WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Some college students are cutting the cost of their education by taking the fast track toward graduation and finishing in three years instead of the traditional four.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is studying whether some of its four-year bachelor’s degree programs can be compressed to three years. Interim Vice President Scott Olson says they’re not interested in “pushing” more students to finish in three years, but they’d like to have a system in place to help those that do.

Thayeng Her will graduate next month from Winona State University with a double major in public administration and political science. Her, of Roberts, Wis., took advanced placement courses in high school and summer courses at Winona State to finish early. With tuition and fees coming to $13,000 per year, Her said graduating early was a financial decision. She wants to go to law school.

Graduating early requires taking college classes in high school, heavy course loads each semester and summer courses. Fewer than 2 percent of MnSCU students graduate in three years, system officials said.

A number of colleges across the country are considering three-year degrees. While it’s not a new idea, it’s one that more students are beginning to warm up to.

Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, hopes the idea gains traction.

“With rising costs, and new consciousness and new promotion of the concept it might have a chance,” Vedder said. “I would certainly hope we do more experimentation with the three-year degree.”

The University of Minnesota began offering its first three-year degree program this year. It’s for students who plan to go to graduate school immediately afterward.

But finishing in three years isn’t right for every student, said Robert McMaster, the university’s dean of undergraduate education. Some students take the first two years just to decide on a major, McMaster said.

In 1997, the number of University of Minnesota students finishing in three years was less than half a percent of graduating seniors. Ten years later, that number had risen to about 5 percent, or 200 of more than 5,000 graduates.

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Comments (12)
  1. Citizen says:

    The higher education system set up 4-year degrees to perpetuate its existence. Many majors do not require 4 years and are filled with “fluff” courses. Why should students take a year of general basic studies? Cutting off this year would save a lot. If there is a question of readiness, then students should be able to test out of these general courses easily. Many countries in the world immediately immerse their students in their majors–especially technical ones.

    1. Brian S says:

      If only they would cut the fluff!!

  2. Melissa Stein Pickert says:

    I completed a 4 year degree in 3 years. Similar to Thayeng Her, I took PSEO courses in high school and then went over the summer. It does feel like you are constantly going to school, though by the time I hit my Senior Year I actually could take a lighter load and no J-Term. Looking back, for me, I felt it was a good decision… though for some that want that full college experience may feel like they are losing out.

  3. broke says:

    we could also save money by not overpaying these college professors and increasing tuition to compensate for it.

  4. Nelson says:

    PSEO needs to be better advertised to high school students in their Junior and Senior years. I completed my first year of college as a senior in high school. It’s well-worth the savings and time spent. I wouldn’t have consider myself the most intelligent student in my high school, but it’s doable. The IB and Advanced Placement exams are great, but not as great as going into the University with REAL college credits, knowledge, and experience. I chose not to do IB/AP because I didn’t believe the stress of exams and preparatory work was well-worth the 1-2 college credit I would’ve only succeeded to obtained, vs. 26 credits after finishing my first year at the U as a senior in HS.

    I went to the U of Mn for engineering and finished in 3.5 years, with two summer school semesters. I don’t regret it, because it allowed me to skip the high tuition cost increase every year and was able to study abroad a full semester in Australia. Money well-spent.

  5. student says:

    I am an older adult returning to school and I am “floored” with the policies and procedures” in the college system!

    I am in a program that I have received grants from and when the program issued the grants the college first applied my loans and pell grant to my tutition, When I approached them about this they said ” we didn’t know which way “the program” wanted us to distribute this. They contacted my counselor in the program and she told them “we are not in the business to to make people broke, we are here to help them”. The grants from the program should have been applied first and then everything else so that the state and I would not have more debt. My question would be, if they took the money from my loans first “where was the money from my grants going to go”? Do you really think they were going to mail the money back to my program??? I would love to ask my worker if they ever got any of grant money back from anyone else.

    I could go on and on about this and even have thought about contacting the tv stations to expose the schools. Our taxpayers would be pretty angry about everything I have seen, heard and gone through in just two semesters.

    It’s mostly not the professors that are making the money, It is at the top! Deans, presidents and probably those at the top at MN State Colleges and Universities. Many of the teachers are being let go of then rehired in order for them not to get tenure so the colleges can save money. If that is true then why would any of the teachers have a big interest in your education. How would you feel if you never could move up in your job? Maybe a little bitter?

    The biggest question I have is do these teachers have to take courses to keep their license and do they have to take courses on “how to teach”, because half of mine don’t know “how to teach”. They know the “trade” they are teaching, but most do not know how to teach. I am also finding that after they “cruise” through the course as fast as they can, they end the course as early as they can leaving you feel like you did not learn much. even though you passed the class. This is “not true” of every class, but so far about 1/2 of mine. This is not at a 4 year college though, it is at a 2 year college where most everyone is taking their generals because it is “CHEAPER”. Yes, there are 4 maths classes needed to transfer to a 4 year college besides the one you test out of to see if you are at a college level before you can move forward in to any classes.

    Also, can you tell me what pschology has to do with “graphics design”? Not that it is not an interesting class, but it seems to me there are a lot of classes that are unnecessary thrown in just for the college to make money. The school I go to you have so many prereq’s that you cannot even take a class of interest without being in that degree program. There is something wrong with that picture. They must have found if you “have to take the prereq’s” they make more money. There weren’t enough people taking classes “just for interest” for them to make money.

    I am thinking about writing a book titled “The Truth about College”. I think there would be an outcry if the truth about how the college system works and where the money goes would apall people.

    There are definately ways to save the students, parents and the state money. The state could start by doing a “complete audit” on all of the schools and on how they function, but the upfront cost would cost money. I do think that is a good solution to any state wanting to save money in the near future and for many years to come.

    The school I am currently attending is charging an extra fee for a building that I will never see and maybe not even for another 10 years of students. How is this okay? They should have to take that money out of all their profits that go to the top execs.

    I had to laugh when I found out that our school got an award for their organization in financial aid the first semester. I had never seen anything so chaotic in my life and they were so understaffed it took until Thanksgiving for my loans to come through. I had no way to buy any of my supplies and thank goodness I got grant help from the program I was in so I could get my books… I was a first year student and my loans weren’t even processed yet so I could not just go to the school bookstore (that has an unbelievable markup on every product they sell) that has a list of those whose loans are coming through so they can charge them against their loans. I would not have been able to purchase my books without the grants I got until the end of November. Quite the organization (sarcasm).

    I could go on and on about all of the “glitches” I have run up against in just two semesters, but the point is that yes, there are many, many ways for tuition to be lowered. I am betting 1/4 of the cost and maybe more could be shaved off with every student walking away with just as good an education as they are getting now. It is a sham!

    Just for the record, there are good people at the school. Unfortunately they have to follow policies and procedures. My guess that all of the colleges function the same way, but do your homework and ask about “all of their fees” before registering and find out what pre req’s are required before picking a school, and if you are taking a 2 yr program find out their graduation rate (I found it is very low at the school I attend). Usually it is low for a reason. Oh, and don’t forget to find out which 4 year colleges accept their credits if you plan on transfering. Do your homework, that could save you money in the end also.

  6. Bruce says:

    Cool, hurry up and get your degree so you can join the rest of us on the unemployment line.

  7. Bobby says:

    So the money savings comes from taking college credits during high school, not by loading up your class schedule during the college years. Why not have an artice that explains the benefit of PSEO and similar programs rather than hyping graduating in 3 years?