Rising cost of living puts the squeeze on degrees

September 18, 2008

With the cost of higher education in the United States soaring, a small but growing number of students are trying to save money by squeezing the traditional four-year degree programme into just three years.

A number of universities are taking steps to help their students speed through their studies. Florida State University has begun a formal programme, "Degree in Three", for students hoping to cut costs. Fast-track students cannot reduce tuition costs, which are based on the number of credits earned, but they can save thousands of dollars on living expenses and start to earn sooner.

Critics say that such moves mean that students are sacrificing important aspects of the university experience, such as participating in athletics, internships and social and extracurricular activities.

Linda Mahler, associate dean of undergraduate studies at Florida State University, said that if students on the three-year programme "find that they're interested in a second major or they want to do international study, we encourage them by all means to do that".

The percentage of students graduating in three years varies widely, from 2 per cent at the University of California, Los Angeles to 8 per cent at Boston University.

Cost is not the only factor pushing the trend for compressed degrees. One factor is that more high schools are offering advanced-placement courses, which allow high-achieving students to do university-level work and gain credit towards a degree. One advanced-placement student arrived at Florida State having already achieved more than two thirds of credits necessary for a degree.

Of the 2.8 million students who graduated from high school in 2007, the last year for which the figures are available, 426,000, or more than 15 per cent, took and passed at least one advanced-placement exam, according to the College Board, which administers the tests.

"This is sort of a mini-trend motivated primarily by cost," said Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "You see manifestations of it trickle down even to high-school course-taking behaviour."

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