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The three-year bachelor’s degree?

What if the traditional four-year undergraduate degree went away?

What if getting a bachelor’s degree in just three years became the norm?

That’s the proposal put forth by Paul Weinstein, director of the public management program at Johns Hopkins University.

Weinstein suggests that moving to three-year degree programs would solve many of higher education’s ills, namely the soaring cost of a college education and the staggering levels of student loan debt.

The Progressive Policy Institute in Washington recently published Weinstein’s proposal in a paper titled “Give Our Kids a Break: How Three-Year Degrees Can Cut the Cost of College.”

“For generations of Americans, earning a college degree was considered the surest way to achieve the American Dream,” he writes. “But the rising cost of college and the tremendous debt burden it will place on our children is now threatening to derail that track to prosperity. While many policymakers have focused on ways to augment financial aid, the question of how to cut the actual cost of getting a degree has been largely ignored. We can no longer afford to discount that crucial second question.”

Students attending four-year public universities pay, on average, $35,572 over four years. Slashing one year off their term would save — you guessed it! — 25 percent. Students attending private colleges would, of course, save even more.

(Coming from a Hopkins professor, the proposal is a tad ironic. JHU is the 12th-most expensive school in the country, with tuition and fees clocking in at $61,806 per year.)

Less money spent on school equals less student loan debt. But what about colleges’ revenue base, you ask? Wouldn’t the schools suffer financially, and possibly be forced to skimp on quality?

Weinstein says no. The universities could simply enroll larger class sizes to make up for the lost tuition revenue from the foregone fourth year.

Schools would need to drastically reform their requirements — eliminating mandatory electives, for instance — and reorganize their course schedules. But Weinstein says it’s possible to achieve the same quality education in less time.

Additionally, Weinstein also suggests streamlining existing federal grant programs and tax incentives into a single program, which he says would save money for everyone.

Weinstein did not, however, opine on another crucial question: How should the beer companies be compensated for all the lost revenue?

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.

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