Richson: In praise of accelerated degrees


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In an increasingly competitive postgraduate job market, it sometimes seems as though an undergraduate degree isn’t enough to set a candidate apart. Thus, many students turn to graduate school to further their education, pad their résumés, and very likely add to their personal debt.

This summer, the Huffington Post conducted an analysis that found that while student debt amassed by graduation has doubled over the past 20 years, incomes have remained relatively unchanged. The choice facing undergrads can feel like a lose-lose scenario: take the risk of trying to find a job right out of college, and possibly scrape by trying to repay loans, or take on even more debt by applying to a graduate program in which your studies may or may not be funded by the university.

Fortunately, Iowa seems to have caught onto this reality. One example of the UI’s effort to alleviate debt is the new “3+3” law degree, where students can shorten their time as undergrads simply by applying for the law program and thus finishing up their bachelor’s degree in the law school. Drake and Iowa State have also joined in this initiative.

Recently, some universities have begun to accommodate students who know they will ultimately seek graduate degrees by implementing joint undergraduate and graduate degrees. Essentially, this accelerates the process and also saves students money.

Even though many graduate schools support students through fellowships, assistantships, and grants, the overall cost of an undergraduate and graduate education combined is daunting, especially when considering costs of living such as rent, food, and anything social. For those whose undergraduate careers have been subsidized by their parents, the transition to graduate school or adulthood — traditionally signified by financial independence — is, in my opinion, even scarier.
Accelerated degrees could help keep education costs down and ease that transition into post-grad life.

These programs do have some drawbacks, though. They may not be the best option for people coming into college as open majors, for example, because accelerated programs would give them less time to think about what they want to do with their lives. However, this could also encourage freshmen to be more engaged in their classes and more conscious of what interests them.

I remember someone once trying to tell me that they calculated, based on tuition and course fees, how much missing one class technically costs you. If we all took the time to calculate this, it would definitely be a higher number than we would probably be comfortable with, considering class is more often than not missed for a non-legitimate reason. It could be far-fetched, but adding more accelerated degrees could force students to take ownership of not only the present but the future as well.

Particularly for less-traditional majors with a liberal focus and no set career path, graduate school appeals to some sort of postundergraduate security that we all seek. Why not add an additional element of security by guaranteeing a graduate degree with adequate undergraduate performance and a few extra years of school?

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