Should You Get a Three-Year College Degree?

Tight economy has some schools offering a short-cut to the bachelor�s degree

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Students can save up to $18,000 by completeing their college degree in three years.

Spiraling tuition costs have  some students balking at the idea of a traditional four-year degree program. Apparently, schools are responding as colleges and universities begin to implement three-year-degree programs in an effort to help students cut costs and enter the workforce earlier. But how much are students really saving by shaving off a year of college?

“By completing a three-year degree program, students can end up saving about $10,000 in living expenses and $3,000 to $5,000 in tuition at a public college,” says Ken Clark, certified financial planner and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paying for College (Alpha; $18.95). Clark says even though many schools do not offer these programs, students are finding ways to take on more credits and finish school earlier, including attending summer courses at a community college for a fraction of their university’s price per credit hour. And colleges are starting to take notice.

However, the three-year model is not completely new; it is common in Europe. Now, a number of institutions in the United States are following suit. Since the start of 2010, Arcadia University, Holy Family University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Ursuline College, have all formalized three-year-degree programs set to begin this fall.

“We recognized the growing concern from families about the cost of higher education,” says Jerry Greiner, president of Arcadia, a private university in Philadelphia. Incoming freshman participating in the program will be of the top tier of entrants given the rigors of such an accelerated program, says Greiner who expects up to 15 students to be part of the program this fall.

“We are purposely selecting students for the program who are highly motivated and who have already demonstrated ability to do really well academically,” says Greiner. “But we also know high ability students will get stressed. We will have advisors working with students meeting regularly with students.”

The three-year degree has piqued the interest of about 350 incoming freshman at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Its program, UNCG in 3, is designed for the growing number of high school seniors who enter the university with transferable college credit earned through Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other early college programs. Incoming freshmen with 12 or more credit hours will be eligible to participate.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, in 2001, 4.2% of U.S. undergraduates graduated with their bachelor’s degrees within three years. “By saving one full year of tuition, room and board students will realize savings of about $8, 000,” says Steve Roberson, dean of undergraduate studies.

Provided that a student is highly motivated and dedicated to finishing the coursework, a three-year degree program could save students and families thousands of dollars.

  • I think it depends on the program. It could be detrimental (and stressful!) to cram a four year program into three years, but if schools started to develop 3-year curriculum that is a good solution.

    • I agree LaNeshe, there are some majors that cannot be crammed in three years. One of the arguments that opponents pose is that students are missing out on a time of growth and development. I have to admit. I did not want to rush college nor take take my time. I think four years was just enough time for me.

  • Thank you Renita for your interesting article on the pro’s and con’s of accelerated degree programs.

    Southern New Hampshire University has had a successful three-year program for almost fourteen years. We broke the mold for higher education in 1995 with the creation of the 3Year Honors Program in Business, which remains the only one of its kind in the country.

    This custom-designed, highly integrated academic experience is offered over the course of six-semesters, with no summer, night or weekend courses. Students take a traditional course load and graduate with 120 credits, the same as their four-year counterparts. They also have time for involvement in athletics, clubs and student life.

    Research shows that our 3-year students achieve at least as well academically as their 4-year counterparts.

    You can read more about the program by visiting our web site: and at

    Thanks. RHS

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