Graduating in less than four years can dramatically cut college costs. But traditional routes, such as loading up on AP classes in high school, are no guarantee that students will be able to earn their college degrees sooner. That’s why a handful of colleges are now offering students a three-year degree path—at a savings that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
One such school is Grace College & Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. The small Christian college introduced a three-year degree path to a bachelor’s degree in 2011. Any student accepted at Grace can enter the program and can remain on the track as long as they maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. Since instituting that and other cost-cutting measures five years ago, school officials report that enrollment has risen by 44 percent, with enrollments increasing this past year by 10.5 percent for undergraduates and 18 percent for graduate students and students in the bachelor degree completion program, Grace Opportunities for Adult Learners, or GOAL. This year, total enrollment hit a record-high 2,333 students, including a record 1,295 undergraduate students at the college’s Winona Lake campus.
In addition to the three-year degree program, the school also offers a four-year path to a dual undergraduate and master’s degree. We asked Mark Pohl, Dean of Admissions at Grace College, about the school’s accelerated degrees.
MCPT: Can you explain the basics of what students need to do to graduate in three years?
Pohl: At Grace, students take just three courses per eight-week session (four sessions per academic year) and receive two online summer courses tuition free (with a $225 per course technology fee) that can be completed from home during the summer. All 70-plus majors offered at Grace College can be completed in three years.
MCPT: How many students start on this path as freshman and, of those, how many go on to complete their degree in three years?
Pohl: About half endeavor to complete their degree in three years and nearly 30 percent (29.1 percent) actually do.
MCPT: What percent of students embark on and complete the four-year path to an undergraduate and master’s degree? Are there certain majors that this is more popular for?
Pohl: This is a growing program; currently not quite 10 percent of students complete the blended degree program. Our MBA is the most popular master’s degree.
MCPT: What about AP or other such credits? Can students graduate even sooner with these?
Pohl: AP and dual credit students can transfer in credits to eliminate course requirements at Grace and graduate sooner. Dual credit courses (C or better) and AP courses (4 or 5 final exam score) generally transfer quite easily. We have had a number of students with numerous transfer credits graduate in less than three years.
MCPT: Can a student do 10 hours of work-study per week and still earn a degree in three years?
Pohl: Yes. While every student is different, many students work on campus and our three-year program means that students take just three courses each eight-week session, which allows them to focus on fewer courses. One part of the three-year program is 12 credits of applied learning, so all of our students graduate with real world experience, which sometimes includes work-study positions.
MCPT: Grace College was among the first schools to offer a three-year degree plan. Are you seeing the plan catch on at other schools?
Pohl: While some schools are starting to offer three-year bachelor’s degrees, they often come with many strings attached, whether that be higher costs or required dual credit from high school or only particular majors. At Grace, a student can start with zero credits, graduate with any Grace major in three years, and truly save the cost of the fourth year. Better yet, students can earn a bachelor’s and a master’s in four years and pay the undergraduate costs and receive undergraduate financial aid the entire time.
MCPT: With the average student taking 6.2 years to even get a four-year degree, many of the parents we talk to claim it’s more the colleges’ than their students’ fault that their students are not graduating in four years. Do you agree?
Pohl: While the reasons for these numbers could probably be explored in either direction (students and colleges), we are focused on providing faith-based, affordable solutions at Grace. What should colleges do to improve their four-year stats? The numbers are not going to change unless higher education is willing to reimagine education. This requires an innovative spirit that is lacking at most colleges and universities, but has been embraced at Grace College. Two-thirds of Grace students graduate in four years compared to 26.3 percent of similar private colleges, and more than 29 percent of our students graduate in three years.
MCPT: Can a student get a degree in three years and still have a meaningful college experience?
Pohl: Yes, Grace College is very intentional about connecting our students to opportunities for involvement. Whether it’s clubs, intramural sports, or ministry teams, all of our students have the opportunity to enjoy their college experience. By focusing in on fewer courses, our students are able to get connected and thrive during their college experience. We even have some athletes that are able to balance academics with athletics and still graduate in three years.