Four-year degree in three? Follow Wesleyan’s example

THREE-YEAR bachelor’s programs aren’t for the faint of heart: The program that Wesleyan University has been promoting routinely obliges students to takes summer courses and load up on classes during the year. But for parents facing steadily increasing tuitions — and students facing mountains of debt — three-year programs offer real savings.

Wesleyan has long permitted students to finish their studies in three years. But the school only started to promote the program two years ago, as part of a push to make its bachelor’s degree more affordable. Wesleyan announced the plan along with other decisions designed to keep costs under control, such as a commitment to tie tuition increases to inflation. The university also took the unfortunate — but, administrators said, nessesary — step of moving away from need-blind admissions, meaning a prospecive student’s financial aid needs now factor into some admissions decisions.

Cramming four years of work into three often requires forgoing some of the extras that can make college so rewarding, such as studying abroad and participating in certain extracurricular activities. But for the students who can tough out the work, finishing a year early can be worth the savings. Many colleges have little-publicized three-year degree programs, and they should follow Wesleyan’s example and promote them as a realistic option. Schools that don’t offer three-year programs should consider adding them — a step that 19 private, nonprofit colleges have taken since 2009. Even if prospective students end up choosing the traditonal four-year program, they would no doubt appreciate the fact that colleges are concerned about their financial future as well as the quality of their education.