Will Four-Year Degrees Soon Be Obsolete?

three-year-degreesWith college costs on the rise and national student loan debt reaching a staggering $1.1 trillion, some analysts speculate that unless we find a solution, America’s middle class may eventually be priced out of college altogether.

In response to this situation, two-year associate and technical degree programs have skyrocketed in popularity. Now, the notion of three-year bachelors programs, while by no means new, is being advocated in mainstream higher ed discussions for the first time.

College Confidential users recently debated an LA Times article that notes 22 private colleges in the United States that already offer three-year degree options. The savings to students and their families are substantial; the same article quotes Johns Hopkins University professor Paul Weinstein’s finding that a four-year degree at a public university cost, on average, $35,572 in 2013. A three-year degree at the same school would cost $26,679—25% less.

As colleges and universities continue to analyze the viability of three-year degrees, some of the recurring pros and cons include:

- Potential for overall costs savings to students and their families; students would theoretically graduate with less student debt.
- Students can earn their degree in a shorter amount of time (thereby entering the workforce and contributing to the economy more quickly).
- Schools have the potential to enroll more students, resulting in net profits for institutions.

- With time being a bigger factor, students may be less likely to participate in traditional (and some would argue, essential character-building) activities like elective courses and studies abroad.
- Statistics prove that most students don’t graduate in the currently prescribed four years, much less three.
- Until more research exists, some worry that the option of finishing in three years could promote taking on an unhealthy/unrealistic course load.

What do you think? Would the potential cost savings of a three-year degree be enough for you and your family to consider it? Or is four years of self-exploration and character development worth the price? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


This article was written by Hannah Purnell

Hannah Purnell is a staff writer for CollegeView.com. Hannah writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.


  1. old indie

    Is a four year degree worth it? Absolutely NOT. Unless….
    1. Your chosen degree program results in a professional job and a good chance at an entry level at graduation
    2. Your chosen school is recognized in your chosen profession as a top educator. Note, NOT top NAME educator, but a top job placement educator. Quite different things.
    3. You can get through a degree program with minimal debt
    4. Your school has a solid job preparation program and puts stock in on campus interviews for seniors. Internship programs are a major plus.

    If you and your family have the means to provide a ‘general’ education at a fancy private school where you can be groomed for a pre-ordained job or social position, then my advice has little meaning. Otherwise, a ‘general’ education is a complete waste of money. Go to Community College and take on-line classes for general science and social studies. Read the classics and travel the world on the cheap. Those are much better options. The world does not NEED any more MAs in Womans Literature with $200K in student debt.

  2. The man

    The US university system has become a giant scam. If universities make the BA/BS obtainable in three years, they’ll increase their tuitions so that students will still pay $40K+ for the degree. The schools make many excuses, but the reality is that they scam students and use them to milk as much cash from the Fed. Student Aid program as they possibly can. The cost of William & Mary has almost tripled since I graduated in 1999. I paid around $5,000/year….and now it is nearly $14,000/year.

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