The Columns

Nedell: You're Only in College Once

— by on June 8th, 2015

by Kendra Nedell

The ability to cut college costs would be appealing to every student and parent. Going to school for three years instead of four could save families thousands, especially at smaller liberal arts schools. This sounds so great, but it might just be too good to be true, especially for everyone. Cutting a year off of college would save money for those students who are even able to get everything done in three years, but it could easily limit the exploration of other important areas that one takes part in during their college career.

First off, it is hard to give up a year of college. Your forth year cumulates your time as a student for some and is one more year without true “real world” responsibilities. Everyone loves being in college with their friends and wants to drag out this time for as long as possible. Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, is correct in saying that giving up your last year is a decision you have to be willing to make; you have to decide if saving the money is worth loosing a year of college. For many it is, and for others it probably isn’t. However, for those families who do need that money, it would probably be worth it.

These are the families who need to guarantee that their students are prepared to rush through college. Yet these are the students who are often least prepared during high school. One component that would help a three-year completion is entering college with many credits from AP and IB exams. Many students from poorer backgrounds do not always attend high schools where they can take an abundant number of these exams or if they are offered, the teachers might not prepare them as well as a student at a higher achieving preparatory school.

These students may also have to work during summers to earn money that they would not be able to earn if they were required to take summer classes. Yes, it would be cheaper to take a summer class and save a years worth of tuition, but those scouring for funds might need that little bit of extra income in the present even if it will just go straight back into education. Even for those students who don’t require the extra summer income, the summer job experience would be lost. A majority of students begin with internships over their summer years, especially sophomore through senior years of college. These often turn into jobs where the student impresses the employer who then asks them to continue working at their company. Without these summer options, students could lack some of the experience they really should have before entering this “real world” after college.

For any student looking into completing college in three years, they must weigh their losses. If one must overload every semester and spend every day in class and in the library after those classes commence, there will not be significant time for anything else. Not only would this cut down on social lives and time with friends, but it would also limit their ability to participate in numerous clubs, athletics, Greek life, student councils, and any other external interests. Roth almost appears as a superhuman from this point of view, as he pursued music, employment, Greek life, and even publishing. This honestly just isn’t possible for most people to do while still committing themselves to their academics and focusing on completing everything in three years. These external activities are huge in developing a person, as college is often seen as the time when young people mature into adults and find their true passions and interests. If these components are removed from one’s college experience, what impacts will that have on their self-development?

Not only will a three-year college track be challenging for most students, but the schools will also have to figure out how to manage it. It isn’t as easy as just letting students overload, come in with many credits, and do online programs. Many higher education institutions have strict rules about what external classes they give credit for and how many credits students can bring from high school. A more rigid three-year program would have to be developed. Even with this, they would still have to figure out if the students would pay for three semesters. If an undergraduate takes the required amount of credits at their school in three years instead of four, why are they only paying for three years if they are still using the resources it would take to do it in four years? These are all questions that schools would have to look at if they thought about moving towards three-year options.

Cutting college costs sounds perfect for families struggling to pay for four years, or even those who could substantially benefit from saving the extra money. However, it is a question of importance as well as a question of practicality. Is it worth giving up extracurricular activities and possibly summers in order to cut off a year of college? Are students able to come in with enough credits and get enough credits fast enough to complete school in three years? It comes down to a student-by-student and family-by-family basis. If the answer to both of these questions is yes, than it makes complete sense to finish school in three years. However, this will likely be very difficult for those students who need it most.

Kendra Nedell, of the Class of 2018, is from Spotsylvania, Va.