Graduating from College in Three Years

Last Updated Jun 16, 2009 2:30 PM EDT

Here's a way to dramatically slash the college tab: graduate in three years.
As parents struggle with college costs, a small, but growing number of schools are offering three-year college degrees.

Enthusiasts of the trend argue that there's no compelling reason why students can't earn their degree earlier. In Great Britain, students typically graduate in three years and that's also the case at many Canadian universities. Ten years ago, the European Union made three years the standard length of undergraduate studies.

In endorsing the three-year college degree, Richard Vedder, the director of the Center of College Affordability & Productivity at Ohio University, observed that Thomas Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary in just two years and he managed to do just fine.

Higher-ed visionaries have been kicking around the idea of a three-year college degree for years. Back in the early 1990s for instance, the president of Stanford suggested that a three-year degree could shrink the cost of an elite education. Stanford's faculty, however, balked at the suggestion.

Schools that offer some variation of three-year degrees include Franklin & Marshall College (PA), Southern New Hampshire University, Hartwick College (NY) and Manchester College (IN) and Bates College (ME). I expect more institutions will follow.

Even if a college doesn't offer a three-year degree program, it's still possible for your child to graduate early. The popularity of Advanced Placement classes in high schools is making it easier for students to fast track college. In fact, the number of students who graduate in 3 ½ years is growing. At Johns Hopkins University, for instance, more than 20% of student complete their degree early.

If an early exit sounds appealing, it will require careful planning. Make sure your student consults regularly with a college adviser or he or she might hit a lengthy detour.

Favorite number image by brungrrl, CC 2.0.

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