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Three-year plan for college degree is a good idea

It would save students money and benefit the entire state as well.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - 10:24 am

Any college student in Indiana who takes the time and effort to figure out a schedule can take summer courses and get a degree in three years instead of four. But so far, only Ball State University and Manchester College have formal programs actually designed for students who want to graduate sooner. The three-year degree is a trend that's growing across the country, and Gov. Mitch Daniels wants more Hoosier colleges and universities to offer it. It's a good idea, for more than one reason.

For one thing, students who take the three-year-option will save a lot of money. Cutting out one-fourth of school would save one-fourth of the cost, as much as $25,000 for some students. In today's stressed economy, starting out adult life with a smaller college-loan bill is, well, no small thing.

Even more important, it could be beneficial for the whole state. Our diversifying economy needs plenty of educated workers, and the faster they come out of universities, the better.

“We can't simply emphasize enrollment any more,” Daniels said in making his suggestion. Criticizing what he called a “herd 'em in and keep 'em in” campus mentality, Daniels urged a new way of thinking: “We want them (students) out as fast as we can.”

The idea does have its critics. A University of Southern Indiana professor, Lenny Dowhie, writes in the Evansville Courier & Press that “rushing” college focuses too much on economics and not enough on the quality of the schooling, the purpose of which is to “help create educated citizens.” While it is understood that ultimately a student will settle into an area of focus, “the time at a university should be used to garner as much knowledge as possible.”

The professor is right that most students prefer to fully savor the whole four-year-experience. Only about 25 students a year take advantage of Ball State's accelerated program, for example. And considering today's climate, there might be even more students not eager to jump into the job market sooner.

But Daniels isn't urging students to get through faster, or even urging schools to push the prospect onto reluctant students. He's merely saying the option should be more available to every student who wants it. Given Indiana's problem of “undereducation” (according to one report, just 16.5 percent of adults 25-64 have a bachelor's degree), it's not an unreasonable request.

There are all kinds of students who are in all kinds of circumstances. Taking that into account is a good idea. And college is becoming more and more expensive, at times prohibitively so – helping students cope with that fact is an even better idea.