Universities should do more to promote accelerated degrees

A 4-year graduation timeline isn't right for everyone

At any university in the United States, the majority of bachelor degree programs are intended to be completed in 4 years, but for some students, that's unnecessary.

My journey to a three-year bachelor's program began while I was still in high school. With AP and dual credit classes, I came into college with a semester's worth of credits. I also took 16 credits both semesters of my freshman year, only one credit more than the average "full-time" student.

Add a summer semester of 10 credits and boom — one entire year of my education eliminated because I chose to stack my semesters a bit, and spend a summer at school instead of at home with my family.

With enough preparation and commitment, completing a bachelor's degree in three years, or even a semester early, is totally feasible. For many students trying to conserve money, this is an ideal situation, as it was for me.

According to Forbes, a student can save close to $20,000 at any public in-state school and over $40,000 at a private university by graduating in three years.

It's common knowledge that student loan debt is staggeringly high. The average class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, a six percent increase from last year. With figures like that, it's a wonder that more students don't choose to save the thousands of dollars by putting in a little extra effort each semester.

It sounds daunting, to combine the average 30 credits required in a year into other semesters, especially if you're a student who needs to hold a job on top of your course load (I also did that). But if you break it down, it's only approximately three more credits a semester with six credits across two summer breaks. 

Summer classes can save you money in general, especially if you opt to take classes at a community college, where tuition is cheaper and you can transfer the credit. Graduating early helps students slowly chip into their student loans earlier, which benefits them in the long run.

Not every student who graduates early does it because they are trying to save money, however. Andrew Gregory, a computer systems engineering senior and early graduate, said his primary motivation for graduating early was entering the workforce sooner so he could start making a salary sooner.

"If possible, graduating early is beneficial to students," Gregory said. "It allows them to save money if they are not fully covered by scholarships and grants, and also allows them to begin working and making a living wage sooner which is beneficial for retirement and financial wellness."

Gregory said universities should also focus on helping students earn master and doctorate degrees faster, like with ASU's 4+1 program, which is designed so that you can earn a master's degree in five years as opposed to six.

"I think universities should do more to promote accelerated programs," Gregory said. "For example, ASU's 4+1 program is not marketed nearly as well as it should be with regards to engineering at least." 

Although I stand by my decision to graduate early, I've been met with a bit of resistance by peers and professors suggesting that three years isn't enough to build experience before I enter the workforce. To that, I would suggest that a student need not wait until they are three or four years into their degree to start stacking their resume.

Most students don't consider an early graduation because they don't realize how reachable of a goal it is. If universities created more accelerated programs and marketed them better, potential students may feel more inclined to attend universities if they know how much money they could save. The weight of student debt is enough to keep many people from attending college. 

Graduating in any less than four years can be challenging and time-consuming, but so is college in any sense. Early graduation should be offered as an incentive to a degree. If a student is willing to work a little harder and devote a majority of their time to school work for three years, they may be considerably better off in the long run.


Reach the columnist at sphaas@asu.edu  or follow @_SavannahHaas on Twitter.

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