The Three-Year Engagement: Turning Four Years Of College Into Three
Wesleyan University wants to graduate some students in just three years, saving them (or their parents) thousands in tuition costs. Is this a brave idea—or a blasphemous one?
Morning Edition. MacBooks. Golden retrievers. Kale. Few things are so unimpeachable among Americans of a certain, shall we say, sensibility as a four-year college education. Why waste the best years of your life working when you could be on campus, singing a capella, hosting a radio show, and drinking PBR tall-boys out of tube socks on the sidelines of your intramural dodge ball game? Oh, and, right, studying.
Never mind that few Ivy League universities and liberal arts colleges offer anything but a fixed, four-year path to graduation. Considering that the unemployment rate for men under the age of 25 with bachelor’s degrees stands at 9.5 percent—and 8 percent for young women—who would want to leave the party early?
Wesleyan University President Michael Roth, who in May announced that his university would begin promoting a three-year degree option for undergrads, thinks he might get some takers. But to be honest—and he’ll tell you this himself—he has no idea. “I think we won’t know until we run it,” he says. “I spent a lot of my career in California. I’m very much in favor of rapid prototyping. So I think we should just try this program, and see how it works, and we’ll tinker with it.”
More than 20 colleges have announced tuition-saving three-year degree programs since 2009, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, but Wesleyan is by far the most prestigious to do so. “The unprecedented jump in new three-year programs is a response to the economic difficulties facing many American families,” says NAICU’s Tony Pals. “While programs were not unheard of prior to the recession—Bates College and Judson College have programs that go back to the 1960s—they were few and far between.”