Three year bachelor’s degrees should be the future

Three year bachelor's degrees should be the future

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

If the purpose of a higher education system is to efficiently equip the population for a life of fulfillment and productivity, the U.S. is surely missing the mark. Luckily, implementing three year bachelor’s degrees may be the solution to get the education system far closer to attaining this ideal. 

Currently, three-year undergraduate programs are commonplace in areas like the European Union, India, Singapore and Australia. This is because, unlike in U.S., these systems don’t require students to spend their first year in college retaking classes they took in high school.

Rather their degree programs jump directly into the content directly related to the area of study the student seeks to specialize in. 

One of the biggest benefits such a transition would provide is in terms of cost. The average cost of undergraduate study at an in-state public university is $27,560, according to College Board.

Needless to say, one less year per student of having to suffer a large amount of this cost would significantly improve their financial situation. But equally important is the hidden gains graduates will have from being able to enter the workforce sooner. Using current estimates, one can expect this earlier entry to translate to over $42,000 in lifetime earnings.

Another potential benefit is that the reform can indirectly promote greater specialization. Many students may decide not to attend grad school due to the cost and additional time commitment after already completing a four year degree. Cutting down the bachelor’s degree to three years would make the burden of the additional time and financial cost more tolerable. 

A three year bachelor’s could also decrease unemployment. In 2020 the unemployment rate for master’s degree holders was 1.4 percent lower than bachelor’s holders, with PhD holders being a full 3 percent  less. This would encourage more people to go to graduate school and get specialized in their field so they can get better paying jobs. 

Over the past few decades, several states in the U.S. have attempted to embrace a shortened bachelor’s degree and to this day, the idea comes up occasionally in national education discourse. The biggest barrier to its implementation is the lack of strong national secondary and post-secondary education standards. 

States have a lot of power over their own education systems to the point where this becomes a problem across state and country lines. Problems include students not being able to transfer college credits from another state, politically motivated state curriculum standards, and lack of compatibility with the global higher education system.

Fixing these problems hinges on whether policymakers at the federal level are willing to make bold efforts to reimagine the current system. Three year bachelor’s degrees would save time, money and promote specialization and employment. 

Micah Erfan is an economics freshman who can be reached at [email protected]

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