Editorial: Three-year programs won’t work when four years doesn’t

Jaspery Goh/HIGHLANDER
Jaspery Goh/HIGHLANDER

One week into winter quarter and the looming threat of tuition increase still hangs over the heads of current and prospective UC students. Four years of tuition, currently clocking in at $14,800 annually (for students attending UCR), weighs heavily on the mind every time FAFSA applications and private loan renewals come back up.

It is to this point that Johns Hopkins Professor Paul Weinstein has proposed a shift to a three-year standard for many Bachelor of Arts degrees, citing this as a potential salve to the myriad woes resulting from the high costs of tuition. He states that this change, though initially coming as a financial loss to colleges, would come to increase revenue in the long run as the number of students brought through the system would increase. Furthermore, this would also serve to relieve the fiscal burden of many students at four-year universities.

On the surface, Weinstein’s proposal seems to be the all-too-obvious solution to a system of higher education that appears in constant need of greater influxes of money. One year less of tuition fees and various living expenses would ameliorate the extreme levels of potential debt faced by students upon their graduation.

It is upon close inspection that these idealized series of three-year bachelor’s degrees become problematic where practical application is concerned.

The initial issue facing what is, on the surface, a valid solution to many collegiates’ financial worries, is the continual inability for students to graduate in the already standardized four-year system. Currently only 32 percent of students graduate in four years in the public university environment, often continuing on to fifth and even sixth years in an effort to achieve their degrees.

At this juncture, the problem is no longer how to make a viable system for a three-year Bachelor of Arts, but how to fix the four-year system that is already in place.

One of many reasons the graduation rate at four-year universities is so low may be the numerous general education requirements held by universities, necessary for completion to earn a degree. However, the information in these classes is necessary to ensure that college graduates are well-rounded people when they enter the job market. This very same argument applies to students of the sciences’ participation in classes concerning gender and ethnic studies as well.

In addition to the need for graduates to be Renaissance men and women, the four-year program already feels the effect of impacted classes and a rush to register every time necessary classes open up to the student populace. With the continual struggle to get into classes that students need in the short allotted time they have, compressing the four-year program for certain majors would only serve to exacerbate the situation, leaving those students with later registry dates to be left behind.

This plan would also worsen the consequences toward any students who may falter in a three-year program. Should classes be available only during certain quarters as they currently are at UCR, then a student’s failure in just one of these courses could mean that they are forced to stay and pay further tuition, just to fulfill a single requirement. Though coming as a result of a student’s failure to meet their intended requirements for that class, the inability to rectify such a misstep in a timely manner would fall at the feet of the university’s lack of professors and offered courses.

Even deeper problems for the transition occur at an early level in higher education, concerning those students who are able to graduate early (if not simply on time) due to their ability to take AP classes and AP tests. For those students whose financial situation in high school necessitates working as an alternative to taking on classes with an accelerated curriculum and additional workload, the chance to move ahead in college might have suffered as a result, whether they entered into a program designed for four years or less.

Discounting the issues with the system already at hand, there are still problems with the proposed three-year plan. An estimated 75 percent of undergraduate students change their majors at least once before they graduate. It should come as no surprise if this decision is often predicated on experimentation with classes made possible by the four-year college experience — whereas if this new system were in place, the ability for students to pursue varied interests is greatly limited if not all but eliminated.

Ultimately, while Weinstein’s three-year graduation plan has the right goals and the right motivation, it fails to address the issues that already perforate intended four-year degrees. In lieu of implementing these new programs to quicken the pace at which students can earn a bachelor of the arts, institutions of higher education must first work on alleviating the problems that already exist. If the impacted classes, understaffing and preparation issues are taken care of, then this idea is far from the worst proposed solution to revisit in an attempt to assist struggling students; before then, however, current issues must be prioritized over hypothetical ones.

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