(Source: Meagan Pant Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT) — Ohio is pushing public universities to show students how they can earn a bachelor’s degrees in three yearspotentially saving thousands in tuition, room and board and avoiding the kind of debt that cripples many families.
But some worry that the accelerated pace, which requires taking college courses in high school and during summer months, doesn’t prepare students for life after college.
“There’s a developmental process in college and four years in college can prepare you better for the workplace,” said Raymond Gorman, a Miami University professor and associate provost.
State law requires that by October, Ohio’s 14 public universities must prove how 10 percent of their baccalaureate programs can be completed in three years. By 2014, the schools must show that 60 percent of degrees meet that mark.
“College is not getting any cheaper,” said Jim Petro, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents.
“One sure way that families can bring that cost down is by doing it in a shorter time span,” Petro said. “I don’t know when it became almost practical in Ohio that many students take five, six years to get a degree, but that really drives up the cost.”
Student loan debt nationwide has exceeded $1 trillion, and continues to increase at about $2,853.88 per second, according to FinAid.org. Ohio ranks seventh nationally in student debt with an average of $27,213 per student.
Still, graduating in three years is not for everyone, Petro and higher education officials agree. Universities do not necessarily encourage the ideainstead suggesting students might be better served with a second major or minor, a study abroad program or simply more time in college to mature.
But, said Gorman, “It’s a good thing to let students know what their options are.”
Few graduate in 3 years
Time is the biggest enemy when it comes to graduating, Petro said.
“The longer it takes you to finish, the less likely it is that you finish,” said Petro, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Denison University in four years, before getting his law degree from Case Western Reserve University.
Although 70 percent of high school graduates in Ohio will enroll in higher education, less than half will ever earn a degree, Petro said.
“That’s really shocking, because when you go to college and you never finish, you wasted your money,” he said. “And if it’s a public university, you wasted our money because you really have nothing to show for it.”
A very small percent of students in Ohio currently earn their degree in three yearsabout 1 percent at Miami, 2 percent at the University of Cincinnati and 2 percent to 3.4 percent at Ohio State University, according to those institutions. Last year, Wright State University had 12 students who came to college out of high school graduate in three years, according to the university.
Statewide, just 56 percent of students finish in six yearswhich is a typical time to measure how many students have earned their bachelor’s degree, according to the Board of Regents, which coordinates higher education in the state.
Ohio’s new requirement will not reduce the number of credit hours required for degrees. Instead, it calls on universities to illustrate how a student could graduate a year sooner by attending college in the summer, testing out of classes with Advanced Placement assessments for high school students, taking college courses during high school with the post-secondary enrollment program or through an early college high school or applying for college credit for career-technical experience. Students can also take more courses than a typical full-time student, which at Miami can save money because students pay the same for a full-time load whether it is the minimum 12 credit hours or 20, according to the university. Approval is needed to take more than 20 credit hours.
‘An individual decision’
Those who finish in three years say the savings is in the thousands.
Chris DeLotell saved a year of out-of-state tuitionnow $9,932.00and living expenses at the University of Kentucky by earning his degree in three years. The Mason native entered college with Advanced Placement credit, took a course load heavier than a typical full-time student and attended summer classes at Miami Hamilton and Miami Middletown, where his tuition was lower.
“The benefit to me was directly related to cost,” he said. “I enjoyed college. I would have been fine to stay there for six years, but I didn’t want to pay for that.
“I had to forgo some of the trappings of the traditional, stereotypical college existence,” he said. “I didn’t have too many free weekends or evenings.”
DeLotell, who then earned his master’s degree online and now teaches English at Mason High School, said students should weigh their own priorities when deciding whether to graduate in three years.
“It’s an individual decision that requires you to think more long-term than many of us are thinking when we’re 18,” he said.
Cierra Swopes spent four years at Miami University to earn her credentials to be a middle and high school science teacher, taking a lighter course load instead of graduating in less than four years.
Swopes, who had scholarships and grants to pay her Miami tuition, earned an associate degree in liberal arts from Sinclair Community College while enrolled at the Dayton Early College Academy, completing her general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree.
“That senior year was very pivotal in me maturing as a person,” said Swopes, who starts as a teacher at DECA in August.
Education is a difficult degree to complete in three years because of the student teaching requirements, typically done in the senior year, according to Miami University officials.
‘Ready for college’
A main contributor to graduating college in three years is maximizing the high school senior year, Petro said.
“Many kids are ready for college in their last year of high school,” he said.
Students can take college courses during high school at no cost to them through the post-secondary enrollment program or at an early college high school.
Swopes began taking college courses at Sinclair in ninth grade, and said the experience as a 13-year-old was a bit intimidating at first, but she quickly adjusted.
DECA, on the campus of the University of Dayton, requires that high school students take a minimum of three college classes. Students at the school must live in Dayton and nearly 76 percent are economically disadvantaged.
The charter school is on track to have 84 percent of its students either graduate from college or stay on track to earn a degree, said DECA Superintendent Judy Hennessey.
“You see that you’re able to do the work. You have an experience that’s positive and you start to see yourself as a college student,” she said.
Ohio law does not create any goals for how many students actually earn their degree in three years. But university officials say they expect the numbers to rise as schools create websites showing students how it can be done.
The University of Cincinnati is working to ensure classes students need are available during the new summer semester, which will be longer than the summer term under the quarter system, said Caroline Miller, vice president of enrollment management. UC is among state institutions switching to the semester calendar this fall.
Central State University, too, is researching ways to help students graduate faster, including reducing courses and credit hours, said spokeswoman Fran Robinson. CSU is also considering work equivalent experience with credits for adult learners, she said.
Miller said UC is anticipating that more students will take the accelerated route, but still graduate in four years because of internships or study-abroad experiences.
“What we’re expecting is to see more students finish in four,” she said. “Students and families need to educate themselves to the possibilities.”
©2012 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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