Formal three-year paths are growing, which promise priority registration for classes and special counseling to get past bureaucratic roadblocks.
The programs may appeal to UC students who complain that budget-related course reductions have made it difficult to enroll in the classes they need to graduate in four years.
The UC Commission on the Future is examining the fast-track degrees, increasing use of summer school and streamlining requirements for some majors. Proponents estimate that if 5 to 10 percent of UC undergraduates finish their degrees one term earlier than they do now, the university could educate 2,000 to 4,000 more students.
Most of the three-year programs are offered at small schools such as Seattle University, Bates College in Maine, Lake Forest College in Illinois, Manchester College in Indiana, Lipscomb University in Tennessee and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Public universities in Rhode Island and Arizona are considering the idea as well.
One program at Southern Oregon University waives some introductory classes for academically gifted students and gives them priority course registration.
“It’s a wonderful program because it reduces total credits, so it doesn’t kill them to come and do this,” said Maryanne Wright, administrative assistant for Southern Oregon University’s three-year program. “They have time for other activities, spending time with families and traveling.”
Some students have managed to graduate in three years, often by taking Advanced Placement courses and attending summer school.
UC reports that 2.9 percent of its students do so and the U.S. Department of Education said the national figure is 2.3 percent at four-year schools.
Approximately 59 percent of UC students graduate in four years. That total rises to 78 percent and 82 percent, respectively, in five and six years.
Daniel Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, feels it is appropriate for the UC system to invest resources in putting together some three-year programs.
“Overall there has been too much hype given to the three-year degree as being a significant solution for increasing the number of college degree holders in this country,” Hurley said. “The fact is, American public higher education is doing a pretty lousy job of graduating students within six years. We should increase use our current resources to get students to graduate on time, let alone in three years.”
Hurley said for the majority of American student body, three-year programs are not viable. Many need to work part time and may require one or more refresher courses once they hit campus.
Some students are choosing to forego college altogether because of its high costs.
“Not every young adult needs a four-year degree, but I do think there should be more focus on substitute BA credentials,” Hurley said. “Nowhere in the many decades ahead of us will we have [an] overabundance of college educated [people]. Any argument to suggest that there should be no training after high school is ludicrous.”
Hartwick College, a liberal arts school in Oneonta, N.Y., started offering a three-year degree program last fall after the national press highlighted it as a way to save money, said David Conway, vice president of enrollment and management.
Under Hartwick’s plan, students take an extra course each semester and an intensive class in the otherwise optional January term between semesters. Initially, 23 students signed on and it is estimated that up to 15 percent of students will eventually participate.
Steve Montiel, a media relations representative for the UC Office of the President, said the commission will consider feedback from the Academic Senate, staff, students and the public before presenting a final round of recommendations to the regents in the fall.
Jamie Wilson, a sophomore psychology major, said she supports the idea.
“I considered graduating in three years, but I decided not to because I’m doing pre-med,” Wilson said. “A three-year program would definitely be more affordable and convenient, especially for pre-med students who have a lot of school ahead of them.”
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached email@example.com.