Fast-Track College?

The idea of colleges offering a bachelor’s degree in three years is becoming increasingly popular as a way for colleges and students to save money. But in the United Kingdom, where three year undergraduate degrees are standard, they’re trying to cut that down, too. According to an article in the Guardian:

The age of the traditional three-year degree could come to an end after universities were today ordered to devise two-year fast-track courses to cut the cost of higher education to students and the public purse.

Fast-track degrees were first mooted by Tony Blair in 2003 and a handful have since been piloted at five universities. Today’s announcement puts them at the heart of the government’s strategy to reorganise higher education in more austere times. In pilots, terms were extended by 10 weeks each year, with a more intensive teaching timetable. Two-year degrees give students the option to cut their debt by reducing fees but critics say students also lose out on the social aspects of being at university and time to mature in academia. The research intensive elite universities are sceptical of shortened degrees and have warned against compromising quality.

We have four and now we’re working on three. The UK has three and now they’re working on two. The online University of Phoenix apparently offers an associate’s degree (generally two years) in five weeks. Well how many years does one really need anyway?

The attempt to save money and reduce waste is understandable but there’s only so much that can be removed. Historically academic degrees were limited to the very rich or the very talented; the luxuriousness and the impracticality were the point. The UK’s elite universities resist the government’s efforts to cut their degree programs down to two years, saying that will compromise quality. It may just be inertia that makes schools resistant to change but they also have a point; one can’t fast-track real scholarship.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer