The Fast(er) Track

    The University of California may create a formal pathway for undergraduates to complete their degrees in three years, based on a suggestion by the UC Commission on the Future. While the proposal is still in early planning stages, proponents of the idea say that a defined three-year program could help students save money, as well as alleviate decreased enrollment by letting in more undergraduates.

    According to the Commission on the Future — a group of administrators, faculty and students charged with reviewing the university’s operations and drafting proposals to help overcome an $813 million cut in state funding as of Spring Quarter 2009 — helping students complete their degrees earlier could potentially save them thousands of dollars in student fees. The report also states that facilitating a “defined three-year pathway” to graduation will allow more spaces to open up for new students to enroll, thus increasing overall accessibility.

    The report estimated that if 5 to 10 percent of undergraduate UC students graduated one quarter or semester earlier, approximately 2,000 to 4,000 undergraduate spaces would open up.

    The report also states that if a UC student graduated even one quarter earlier, he or she could save an estimated $8,895 — though this figure does not account for the cost of the additional summer courses a student would be required to take as part of the three-year program.

    The three-year degree program, though still in its planning stages, would require participants to enroll in mandatory summer school, “streamline” their major and general-education requirements and choose a major before attending a campus.

    “What you can do is you can ask that programs look at their requirements and see if there’s a way that they can maintain the quality of their degree in a way that can compress that into three years, including summer offerings,” Bruce Schumm, a member of the Education and Curriculum Working Group for the UCCF, said.

    The university would guarantee three-year participants early class selection and course availability. Some general-education requirements might also be waived in order to ensure that all classes could be completed within three years.

    “For people who have the capability and interest in finishing in three years, the vectors for doing so are not in place, and so the idea was to look into the possibility of offering … certain degree areas more amenable to that,” Schumm said.

    Although the three-year degree would be available at all UC campuses if implemented, each campus would be able to regulate certain components of the program independently, such as which majors would be offered on the faster track and how much flexibility would exist in class selection.

    “The UCOP would direct the campuses, but either way it’s implemented, it will certainly be implemented at the campus level,” Schumm said. “So we might decide to implement something here in a slightly different way than, say, Berkeley or Irvine might.”

    However, Schumm added that the effort required from departments to create a “streamlined” major may ultimately cost too much to be practical, especially since the university will bring in no profits from this program, according to the UCCF report.

    “In the end, it may be more effort than it’s worth,” Schumm said. “There’s no guarantee that you achieve these efficiencies or improvements in quality.”

    There is also no guarantee that students will be interested in such a plan. According to an academic counselor at Warren College who wished to remain anonymous, most students who wish to graduate in three years instead choose to pursue a double major.

    “There are pros and cons to graduating in three years,” he said. “It’s beneficial to students who are ready. Some students need more development. Four years is important for self-exploration — if you shortcut that, you may have to catch up later, which may be harder to do.”

    In 2002, only 2.5 percent of all UC undergraduates graduated in three years or less, compared with the 53.3 percent who graduated in four years, and the 22.6 percent who graduated in five years. An additional 3.9 percent of students took six years to graduate.

    “For freshmen — or students that come in as freshmen — there’s very, very few who ever graduate in three years,” a representative from the UCSD Office of Student Research and Information said, who also wished to remain anonymous. “The last time I think we actually published it was back in 1996; for years and years, the number was 1 percent, or less than 1 percent, so we just stopped publishing it.”

    Additional reporting by Ayelet Bitton.

    Readers can contact Elena Chang at [email protected].

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