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Three-year bachelor’s degrees becoming fashionable in the United States

Nothing is constant but change. Constant changes in the higher education systems around the world have led to the fear of homogenisation or Americanisation. American higher education institutions (HEIs), especially private institutions, are however a fickle species highly responsive to economic changes. Therefore followers of the American myth who believe that a four-year liberal-arts-college type curriculum is better for students’ personal and career development may now find themselves trailing the passé of their heroes.

What is hot in the American higher education system this season is a fast track three-year Bachelor’s programme. According to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, some 20 American colleges have started three-year programmes, “which are the norm in Europe and some other countries”, in order to make college education more affordable during the economic downturn. The most recent example is Wesleyan College, one of the most prominent colleges whose participation is believed to have added weight to the perceived value of three-year degrees.

Although it has been possible for students to finish in three years in the credit-based system before, most public universities and established private colleges or universities are still sceptical about the quality of three-year programmes. The pioneers of such programmes, however, argue that quality will be maintained by requiring the students to take the same amount of credits through structural incorporation of intensive summer sessions and Advanced Placement credits into the programmes. Moreover, they argue that a shorter cycle will not only save the students 20% of their tuition and fees, but also allow them to enter the labour market one year earlier. American employers’ absorption of three-year-degree graduates is not yet clear since it is a relatively new species. However, a 20% off the college bill of a private college student in the US who is paying USD 60.000 (EUR 48 000) a year, still, is a handsome saving and therefore a smaller debt upon graduation at the least.

National NAICU NAICU - Wesleyan