Trendy three-year degrees gain momentum in Minnesota

Article by: , Star Tribune Updated: May 20, 2011 - 6:01 AM

Colleges differ in how they do it. Some rely on students earning college credit while in high school, others on students packing credits in, often during summers. The most radical proposals trim the number of credits required to graduate. "The more dramatic the innovations, the more that they bump against other things," said Scott Olson, MnSCU's interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. Those things include faculty contracts, outside oversight and student interest, he said -- "external forces that might limit the ability to make dramatic changes." Even without formal three-year paths, more students are compressing their college careers. About 2.9 percent of students who started at the University of Minnesota in 2002 graduated after three years. Five years later, 4.8 percent of students did. But the numbers are still small. At MnSCU's seven universities, for example, just 135 students who started in 2006 earned a bachelor's degree three years later. That's less than 2 percent. Natalie Baumgartner took four years to earn her degree -- but paid for two. She completed her associate's degree through North Hennepin Community College while still in high school, then enrolled at Metro State University in St. Paul. A MnSCU report shows that students who graduate in three years are much more likely to have entered

Minnesota universities could soon cut the price of a four-year degree in a fresh way: by lopping a year off. National debate about the value of a three-year bachelor's degree has reached the state's two public higher education systems. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is studying the idea. Two of its universities have proposed condensed programs in certain majors. The University of Minnesota, Morris, is quietly debating doing the same. The idea is gaining traction as families demand relief from ever-increasing tuition. Some experts say three-year degrees could save students a fourth of the cost of college. Critics point out that they could also miss out on a quarter of the education. "The three-year degree could become the highereducation equivalent of the fuel-efficient car," Newsweek proclaimed. "The three-year degree is no silver bullet," the Association of American Colleges and Universities replied.

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But they could also force students to forgo summer internships. Getting students to graduate quickly requires extra advising and early class registration. three-year degree programs have the potential to impact the majority of students in a negative way. be seen as less rigorous and divert shrinking resources to a small number of students. We're going to commit to you that you're going to have these courses when you need them. but I knew s he wanted to help me pay for college. most students struggle to graduate in even four years. This week.. But creating a program "would require commitment from both sides." said Leslie Mercer. then attend summer school in person or online. "Here are all the things you need to do. but postsecondary enrollment options. MnSCU's Board of Trustees discussed the pluses and minuses. Business Prof. Next fall. Meanwhile. "But if you are strapped for resources. an associate vice chancellor.A. no college has shrunk the number of credits needed for a bachelor's degree by a fourth. "My mom doesn't have a ton of money. Three-year programs could attract motivated students. or PSEO. Some experts worry that three-year programs push colleges to focus on a small pool of hypermotivated students like Baumgartner." Advertisement -2- ." Baumgartner said." How it might work So far. so "certainly. in social science at the age of 20. would have a normal load in fall and spring semesters. About 23 percent of them came in with 45 or more credits. improve graduation rates and help students avoid future tuition increases. "College is expensive. she'll start the University of Minnesota's master's program in social work -. It's possible for students to graduate early without a formal three-year plan. Thomas Fauchald said that many of his online students already take courses during the summer. one of the consequences could be that students in that middle group . But they'd take them more quickly. and you divert resources for that." he said. data show." Baumgartner graduated from Metro State this month with a B. maybe don't get the courses when they need them. I just figured that if I could make it easier on her. was free.without a dollar of debt. for example.. Under plans for three-year business and criminal justice programs at Bemidji State University. "So it's a bit of a balancing act.school with college credits. students would take just as many courses." a committee that has studied the issue told the board Wednesday. "It's an advantage to those who take advantage of it. Students on the business track. I would.

"I can think of a half-dozen of my good friends who were sophomores the minute they stepped on campus."Morris' biggest value. Morris. especially with parents "more and more saying. He thinks those students would be attracted to a three-year option." "If someone's only there for three years instead of four. the three-year option wasn't very radical. Such conversations are "very preliminary. it might build on the fact that 15 percent of Morris' last two incoming freshman classes had 30 or more college credits." Fauchald said." Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 Advertisement -3- . Privatsky worries about how it will affect students' relationships with faculty -." spokeswoman Christine Mahoney said. what's the dollar value?" But like others. you're taking 25 percent of the interaction away. "But I think many of our students are capable of getting out of three years what some students get in four. "When you come from a place that's a little more alternative thinking." said Matt Privratsky.Designing such a program "wasn't a huge stretch for us. in part because Bemidji has experience with online programs." Sophomores from the start More students at the University of Minnesota. The campus would not reduce the number of credits required. graduate in three years than those at the U's other campuses. a student leader and political science major who just graduated from Morris (in four years)." he said. Instead. That's one reason Morris is considering a three-year option. she said.

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