Ohio House Bill Requires Availability Of Three Year College Degrees

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Some incoming freshmen at Ohio University will now have an extra decision to make as they plan their college careers next year: to earn a bachelor's degree in four years or to shave a year off of that time. 

University officials say 50 percent of OU's majors are now achievable within three years, the result of a new provision included in the Ohio fiscal year 2012-2013 budget bill to lessen the amount of time it takes for students to complete their degrees and enter the job market.

The state ordered Ohio's 13 public universities to make at least 10 percent of their programs achievable within three years by the beginning of last week; 60 percent must be completed by June 2014.

"Time can be the enemy of many students entering a college or university, and a shortened time frame to obtain the credit hours needed to earn their degree, in addition to the savings, will make these students available to employers more quickly," said Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro.  

Students who choose to pursue the three year option will still have to complete the same number of credit hours as students who take four years to complete their degree.

"The education is essentially the same. It's just the time period in which you are trying to fit all of the credits in," said Ann Fidler, OU's chief of staff for the provost and chief financial officer.

They're expected to accomplish this by taking advantage of advanced placement classes and post-secondary education options while in high school, and enrolling in college courses during the summer –options that have been available to students in the state for years.

During the 2010-2011 school year, nearly 800 students came to OU's Athens campus with transfer credits, and according to the Ohio Board of Regents, there were close to 43,000 student transfers statewide during the same school year.   

Ohio Board of Regents Spokesperson Kim Norris described the new three-year degree completion option as a formal, organized way for students to accelerate their education, as each university has published "pathways" to completing their baccalaureate degrees in three years.  

"I think you are seeing a shift in the way (universities) are providing this programming and just a little more clear packaging, if you will, of how to achieve that degree in three years," she said. " They emphasize that you have to be focused and you have to have a plan. It lays out the structure for you to achieve it."   

Forty-six of OU's programs can now be completed in three years, including accounting, art history, chemistry, journalism, physics and theater.

Fidler said OU will strive to develop three-year completion options for as many programs as possible, but said there are some that cannot be shortened.

"Some programs with licensure requirements, such as teacher education, make it very difficult to be able to offer those programs with a three year pathway," she said.

Norris said the option is intended to help students save money and to improve Ohio's economy.

"Ohio needs more individuals with one-year, two-year, and four-year degrees so we're encouraging everyone to complete their degree," she said. "If they graduate successfully in three years, if they are into the job market more quickly, that's good for Ohio, and they've saved time and money."

Fidler agrees with Norris about the  advantages, but emphasized that the option not for everyone.

"There would be inherent tradeoffs in getting a degree in three years. If you were a foreign language major and you wanted during the course of your time to be able to go study abroad, it might be more difficult if you were trying to accomplish [your degree] in three years. You might not be able to be as active on campus in some organizations due to the fact that your course load each semester would have to be pretty significant," she said. "Whether or not the student experience will be the same remains to be seen." 

Fidler said she encourages students who are interested in pursuing the new option to have a discussion with their adviser at the start of their college career.