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Many students today take well over four years to finish their bachelor's degrees. Now colleges and universities are trying to get them out the door faster, encouraging them to finish in just three years.
This week, administrators at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro announced they're starting an accelerated program next fall for eligible freshmen.
Jessica Jones of North Carolina Public Radio visited the campus.
JESSICA JONES: Students in Management 309 came to class Wednesday to give PowerPoint presentations they'll need to use when they start working, but no one wanted to go first. So Professor Michael Beitler whipped out a plastic sandwich bag filled with 27 names on little slips of paper.
Professor MICHAEL BEITLER (University of North Carolina, Greensboro): All right, let's see who the lucky winner is here.
JONES: The class is supposed to help prepare business majors for life in the workplace, which includes being efficient. And many upperclassmen like senior Louisa Hopkins(ph) applaud the three-year plan.
Ms. LOUISA HOPKINS (Student): I think it's neat that with the economy the way that it is that UNCG is offering a program that takes less time and that, like, people have to pay less money to get it done.
JONES: At UNC Greensboro, students can save as much as $8,000 by finishing a year early. At private schools the savings can be much higher. That's why about a dozen colleges and universities have established three-year programs over the last decade.
Molly Broad is with the American Council on Education.
Ms. MOLLY BROAD (President, American Council on Education): Colleges and universities are turning to the three-year degree option because college costs have risen so significantly.
JONES: Unlike college goers who finish early on their own, students in these shortened programs have advisors who monitor their schedules to make sure they graduate on time. They also get to register for classes before everyone else. Plus, Broad says, university administrators need to keep students from lingering.
Ms. BROAD: Students end up taking a lot more courses than they need to complete the degree, and they stay on in college and have a great time and learn a lot of stuff. But the impact of that is that those seats are not available for other students.
JONES: And school administrators also know that shortened programs attract smart students. One of Florida State's three-year graduates became a Rhodes Scholar. Students who qualify for these programs use college-level credits earned in high school to skip general education classes. At UNC Greensboro, entering freshmen must have taken at least four such courses to be eligible.
Robert Brown is UNCG's dean of Continual Learning.
Dr. ROBERT BROWN (Dean, Division of Continual Learning, UNCG): It's not for every student. I mean, it's going to be only for the really highly motivated, highly talented student.
JONES: Brown doesn't expect a lot of students to sign up at first for UNCG's program this fall. But critics say shortening the time students have to experience the joy of college life isn't worth it.
Derek Bok is a former president of Harvard University.
Dr. DEREK BOK (Former President, Harvard University): What you're likely to do is to end up with a college degree, which is increasingly vocational preparation and very little else. And if you believe as I do that there are very important reasons for going to college apart from simply preparing to get a job, that has to be regarded as a step backward.
JONES: Some students at UNC Greensboro agree that rushing through college doesn't make sense. Senior Joshua King(ph) says he could have graduated early. Money is tight at home, so last year he suggested the idea to his mom.
Mr. JOSHUA KING (Student): She told me not to do it, that I would regret it later, that I should just stick it out, like another semester would be fine. I guess I only get to be in my 20's in college once.
JONES: King says he's glad he has a little more time before joining the real world, especially given the tough job market.
For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham, North Carolina.
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