By Richard Vedder
A reporter from The Philadelphia Enquirer called yesterday to ask my reaction to two nearby schools announcing they are moving towards a three year bachelor degree. I said that, in principle, I liked the idea. The move to the three year degree is gaining some strength, and a number of campuses have announced three year plans.
Of course the three year bachelor's is common in Europe, even at prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge. Some relatively good schools (e.g., Bates College in Maine) offer a three year option.
For most students, the biggest cost of college is not tuition, but rather the income foregone from working. Since a typical student today takes about five years to get his or her diploma, the three year degree student actually gets two years more time in the labor force at presumably a decent income as a college graduate. This may mean literally tens of thousands of dollars of additional income.
Yet, I do not expect the three year degree to become the national standard. For a majority of students, particularly those 18 to 22 years of age attending residential schools, college is as much a consumption good as an investment good. Kids go to college to make friends, have fun, and enjoy life. A three year degree, with no big breaks from school reduces time for recreation, chasing students of the opposite sex, etc. It forces students more quickly into the cold, cruel Real World. Most American students don't want to do that (never mind their huge student loan debt), and thus I think the three year degree likely will not happen to become the standard in the near future, although the rising cost of college increases its attractiveness.