It’s about time; colleges are starting to realize their attendance rates will drop if they keep sending their students into the world with huge amounts of debt. Now that they are acknowledging this, what’s their plan of action? An article I read from USAToday.com says that colleges are starting to introduce the three year bachelor degree program to save on loans. On the surface this sounds like a logical idea. If students spend a shorter amount of time in college it should save them money. I personally think this is misguided.
Does a three year bachelor degree require the same amount of classes as a four year degree? I’m assuming the answer is yes otherwise everyone would want a three year degree. If that’s the case then they’re basically just giving their students a busier work load (please follow my logic):
1-Instead of 4 classes a semester they will take 5 or 6 (which isn’t anything new for devoted students).
2-Now we need to look at tuition. Every college has a ton of fees, but the most expensive fee is the cost of classes. If students still have to take the same amount of classes they really won’t be saving that much money.
3-Lastly we need to consider why people take out student loans. Generally it’s because they don’t have money for college. In order to save up money many students work and go to school. If their workload increases they will no longer have time to work. That in turn will lead to needing more loans. What this all comes down to is that we will have really busy students that may end up taking out even more student loans because they don’t have time to work. Not to mention the students being tired and stressed out all the time which could cost more money as lack of sleep causes poor financial decisions (nights out, fast food, etc.).
I know we all want a way for students to be able to go to college and not acquire a mountain of debt. That would be great, but the debt isn’t the problem. The lack of “good” jobs for college graduates is. If most graduates could find a decent job, paying down their student loans wouldn’t be as big of a deal. Schools need to address this issue by better preparing their students for what comes next. College shouldn’t be about grades, but about what their students actually learn. Maybe they received an A on their test, but can they actually apply it in real life a month from now? If we expect the companies to completely train all their employees why would they pay more to hire a college graduate? I’ve always been told that a college degree mostly shows that the graduate can actually stick with something and follow it through, and that they aren’t afraid of working hard. If that’s true then I want to know why it costs students so much to prove that to an employer! Isn’t that what probation periods are for? By focusing on student loans colleges aren’t actually fixing the main problem.
As a side note, if we want our students to take out less loans we need to do a better job explaining to them the responsibility of having them. Right now we tell our kids that student loans are OK as long as they finish school, but I can’t help but feel that that attitude is wrong. We should explain them in a way that shows that they are just like any other kind of debt. I think that this should be done in the beginning of high school. If it’s done freshman year they will have time to save money for college if they decided they don’t want to use student loans. I know that most high school students won’t take it seriously, but the sooner they are confronted with the issue the longer it will have to sink in as being important. When I started to take out loans it never seemed like I would actually have to pay them back. I mean I knew I would have to, but it seemed like so far away that it didn’t matter. I know an early introduction, combined with the attitude that student loans weren’t a good thing, would have helped me out a lot.
As college becomes an expectation for more and more people, student loans will continue to rise. Some colleges are taking action to try and “lower” costs by offering a three year bachelor degree. I personally think this is going to be as helpful as a jacket in 100 degree heat. I’m curious to know how all of you feel about this issue. Is a three year degree a good thing, or is it a tool colleges want to use to make themselves look better? Are we all ignoring the real issues (which are the job market and college curriculum)?
June 22, 2012 at 7:12 PM
Nice article, I agreed with it and wanted to bring up an additional point.
I think that the number one problem with student loans isn’t so much the money but what you are actually learning in the classes you are spending the money on. I think that students have been sold the idea that any university education is a good investment—regardless of major. I have known or read about too many people spending 100K-200K at fancy schools only to graduate with degrees in useless subjects.
This hurts the students in two meaningful ways. Firstly, the student must pay back all of the money. Secondly, he or she doesn’t have a skill set that will help them earn money. Yes, the students did take out the money but in many ways they were sold a bill of false goods by universities in order to separate them from their money. The real solution must be to make higher institutions disclose the actual job prospects for each degree along with the median salary so people can make an informed choice. Spending 150K for a Harvard MBA is probably a good bet; spending 150K for a degree in Art History from the same school probably isn’t.
June 22, 2012 at 7:29 PM
I completely agree with you! Not to mention even if you get a degree in something useful it only counts if the students actually learn the material and somewhat retain it.
June 22, 2012 at 8:37 PM
Chris this is a great blog post,
In England and Wales many students earn their bachelors’ degrees in 3 years. Depends what program you’re in but it’s really common. They have a different system, where students have to select their major from day one and are locked in that program. Almost all the classes they take are in their subject area (with perhaps one or two exemptions) there are no Gen Eds. The lack of Gen Eds makes it faster and the student is more specialized in their subject area. They typically take 3-4 different classes each semester. They end up with more specialized degrees. It’s a good approach if you know what you want to do, but a lot less flexible. You pay the same fees every semester regardless of how many classes you take. And typically students can’t easily take semesters off, unless you fail a class you are full time for 3 years. Its hard to switch majors, if you realize you’ve picked the wrong program you have to start over, the credits often don’t transfer and you’ve basically wasted a semester or more.
June 22, 2012 at 8:58 PM
It sounds like a way better system than ours in most ways. I guess it isn’t good for figuring out what you want to do though. I just have a hard time understanding why college is so expensive yet employers still say graduates aren’t prepared.
June 22, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Very nicely written! I completely agree with you, Chris, that reducing the duration of degree programs won’t be of much help; rather this might make things worse! Learning the skills in three years, which could be learned in four years, would obviously deteriorate the quality of campus learning and further reflect in their job performance. So, better address the issue of quality learning during college years, and the issue of loan repayment will be addressed itself.
Looking forward to reading more such stuff!
June 23, 2012 at 10:15 AM
Thanks for the comment! I think college are getting the right curriculum out there, but they don’t know how to test their students adequately. As long as an A is more important then learning the information, student’s educations won’t be top notch.
June 23, 2012 at 11:04 AM
I guess I don’t quite understand how it will save you money if you are required to take the same amount of credits in order to graduate. The only way for it to cost the same is if colleges allow you to take additional credits per a semester, usually at no additional cost but you usually have to have a good GPA. Like you said, depending on the person’s major, how much work they could personally handle and if they have additional responsibilities all play a huge role.
If I could go back in time, I would have realized the importance of AP classes and stocked up on them. I would have also considered high schools that allow you to take college classes with little to no cost to the student. This could save you upwards of probably two years at many institutions.
Then again, I was an undergraduate for six years (full-time the entire time) and graduated with a tiny student loan that I took out for the one year I went away. 😉
June 23, 2012 at 11:10 AM
I agree with you. It doesn’t seem like they want college kids to work while going to school. I was fortunate to have my undergraduate paid for through grants, but I had to take out loans for my masters. It’s one thing to take out loans for school, but a lot of these kids are taking out loans for living expenses too. It’s on thing to have $10k to $20K in loans for school and other to have $50K to $100K because you didn’t want to work.
I also wish I would have taken college courses in high school. Although they did do a study on this topic and they found that kids who did this tended to stay in school as long as everyone else. Often times they would get 2 degrees or a minor.
June 23, 2012 at 11:14 AM
Given how long I was an undergraduate, I could have had multiple degrees. I think what annoyed me was that because I was working on a B.S. rather than a B.A. I was not allowed to double major or minor.
Luckily I received grants for my M.S. but I had to pay taxes on over $9,000 that I received because they considered it income. ALL of that money went directly to the school yet I couldn’t claim tuition on my taxes.
I definitely can see how people stay for the same amount of time with the college courses. If you’re going to be working for the next forty plus years, what’s the rush?
June 23, 2012 at 1:05 PM
June 24, 2012 at 7:56 AM
Chris: Not all 3Yr degrees are accelerated (i.e., same number of courses as 4Yr degrees, just squeezed into 36 months). The Integrated 3Yr competency-based model makes learning the constant rather than the seat time. By re-engineering the curriculum to squeeze out the unnecessary redundancies (emphasis on ‘unnecessary’) students can attend for 6 semesters and earn 120 credits without the seat-time required in an 8 semester degree. This model has been very successful at Southern New Hampshire University for the last 15 years. Another benefit is that it cuts course delivery costs to the institution. This is a win-win proposition for students and colleges. See Saving Higher Education: The Integrated, Competency-Based Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree Program http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470888199.html.
Here’s what the president emeritus of George Washington University (Stephen Joel Trachtenberg) says about it:
“At last a book that answers one of higher education’s most burning questions: How do we provide America a cheaper, faster undergraduate experience without cheating on the old family recipe and compromising standards? At a time when challenges of college value, quality, and mission are high on the public agenda and an unprecedented number of institutions are exploring three-year degree programs, we are provided a road map that maintains academic integrity by focusing on learning outcomes rather than process inputs. Bravo and about time. This book will add value and inform the thinking of all stakeholders, even the most skeptical of faculty. A three-year baccalaureate aligns the academy with the needs and aspirations of the future. While enhancing effectiveness, it affords students what they want and need while meeting the national agenda for socially and economically productive citizens.”
June 24, 2012 at 10:08 AM
Thanks for the comment Robert. I’m sure these 3 year degrees have benefits, but I don’t see how they would effect the amount of student loans people take out (which is what some have suggested). It would be nice to finish college in three year, but that would leave less time for work. According to Stephen Joel Trachtenberg college will be cheaper but by how much? Taking that many classes would be like a full time job without the pay. If students have people that can help them with their cost of living they are fortunate, but most students don’t have that. I fear that these degrees will only increase the amount of student loans taken out while decieving students into thinking they will save money. College tuition isn’t the only cost for these students.
June 24, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Thanks, Chris: I wasn’t clear enough. The Integrated 3Yr degree entails only 6 semesters. No summer school and no intersession classes are needed. Basically, students earn 30 credits without seat time because it is the competencies that matter, not the number of seat-time classes. Our 3Yr students take out only 3 years of loans, have summers free to work and many work part-time during their academic semesters. For the past 15 years, this has truly been a win-win situation. Here’s a link to my guest piece in the Washington Post that gives a more detailed explanation. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/guest-post-a-resounding-yes-to-the-degree-in-three/2011/07/22/gIQAGIgcTI_blog.html
June 29, 2012 at 6:14 PM
Thanks for the clarification Robert. I’m interested in seeing if the 3 year degree catches on.