The University of Iowa Gets Serious about Three Year College

The three-year college degree is one proposal we haven’t heard a lot about in policy circles lately.

A few years ago some reformers presented as a way to cut the cost of college for many. If students had to take fewer classes, or they earned more credits in high school (or some combination of both of these things), well then we’d have them out in three years and everyone would save money.

This idea is not ridiculous—the three year degree bachelor’s degree is common in Europe—but it ran into problems in part because no one could seem to determine what we should cut out to make this happen.

Now the University of Iowa is pitching a solution. The following degrees we could probably make happen in three years, it says. According to an article in the Gazette:

UI President Mason in the fall announced plans to begin offering three-year bachelor’s degrees in fall 2015, and on Thursday she specified the majors available under the “Iowa Degree in Three” program.

Students majoring in communication studies, English, history, international studies, marketing, and theatre arts will have the option of pursuing a degree in the shortened time frame. After enrolling in the program and beginning classes, interested students will meet with advisers, establish “checkpoints” through their colleges and departments, and outline other requirements to keep them on track.

It’s probably not going to catch on, though:

The three-year options require the same number credits as four-year degrees, but they’ll require students be more aggressive by taking a heavier course load and proceeding at a faster pace. For starters, students can use the university’s new summer grant program, which offsets the cost of resident tuition for summer study. And colleges and departments can approve alternate courses or waivers when necessary to expedite the student’s progress.

This is an interesting proposal, but the barriers to completing this are pretty high. Most students aren’t really interested staying in town all summer to study and “taking a heavier course load and proceeding at a faster pace.” The standard pace for college is pretty much good enough.

Furthermore, if you’re just going to require same number credits, why aren’t the other majors available for the three-year plan? It’s the same credits. What makes the majors above available for shorter time? Is it just a matter of which professors are willing to stay on campus in the summer?

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