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Three-Year Degrees: The New Four-Year Degrees?

The four-year Bachelor's degree: in the United States, it's among the most time-tested and fundamentally valued of all scholastic institutions. But with the economy being what it is and the rising costs of education, colleges are being forced to think of new ways to keep students from being scared off from the notion of getting their degree altogether.

Enter: the three-year degree.

On Tuesday, Hartwick College, a liberal arts school in Oneonta, N.Y., became perhaps the most high-profile school yet to announce it would offer a broad range of students the opportunity to finish a bachelor's degree in three years, saving a full year of tuition and fees (which run $42,705 there this year).

It sounds like a dream of a compromise, but of course there are snags along the way -- most notably, the difficulty of getting into all of one's required classes on time. When it's hard enough to get every class done within the standard four years these days, how can students be sure they can power through in three? Will the expansion of classes and professors needed to ensure ample classes for all offset the savings a truncated degree would have entailed?

That is to say, do students really want it? Studies so far show that, while three years seems to be more than enough for students in Europe (and a handful of especially focused and self-assured students in the U.S.), most here relish that extra year to decide what they want to do with their lives.

Still, the idea has hardly caught fire, despite rising college costs. Students seem to like spending at least four years in college.

When Upper Iowa University offered the option a few years ago, just five students took it - but all decided to stay four years after all. Nobody has signed up since.

A three-year degree "would be attractive to someone who knows right now what they want to do with the rest of their lives," said Lincoln Morris, Upper Iowa's vice president for enrollment management. "Most students don't have it all figured out right now, and that's fine."

Still, as funds continue to fall and costs continue to rise, academic alternatives will have to be found. For many self-motivated students, the three-year degree could be the perfect solution.

What do you think? Would you want to get through college in three years, or is the traditional four year route where it's at? Chime in on our comments section and let us know!

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