NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Three-Year College Degree?

November 7, 2014

With college costs (and student debt) rising, some schools are offering three-year bachelor's degree programs. Melissa Korn reports for the Wall Street Journal that Purdue University and the University of South Carolina are among those offering a three-year program, with the idea that students may appreciate the opportunity to earn a degree while paying less money.

At most schools, the three-year programs carry yearly tuition fees that are the same as those for four-year programs, but students in the accelerated program take additional classes during the summer as well as during the semesters, which bring additional fees. Still, those fees are less than the cost of a fourth year of school, plus it allows students to avoid housing and food costs. Savings vary between schools:

  • At Purdue University, Indiana residents save $9,290 on the three-year plan, while out-of-state residents save up to $18,000.
  • At Mount St. Mary's, student savings range from $12,000 to $14,000.

The average annual cost of a four-year degree is $23,872.

Will it work? Some say students may be hesitant to participate in the program because they might lose out on the "traditional" college experience due to the additional coursework and summer classes. But another issue schools are encountering has to do with federal policy. As of 2012, if students are enrolled in school for two semesters and receive full Pell grant funding during that time, the Pell grant program does not cover additional summer study. At Sterling College in Vermont, where half of the students are Pell grant recipients, the attempt to implement a three-year degree program hit a snag. According to the school's president, its students cannot not afford to take the summer classes.  

Source: Melissa Korn, "New on Campus: The 3-Year Degree," Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2014. 


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