Save Money on College: Three-Year Degree Programs


With economic conditions difficult and the cost of education rising, several colleges and universities around the United States are more seriously considering the idea of adopting accelerated three-year programs to help students earn their degrees faster. The idea is already popular in other countries, helping add to its appeal elsewhere.

Finish college in 3 years instead of 4? Yes!

Four-year degrees have been a standard of American education “since the first universities began operating before the American Revolution,” The Washington Post writes. Senator Lamar Alexander, who was U.S. secretary of education from 1991 to 1993, has been a strong advocate for adding three-year degree programs to the system.

Alexander told The Washington Post, “It will not be easy to produce a low-cost, high-quality three-year curriculum for a college degree, but now is the time to try.” Alexander continued, “Today’s economic crisis and tight budgets are the best time to innovate and change.”

Pros and Cons of a Three-Year Degree

The advantages and disadvantages of working at an accelerated academic pace depend on your perspective. Some students favor the considerable cost benefits of completing school sooner. In a story appearing on WCTV.TV, Joshua Adams, a student hoping to graduate early, said, “I came in with 27 credit hours so I thought to myself- yea- I can knock it out in three or cut off maybe two years, maybe one year. So that’s going to save maybe 10 thousand to 20 thousand dollars.” Others feel differently, however, and are content to progress at a slower pace, or “wait out” the current work climate in hopes of improved job prospects later.

A student’s career goals are another motivator to earn a degree quickly, as some medical schools in the country are finding. Texas Tech University has announced that it is instituting a three-year M.D. program, which “could represent a significant move in efforts to encourage more medical students to go into primary care and to find ways to minimize the costs of medical education,” USA Today stated.

The school felt that the fourth year of study was largely dedicated to elective courses or classes designed for students wanting a specialized residency, but those interested in becoming primary care physicians could enter the workforce sooner on a shorter schedule. “Texas Tech believes that, with a few adjustments, it can provide those who plan careers in family medicine with the necessary parts of the forth year earlier — and free up the year,” USA Today explained.

But these accelerated schedules have raised some issues as well. Some education officials worry that students may miss out on important experiences, such as study abroad opportunities, by rushing their education. Still more concerns arise from the fact that students often take more than four years to earn their undergraduate degree anyway; the three-year programs are naturally more rigorous, and summer breaks will be spent fulfilling other requirements such as internships.

A three-year program might not be the best fit for everyone, but in the cases of older students or military personnel, for whom personal dedication is likely already very high, the idea could work well, Steve Roberson of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, explained to USA Today. Students wanting to hasten their entry into the workforce could also reap rewards. “They’re getting the earning power of the fourth year … like when a high school or college sports player decides to become a professional before graduating,” Roberson noted.

“It’s a creative solution to a lot of different things,” Lori Alexander, program director at Chatham University in Pittsburgh told The Washington Post. “Students enter the workforce quicker, they save a year of tuition and they can go on sooner for graduate study. And no, they aren’t missing anything. Academic quality stays the same.”

What about online schools?

Online schools frequently offer three-year degree programs to their pupils as well. By entering an online degree program from online colleges, students have the convenience of being able to complete work at a time more conducive to their scheduling needs. In the past, online schools have been dogged by complaints of low-quality education, but that issue may receive some help as even “ivy-colored universities and Internet entrepreneurs” provide online course offerings, according to U.S. News & World Report.

In a separate article, U.S. News & World Report explained that the technological training that comes from participating in certain online degree programs is highly valuable as well. “In this day and age, where employers are downsizing, the more that you can do to strengthen your ability to contribute to your organization, the better you’re going to be in terms of preserving your job,” Ayn Fox, a career coach with, said.

Forrest Whaling is an Account Manager at Location3 Media, a full service Digital Marketing Agency in Denver, CO.


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