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Mason announces 3-year bachelor plan

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | SEPTEMBER 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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AMES — University of Iowa students may soon have the opportunity to finish a bachelor’s degree in three years.

UI President Sally Mason proposed implementing three-year bachelor’s degrees at Wednesday’s state Board of Regents meeting. Bachelor’s degrees are traditionally designed to take four years to complete.

Her suggestion accompanies university efforts to expand five-year master’s programs and to offer summer courses at a free or reduced rate.

“Coupled with our Summer Hawk tuition grants, we’ll guarantee undergraduate students in select majors can graduate in three years,” Mason said. “We’re still working on the details. We know it won’t be easy, and it won’t be for everyone.”

UI Provost Barry Butler will lead the development of the plan, and officials expect the first degree programs tuned to it to be available with the start of the next school year.

“We were asked to look at the cost of education, and this is one way to reduce the cost,” Butler said.

Mason said the program would allow students to save on tuition and housing costs as well as enter careers earlier.

She also said her proposal is in the spirit of Gov. Terry Branstad’s recent embryonic campaign proposal to offer certain degrees for $10,000 and cut the price in half for several others.

Last year, the UI graduated 4,750 students, and its four-year graduation rate was 51.1 percent.
Associate Provost Lon Moeller will also be involved.

Word of Mason’s proposal did not trickle down to departmental heads until it was announced, but Butler said discussions could begin as early as today.

“Once we have identified academic departments that are interested in offering three-year degrees, we will work with faculty and academic advisers to develop three-year plans of study,” Moeller wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “It’s too early to identify the undergraduate academic majors that will be involved in this program.”

Certain programs will be ineligible because their timelines for completion are too strict, requiring certain courses at certain times or being unable to shave a year off the program.

Mason’s presentation and press release focused on how the plan will be beneficial to students, but she said it will aid the university as well.

“We know the longer students take at the university, the more resources they take, too, so it’s mutually beneficial to all of us to have student graduate in a timely fashion,” Mason said.

History Professor and department head Elizabeth Heineman learned of the proposal after Mason announced it.

“My gut reaction is that it sounds interesting,” she said. “Now, tell me more … I think if students can basically complete the same requirements in three years, that’s a great thing.”

She said she would want students to remember that finishing a bachelor’s in three years is “a very ambitious thing to do” and “a very serious academic enterprise.”

Many students come into the history program with transfer or Advanced Placement college credit, allowing them to move through the major at a faster pace.

“We’ve seen people do that essentially already,” Heineman said. “Nothing stops students, even right now.”


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