University of Iowa Announces Plan for Three-Year Undergraduate Degree

University of Iowa President Sally Mason has an idea that will save money, help students get a head start on their careers, and allow them to finish their studies earlier. Mason announced a proposal to the Iowa Board of Regents meeting last week to offer a three-year bachelor’s degree.

Lin Larson of Iowa Now, the university’s newspaper, says that the three-year program would require the same number of credits as a four-year degree, but would have advising and plans of study that will help students to fill their requirements more quickly.

“I believe this is an innovative way to help some of our students earn their degrees faster, while maintaining academic rigor, so they can graduate sooner and begin a productive and enriching working life,” Mason says.

The university’s four-year graduation rate reached 51.1%  in 2014. This is higher than the six-year graduation for public four-year universities, which stands at 49.9%.  UI’s six-year graduation rate is 69.6%.

The three-year degree proposal would include summer study, which would automatically qualify three-year students for the Summer Hawk Tuition Grant which is awarded to all new students.  The proposal recognizes that there are students who arrive at UI with established goals, college credits, and with the discipline required to to take on a more rigorous course load.  This is not for everyone, but the university will identify the programs suitable for the three-year plan.  These new options will be available for students who enter the school for fall 2015.

Chase Castle of the Iowa City Press-Citizen writes that three-year degrees will require two summer sessions, and the Summer Hawk Tuition Grant would pay for only one of those summer semesters.  The grant pays for a summer of 12 academic hours for in-state students.  For out-of-state students the grant allows them to pay in-state tuition for the same hours.

UI Provost and Executive Vice President P. Barry Butler will lead the program.

“So there’s a lot of support that’s built into it,” Butler said. “Really what it amounts to is it’s providing an aggressive enrollment target in terms of credit hours throughout their career.”

Butler, along with Associate Provost Lon Moeller, will meet with the university’s colleges and department heads to develop and identify which academic programs are appropriate for the three-year course track.

Other changes going on with schools of higher education in Iowa were also approved by the Board of Regents last week, beginning with changes to the recruitment process for employees of the state’s public universities and the procedure and criteria for enrolling students living in the state, according to Chase Castle of The Des Moines Register.

The state has hired Deloitte Consulting to evaluate the universities at the cost of $3.3 million to date.  Deloitte projects that their suggestions will result in a $30 million to $80 million annual savings for the three public universities.

The suggestions included: the use of a universal application portal for students who are applying to multiple state universities so that apply on one application, but pay application fees required by each individual university;   improving the state’s Regent Admission Index used to qualify certain in-state students for admission to the universities; standardizing criteria for search committees for some top-level professional and scientific staff.

Chris Higgins of The Daily Iowan adds several other related facts about Mason’s proposal.  One is the possible implementation of five-year master’s programs.  Also, the fact that Mason’s proposal is in line with Gov. Terry Branstad’s campaign proposal to offer some degrees for $10,000 and cut the price by half for other courses.

At least some of the faculty are on board:

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.”

Heineman added that this is “an ambitious and a serious academic enterprise”, but, she believes that many students are unstoppable and can do this.

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