Teacher's Desk: Degree in Three?

The soon-to-be graduates marched into the World Arena in Colorado Springs while the organist played "Pomp and Circumstance" and we parents watched proudly. It was amazing that so many degrees were conferred by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. As usual, the most undergraduate degrees were conferred in the colleges of nursing, education, and arts and sciences. The fewest? College of Engineering, of course, and I was glad to watch my son walk across the stage with honors as one of those engineering graduates.

My son was one of the 57.3% of students who earn their degrees in four years. Valerie Strauss, writing for Washingtonpost.com, describes the trend toward three-year bachelor degrees now offered by many universities and colleges.

Rhode Island recently passed a bill in their state legislature requiring state colleges and universities to offer three-year undergraduate programs, but colleges already offering three-year degrees find that many students continue to need four or more years to graduate. Only 4.2% of college graduates do so in three years, but 38.5% of students need more than four years to complete bachelor degree programs.

In order to continue quality programming, many of the new three-year programs are requiring summer classes, preventing many students from earning income to pay for tuition and books or wonderful hands-on internship opportunities in their area of interest.

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, former leader of the United States Department of Education, is a proponent of three-year programs. He understands the difficulties families are having paying tuition, books, and dormitory costs for four years. Saving $10,000 or more and graduates getting busy in their careers a year earlier can certainly save financial stress on these families.

Purdue has done one better with a two-year bachelor’s program in their college of technology. This degree is designed for the older student needing “re-tooling” and a career change.

Three-year programs have the potential to be useful here. Governor Ritter just signed a bill that will allow motivated high school students to earn a two-year associates degree while earning a high school diploma. The two programs could fit together like a hand in a glove, allowing student to earn a graduate degree in the time span it takes many to earn their undergraduate degree.

Congratulations to all the new grads and their proud parents! Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an M.A. in educational leadership and is a former candidate for the Colorado Board of Education.