Report: Colleges Are Exploring A New 3-Year Bachelor’s Degree Program

A four-year undergraduate bachelor’s degree can cost anywhere from roughly $100,000 to $215,000. But what if students could complete their degree in three years for a fraction of the cost?

That’s exactly what some colleges are looking to do. More than a dozen institutions are exploring the potential option of creating a three-year bachelor’s degree program with a focus on overhauling the traditional four-year curriculum and bringing down the cost of higher education for students, Inside Higher Ed reports.


Robert Zemsky, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Lori Carrell, chancellor of the University of Minnesota at Rochester, are two higher education leaders who are spearheading the ‘College in 3’ movement. Carrell says it’s less about accelerating the content of a four-year curriculum and more about rethinking the coursework.

“If the degree itself could be a blank canvas, and you’re thinking about driving down student cost and driving up quality and equity, how would you design the coursework?” Carrell tells Inside Higher Ed. “What sorts of experiential learning and student development pieces would you build in it, and toward what competencies would you be driving? All of that comes into the conversation.”

Zemsky and Carrell have so far enlisted 13 pilot institutions that have at least promised to consider exploring the idea of a three-year program. These institutions include: American Public University System, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Merrimack College, New England College, Northwood University, Portland State University, Slippery Rock University, the University of Minnesota at Rochester, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, and Utica College.

“We did not ask people to commit to doing a three-year degree. That’s just not the way higher ed works,” Zemsky tells Inside Higher Ed. “We said, ‘All we want is a commitment to take the idea seriously, and we’ll help you take the idea seriously.’”


A number of colleges in the U.S. already offer a three-year bachelor’s degree program. The University of Iowa’s Degree in Three program allows students to graduate faster by taking on a heavier course load at a much faster pace. Manchester University in Indiana’s Fast Forward program has a similar structure.

Most current three-year bachelor’s degree programs require the same amount of credits as a four-year program with double the intensity. But Zemsky and Carrell say their College in 3 project isn’t that. Their hope is to design a three-year curriculum that matches the slower pace of a traditional four-year program.

While most of the pilot colleges are still in the early planning stages of College in 3, the opportunities for change are, at least, being discussed.

“The pilots are having exploratory conversations. It may lead them somewhere beyond or somewhere different from College in 3 itself, but that they had the conversations creates the opportunity for transformation and revitalization by considering how we could do better for students and have better outcomes while driving down the costs,” Carrell tells Inside Higher Ed.

Sources: Inside Higher Ed, Education Data Initiative

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