Hartwick College Will Offer 3-Year Bachelor's Degree, for the Recession-Savvy Student

February 24, 2009

If four years’ tuition is too expensive, how about three? The economic downturn is reviving an idea that colleges have experimented with for years, with limited success.

Hartwick College, in Oneonta, N.Y., today became the latest college to announce a three-year bachelor’s degree, which it says will reduce costs for students and their families by 25 percent, or more than $40,000. Hartwick’s optional three-year program, which formalizes an approach some students already pursue individually, will begin this fall, allowing both current and new students to enroll.

Three-year degrees have come and gone, but the concept got a strong endorsement in a speech this month by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is a former secretary of education.

Although designed to cut costs, the Hartwick program will also maintain its “rich educational experience,” the college said in a news release. Students who participate will take 40 rather than 30 credits a year, keeping their summers free for study abroad, internships, or employment. Service learning, athletics, and other activities will still be accessible to three-year students, according to Meg Nowak, Hartwick’s vice president for student life.

Students must finish high school with at least a 3.0 grade-point average to qualify for the “accelerated route to graduation,” which includes priority course registration and special academic advising. But some majors, including anthropology, biochemistry, German, and music, are not taking part.

Still, Hartwick officials consider the three-year degree an important step. “We believe it is imperative for the higher-education community to preserve the option of a top-quality education for any student who seeks it, regardless of the prevailing economic challenges,” Margaret L. Drugovich, the college’s president, said in a written statement. —Sara Lipka