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Two schools pilot three-year bachelor’s degrees

If competition for students wasn’t hard enough for community colleges already, it now looks like they’ll have at least one more higher education option to compete against: the three-year bachelor’s degree. In June, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, an accrediting agency, gave its approval to Brigham Young University – Idaho and Ensign College to issue three-year bachelor’s degrees starting in the spring of 2024.

BYU-Idaho intends to offer 5 bachelor’s degree programs that range in length from 90 to 94 credits That trims the program to 75%-78% of a standard, 120-credit bachelor’s degree. Ensign College, which is affiliated with BYU-I intends to offer two “short bachelor’s degree” programs in communications and information technology.

The institutions are the first among about a dozen schools to develop and seek accreditation for a shortened bachelor’s degree program. The concept, which is designed to address concerns that four-year baccalaureate programs are too long, increasingly unaffordable, and packed with unnecessary credits, came about as a collaborative effort among a dozen four-year institutions. The group members, which include the American Public University system, Brigham Young University Idaho, Georgetown University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Merrimack College, New England College, Northwood University, Portland State University, the University of Minnesota at Morris, the University of Minnesota at Rochester, the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh and Utica University – have all pledged to develop and test three-year bachelor’s degree programs.

Of course, if the programs succeed, they will pose an immediate challenge to community college programs, which have substantial difficulties with retaining, graduating, and transferring students. The three-year bachelor’s degree may impart enough education to students to make them a highly attractive alternative to a 2-and-2 program, or a blind transfer to a four-year university.

Three-year bachelor’s degrees may be hot ticket

Besides offering a time-friendly option to students, three year bachelor’s degrees also have something to offer the institutions. Many colleges and universities are facing a wave of retirements of their most experienced faculty. Reducing the number of classes these institutions need to offer also reduces the number of professors they need to keep on staff. That’s a major win for smaller colleges and universities, which often have trouble recruiting new faculty members.

So, what courses are these institutions cutting to shorten their programs? Each program is different, and the institutions can make their own decisions. Some have decided to trim the electives, while other are cutting classes from their programs’ core in order to make room for more diverse learning experiences.

To be clear, this isn’t a four-year degree crammed into three years. Schools can shorten the timeline for earning a bachelor’s degree without changing the accreditation at all. Accrediting agencies don’t make requirements regarding how long it should take a student to complete a degree. But what BYU-Idaho and the other universities are doing is different. They’re actually reducing the number of credits a student needs to complete to earn a degree.

It remains to be seen how well these three-year bachelor’s degrees will fare with the students, employers, and graduate schools. If they take off, however, expect to see more three-year bachelor’s degrees coming to a university near you.

Photo Credit: LollyKnit, via Flickr