Hartwick president defends three-year degree
My guest blogger today is Dr. Margaret L. Drugovich, president of Hartwick College, an independent liberal arts college in Oneonta, N.Y. that launched a three-year bachelor's degree program in February 2009.
There has been something of a back-and-forth in recent weeks on the merits of shortening college from a standard four years to an accelerated three. Former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg penned an op-ed piece in the New York Times, stirring fresh debate on a topic that has percolated in higher education over the past few years. An industry group, the Association of American College and Universities, responded with a letter pointing out the flaws in the three-year model.
Here, then, is a note from Drugovich, who enters the fray with the advantage of having actually implemented a three-year degree at her college.
I am fascinated by the "debate" over the wisdom of offering students the option to pursue their undergraduate degree in three years.
Where is the proof that a student cannot learn in three years what certain countries have said for so long must take four? There is real confusion about the difference between the length of time it takes to complete the degree and the content of the degree itself. There are only two truly important issues in this discussion -- the breadth of the education, and the quality of student outcomes.
As for breadth, a 120 credit bachelor's degree is a 120 credit bachelor's degree, whether it takes three or four (or five or six) years to complete. The current debate exposes the fact that some in the education community have more tolerance for extending the time to graduate than they have for shortening it. Colleges do not promote the fact of five- and six-year undergraduate degrees. That is because most students who take longer to complete their undergraduate degree (or who never graduate at all) often extend the period of study because they can't get the courses they need, or can't afford to complete the experience. Can anyone actually argue that this a better educational approach than an intentional and well-supported three years of study that resulted in degree completion?
Whether it is three, four of five years, it is the quality and intentionality of the experience, and the support provided, that predicts good student outcomes. If you do not reduce the content or requirements, and if you maintain the quality of the offering, there is no debate about the wisdom of giving students the three-year choice.
You only have to review the study on Who Borrows Most recently released by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center to convince yourself that we need to do more to provide access to higher education. Among dependent students at private, not-for-profit colleges with different levels of family income under $100,000, at least 24 percent graduate with debt of $30,500. Private colleges across the country do a great job of supporting high need students -- the three-year degree is a way for us to bridge the gap between middle income students and the liberal arts education that prepares them for their future. This is real access.
More study? Sure. That is what lifelong learning is all about. But forcing students into a familiar frame rather than giving them a choice of how long they spend achieving their degree serves our interests more than theirs.
This debate reminds me that people always seem to love the car they drive but it is time for an open mind and a more student centered automobile.
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Daniel de Vise
June 7, 2010; 9:50 AM ET
Categories: Administration , Pedagogy | Tags: 3-year degree, Hartwick College three-year degree, Trachtenberg three-year degree, three-year bachelor's, three-year college degree
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