That’s right, three, not four. That’s one less year of partying, football games and preparing for the real world. It sounds terrible, I know, but let’s not forget that also means one year less of exams, papers and, most compellingly, tuition. So put down your textbooks, wallets and beer cans and suit up for what might be a peek into the future of higher education programs. And with the current state of the economy and staggering tuition costs showing no signs of abatement, more students should begin considering this alternative.

The alternative I’m referring to is completing college in three years. American culture has trained us to accept the four-year progression from freshman to sophomore, sophomore to junior and the final right of passage from junior to senior. But who said students actually need that long to complete their degree or to be prepared to enter the 9-to-5 work world? The answer: nobody.

I don’t want to get carried away with this idea, especially considering I am beginning my junior year and would throw a temper tantrum if told I would be graduating at the end of winter semester. Some may consider this closed-mindedness a bit immature of me, and truth be told, it is. However, that’s because the three-year undergraduate program is largely a foreign concept to me. But the novelty of this idea shouldn’t undermine its potential worth (and I assure you there is potential worth). So, keeping in mind that almost all current students, including me, will probably opt for the typical four-years of college you expect, let’s look at what a three-year curriculum might have to offer for students who will face increasing college costs.

Let’s start with the most basic and alluring perk — one less year of tuition. In case you haven’t looked at your account inquiry on Wolverine Access recently, that’s a lot of money (especially for out-of-state students like myself). And tuition isn’t all — this also translates into money saved on textbooks, housing and much more. Graduating a year sooner would also mean an added year of income (assuming the job market improves), which could in turn help students pay off loans sooner and get settled into their adult lives faster. If diving into the work force isn’t your plan, graduating in three years could instead provide you with extra time to search for that perfect job, or to travel and “find yourself” as many young adults yearn to do post-graduation. Simply put: time is money. It’s just a matter of how you use the extra time to your advantage.

While most universities currently aren’t geared to a three-year matriculation cycle, it wouldn’t necessarily be daunting to accommodate the necessary changes. In their recent New York Times article “A Degree in Three,” Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Gerald Kauvar (both affiliated with George Washington University) described the hypothetical school calendar for a three-year undergraduate education and how students would likely take classes over the summers with short breaks between semesters to complete their curriculum in a shortened amount of time. Once again, it sounds crazy, I know. How dare anyone suggest taking away our beloved summer vacation? But think: many University students take classes offered during the University’s spring and summer terms. Clearly, campus still has professors willing to teach during these months and enough staff to maintain buildings.

Alternatively, many students already keen to this new three-year concept are signing up for summer classes at community colleges during summer vacation. Community colleges are starting to beef up their curriculums to address the demand. These summer courses tend to be relatively inexpensive (especially compared to tuition for a fourth year of school) and are admittedly often not as difficult as the courses offered at the student’s four-year university. Assuming these credits are recognized by the four-year college, they allow the student to complete the requirements for graduation in a shorter amount of time.

It is also important to understand that this change would not impact the quality or depth of education. Rather, only the layout would change. Even now, the four-year program isn’t what works for everybody. I know several students who have graduated a semester early. And it’s becoming evident that the customary four-year plan may not be the most efficient or practical option for every student. With all this in mind, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for colleges to consider promoting a three-year plan.

Leah Potkin is an LSA junior.

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