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Three-year bachelor's degree gains popularity

It can save students time and money, but the fast track isn't for everyone. The University of California is looking at ways to offer the option.

April 22, 2010|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

"The university would have to provide access to the right courses at the right time and better advising so you don't get detoured along the way," said Keith Williams, a UC Davis senior lecturer in exercise biology who co-chaired the subcommittee.

And even if many students want to stay in college's warm cocoon as long as possible during the recession, the hard economic times are encouraging others to reduce tuition spending, administrators say.

"We believe it's our responsibility as educators to help families find a way to keep an independent college education within their grasp," said Margaret L. Drugovich, president of Hartwick College, a 1,450-student liberal arts school in Oneonta, N.Y., which started offering a three-year degree program last fall.

Under Hartwick's plan, students take an extra course each semester and an intensive class in the otherwise optional January term between semesters. An initial 23 students signed on, and Drugovich estimates that up to 15% of students eventually will participate.

Not all majors are eligible; some performance and arts departments say it takes four years to develop the necessary skills. As for criticism that students need time to grow up, Drugovich said: "Not every student is the same. To say you have to stay a fourth year just for the purpose of maturing is wrong."

Hartwick biology major Daniel Meier, 19, of Ellenville, N.Y., said he joined the program in order to start medical school a year early or take a year off to work or do community service before further education. His family has an added incentive: His twin brother, Nickolas, is also at Hartwick and on the school's fast track.

The heavier class load is a bit stressful, Daniel Meier said, "but you realize it's going to benefit you in the long run. You have to concentrate on why you are doing it." The biggest personal change was having to quit the football team for the less-demanding rugby club, which allows members to miss practice if they have to study, he said.

Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where Bortolazzo attends, permits some students with excellent high school grades and test scores to skip some basic courses and go directly to those required for their majors, according to Curt Bacon, director of the school's 12-year-old Accelerated Baccalaureate program.

One of its goals, he said, is to "attract higher-quality students." This year, about 40 of the university's 4,400 undergraduates have signed up, a figure Bacon said is kept small by the reluctance of many first-year students to commit so quickly to a major.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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