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Report: An ‘F’ Grade for the Nation’s Initial Three-Year Degree Programs

May 10, 2018
CONTACT: Jill Rosen
Office: 443-997-9906
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jrosen@jhu.edu @JHUmediareps

More schools are offering three-year degrees to counter the ever-skyrocketing costs of a college education but a new Johns Hopkins University analysis finds these new programs are failing students.

Most new three-year degree options merely rush students through a program designed to take four years, found Paul Weinstein, director of the university’s graduate program in public management. Instead, he says, schools should have created bachelor’s curriculums to accommodate modern needs by cutting unnecessary elective requirements, eliminating study-abroad stints, requiring students to declare majors early and giving credit for advanced high school study.

“The trend towards three-year bachelors is heartening – particularly since the vast majority of these programs have been established since 2005,” Weinstein says. “However, if one were to assign a grade to the current crop of three-year bachelors’ degree programs, it would be an ‘F.’”

The findings were published today by the Progressive Policy Institute in a report called, “Who is offering 3-year college degrees and why aren’t they working?”

Since Weinstein’s 2014 report on three-year degrees, the cost of college has risen significantly. According to the College Board, average tuition and fees for an in-state public four-year college is $20,770 (13 percent higher than 2014); $35,420 for public out-of-state (12 percent up from 2014), and $46,950 for a private school (15 percent higher than 2014).

Three-year degrees would offer students thousands of dollars in savings and lower student loan costs, Weinstein argues.

In 2014, just a handful of schools offered such degrees. Today at least 32 schools do, Weinstein found. They include Ball State, American University, New York University, University of Iowa, Kent State and Purdue University.

But the bulk of these programs are essentially four-year degrees squeezed into three years, Weinstein says. These intense programs only appeal to very motivated students, and few people are signing on. Weinstein found just two percent participation at some schools, with a high of 19 percent at NYU.

“Three-year bachelor’s degrees need to become the norm, not the exception reserved for a few highly motivated students,” Weinstein says. “That will require reinventing the college curriculum to impart in three years the core skills our students need to get good, middle class jobs or go on to graduate school to acquire highly specialized skills.”

To assure successful three-year programs, Weinstein suggests colleges:

Cut course fat: The modern curriculum has become oversaturated with unnecessary electives and general education requirements that attempt to teach students a little about everything at the cost of educating extensively in one or two subjects, he says.

Eliminate study-abroad: A year of study abroad is an expensive way to discover what it’s like to live overseas, he says, adding, “There are also lots of cheaper ways to go abroad than pay your college to send you, and with one less year of undergraduate study students will now have the time.”

Declare majors early: British students are generally required to declare an intended concentration prior to gaining admission to a university, a move that helps them focus, Weinstein says, adding American students should be required to do the same.

Give credit for advanced high school work: Although universities have become more restrictive about giving credit for high school Advanced Placement courses, Weinstein says Congress should require that schools give course credit to students who receive federal aid or subsidized loans and score a 3 on any AP exam. Also, he says all 36 AP subjects should be eligible for credit.

He also suggests Congress limit financial aid to three-year degree programs and that schools cut the cost of these degrees and associated fees by at least 25 percent.

In addition to his work at Johns Hopkins, Weinstein is a veteran of two presidential administrations. He was senior advisor to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform created by President Obama to address the nation’s mid- and long-term fiscal challenges. He also served as special assistant to the president and chief of staff of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and then later as senior advisor for policy planning to the vice president during the Clinton-Gore Administration.

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