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Colleges Weighing 3-Year Degrees to Save Undergrads Time, Money

Justin Guiffre, 19, a sophomore at George Washington University, said financial considerations might lead him to graduate in three years, an opportunity he has because of credits for Advanced Placement courses he took in high school.

Noting that the sticker price to attend the university is about $54,000, he said, "A three-year program could be appropriate for students who demonstrate commitment, academic excellence and maturity."

At a February conference of the American Council on Education in Washington, Alexander said a three-year bachelor's degree for motivated students would cut "one-fourth the cost from a college education" and save students considerable time.

"I think we are going to see more colleges offering the three-year degree and better marketing," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the nonprofit council and a former president of the 16-campus University of North Carolina.

Such programs have existed for several years at a number of schools, including Bates College in Maine and Ball State University in Indiana, which offers three-year degrees in about 30 areas. But more are jumping in, said Tony Pals, director of public information for the nonprofit National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

"They will be watched closely by other colleges, as well as policymakers," he said.

Lawmakers in Rhode Island's House recently approved a bill that requires all state institutions of higher education to create three-year bachelor's programs that would begin in fall 2010.

This fall, Hartwick College in New York is cutting a year -- and more than $40,000 in costs -- off its undergraduate degree program. Lipscomb University in Nashville will offer a three-year degree this fall that requires students to attend two summer sessions (shortening the time they can earn money at summer jobs). The school says students will save about $10,000.

At Chatham University in Pittsburgh, a three-year bachelor of interior architecture will be offered without summer courses, allowing students to get into the job market a year earlier, school officials said. School officials reconfigured the four-year degree by cutting the studio classes from 14 weeks to seven.

"It's a creative solution to a lot of different things," said program director Lori Alexander. "Students enter the workforce quicker, they save a year of tuition and they can go on sooner for graduate study. And no, they aren't missing anything. Academic quality stays the same."

As if three years isn't enough of a departure, Purdue University's College of Technology in Indiana just announced a two-year bachelor's degree starting this summer. It is aimed at educating unemployed auto and manufacturing workers but is open to anyone, created with the idea that workers whose companies are eligible for federal economic stimulus funds would go to school while receiving unemployment checks, a school spokesman said.

Johnson Sattiewhite, 21, a junior at Howard University, is taking five years to get his bachelor's degree because, he said, he did not decide to major in advertising until his sophomore year and needed to catch up on course work. A three-year bachelor's might work for some students, he said, but many need more time.

College, he said, is about more than academics. It involves social networking and learning how to deal with life.

"We have four years to set up our future outside of college," he said. "Why give up one?"

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