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Out of Class Early: College in Three Years

Idea gets more attention, but time saved may not mean tuition saved in earning a bachelor's degree. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

The last time the United States Education Department asked young people how long they took to finish college was in two thousand one. Fifty-seven percent graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in four years. Thirty-nine percent took five years.

And what about the others, the remaining four percent? They did it in three years. To some people, that is a smart idea.

In February, Senator Lamar Alexander warned higher education leaders that they risk rejection unless they lower the cost of attending college. The Republican senator is a former education secretary and former president of the University of Tennessee. He suggested offering a three-year bachelor's degree that would save money as well as time.

Many students can already graduate in three years. They take bigger class loads and classes in the summer. And they have college credit from passing Advanced Placement tests in high school. A.P. credits can mean fewer required classes.

Others who want to graduate in three years must pay for the same education as four-year students, but in a shorter period of time.

Three-year graduates, though, can enter the job market sooner. That adds another year of wages to their lifetime earnings.

In two thousand five, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, began a program called "Degree in Three." Students take full loads of classes, including two or three summers.

Cindy Marini, assistant director of academic advising, says twenty-eight programs currently offer a bachelor's degree in three years. These include business and nursing. As of March, about fifty of the eighteen thousand students at Ball State were taking part in the Degree in Three program.

Students in the three-year program at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, take more classes each semester than the other students. But the cost for a year is the same for all, more than fifty thousand dollars.

Bryan McNulty, the communications director, says Bates has offered a three-year bachelor's degree since the nineteen sixties. But he says only one or two students usually choose it each year, and no one did in the graduating class in May.

Still, other schools are preparing their own programs. These include Hartwick College in New York State and the University of Houston-Victoria in Texas. And lawmakers in Rhode Island are considering a bill that would require state schools to offer the choice of a three-year degree.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.