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Rethinking Higher-Ed
Three-Year Bachelor's Picking Up Steam at Elite Schools

Colleges generally count on at least four years’ worth of tuition per student when tending to the bottom line. Wesleyan University is now separating itself from the pack by encouraging students to fulfill graduation requirements in three years. Wesleyan is not the only college to allow this, but it is given its prestige and active support for the option, the decision may inspire others to do the same. As the Boston Globe reports, president Michael S. Roth thinks students who already have post-college plans will be particularly motivated to accelerate the undergrad experience:

Roth doesn’t expect the three-year track to ever become hugely popular, but wants it to be considered a normal option, one that involves sacrifices but also the opportunity to leap more quickly into graduate school or other exciting pursuits.

He recalled a previous Wesleyan president telling students, “If you look back at your years at Wesleyan and say those were the best four years of your life, we failed you.”

“I feel the same way,” Roth said in an interview. “You shouldn’t stay here because this is your time to screw around and have a great time and then it’s going to be bad. These should be the years that launch you into the world in a better way.”

Wesleyan students who take this option would be able to shave 20 percent off their total tuition, considerable savings at a school that costs over $60 thousand per year.

This is an excellent idea, but it would be good to see schools offer even greater flexibility by moving away from the credit-hour system altogether. Students should be judged based on what they can demonstrate that they’ve learned rather than how many classes they’ve taken. Extremely gifted students may learn in two years what takes others four. As long as each graduate can demonstrate mastery of the material, there’s no reason to mandate that everyone learn at the same pace or follow the same curriculum. That change may still be a long way off, however, and this is, at the very least, a good first step.

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  • Fat_Man

    And give up tuition? Fuhgeddaboudit.

  • El Gringo

    “As long as each graduate can demonstrate mastery of the material, there’s no reason to mandate that everyone learn at the same pace or follow the same curriculum.”

    And who will make that determination? The tenured professors that teach the courses and rely upon tuition for their salaries? Or the bloated school administrations that depend upon the same?

  • qet

    The math is suspect: 25% of the time cut but a savings of just 20%? And might we expect that, if against Wesleyan’s predictions, the 3-year degree does become popular, it will either be found, conveniently, not to be in the students’ best interests after all, or otherwise the 4th revenue year will find its way into the other three?
    I also find it interesting, in a disturbing kind of way, that Via Meadia in these very electronic pages constantly promotes a vision of education that is totally at odds with the vision promoted by its Alma Mater. Consider Bard’s famed First Year Seminar. The point of that program is not to gorge students’ brains solely that they may disgorge it on a final exam. It requires time to read those books and consider what you are reading, to be able to draw out of them the value that grants them the title of “great” books. That is education.

    • Curious Mayhem

      It is education, at least what liberal arts education used to be in many places. But the mix of declining standards, exploding costs, and political correctness have made programs like Bard’s problematic. Online courses can never replace that. But they can provide an effective way of teaching more advanced or specialized topics.

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