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Is a 3-year college program right for you?

November 3, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some say college is the best four years of your life. But would you consider shortening it to three if it could save you a bundle?

There's a new movement to offer three year degree programs at some colleges to help motivated students with limited means.

The three-year programs do require the student to take a larger class load. But if they can buckle down, three years is much less costly than four or five.

Hitting the books can be hard enough. But in this economy just paying for them can be a hardship in and of itself. One study found 50 percent of teens changed their college plans because of the economy.

But now some schools, like the University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Southern Oregon University and dozens of others are offering a new kind of solution to help cut costs -- a formal three-year graduation plan.

"It's going to be thousands and thousands of dollars in savings," said Ed Blaguszewski, an executive director at UMass.

Students enrolled in a three-year degree program at UMass can take extra courses during the school year for no extra cost. Combine those with advanced placement credits and a few extra courses in the summer, and students can earn their required credits faster and get their degree a year earlier.

"The value of your education is not discounted at all," Blaguszewski said. "You're doing the same amount of study, research, engagement in your college career as a student who is here four years."

But not everyone's so enthused, like Debra Humphreys of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

"For many, many students, I think three years is probably not enough time to really get the educational experiences they're going to need," Humphreys said.

She said by packing on extra courses, students may be cutting out options for extracurricular activities, internships or study abroad programs, all of which are opportunities outside the classroom that could enrich students' resumes as much as courses in their major.

"It's those kinds of things that are very valuable in an interview for a job, to be able to say 'Yes, I have I have a really high GPA but I've also done these other things that have been really valuable experiences that have allowed me to develop a whole set of workforce ready skills,'" Humphreys said.

UMass does agree that the program is not for everyone and that it takes a certain kind of self-motivated, accelerated student to succeed. But they said it could be an economic lifesaver for the right person. And one they're happy to offer.

According to Humphreys, the three-year plan idea started out in small liberal arts colleges years ago, but is now catching on because of the current economic climate.


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