start.

You might be thinking, why should the state schools pilot these three-year programs as opposed to smaller liberal arts colleges? The answer is that with big state schools, more students would be able to enroll in a three-year program, so experts would be able to better evaluate the success of a three-year system. Furthermore, state schools often require fewer core classes than small liberal arts colleges, allowing freshmen to get started with classes towards their intended major more quickly. This allows students to fast track their learning and enables them to take all of their required classes for their major in a shorter amount of time.

Summer sessions would be a requirement in order to earn enough credits to graduate in a three-year program, but these sessions are relatively inexpensive for students and families. According to Wesleyan president Michael Roth, even with summer session expenses, families save nearly twenty percent in these three-year programs. That is a significant amount of money, especially for families of lower socioeconomic status. For these families struggling to decide whether or not they can send their child to college, these savings in a three-year program would enable more families to pay for their child’s education. While a student does sacrifice a few weeks in their summer vacation to go to school, the savings more than make up for it.

Many people believe that four years of college is important for a young adult to grow and finish maturing. Some people might think three years is just too short a time span for a student to be ready to go out into the real world. However I am inclined to think the opposite is true. The first two years of college is the time that students grow the most, transitioning fully from high school adolescence into young adult life. It is incredibly difficult to tell a junior and senior student apart on a campus based on how they comport themselves, while it is easy to tell a freshman apart from an upperclassman. In a three-year program, students would grow even more quickly in their characters, as they would be forced to balance more responsibilities in a faster paced educational system. They would be just as ready and capable to go off to their first job as a traditional college senior.

A three-year program would not be for everyone. Students applying to these programs would have to have a fairly concrete idea of what they want to study or a career they want to pursue, as there would be little time to change majors and graduate in three years. The students who would benefit most would also come into college with some AP credit to account for foundation or distribution requirements. These programs would most immediately benefit students of lower socioeconomic families that are in the top of their class but just can’t afford to go to college. But there would be benefits too for the campuses as these programs would bring diversity to schools, allowing for a more fulfilling and dynamic undergraduate experience.

These three-year programs, starting in state schools, would help solve the problem of accessibility of higher education as well as the expense without sacrificing quality. The labor market would also benefit greatly from gaining more qualified applicants more quickly, spurring on the economy at a faster rate. These three-year programs are a first step in solving some of the big issues with higher education, while still leaving the traditional four-year college in tact for the families who are still willing to pay full price for that forth year.

Caroline Bearden, of the Class of 2016, is from Summit, N.J.