Eastern Washington University offers path to a three-year BA; Improving the academic success of low-income students

In our most recent Friday Roundup we linked to a story in The American Interest about the merits of a three-year bachelor’s degree. Turns out that’s possible this year at Eastern Washington University.

The Seattle Times reports

For students who want to study year-round and finish college faster, Eastern Washington University is launching eight bachelor’s degree programs that can be earned in just three years.

It’s possible, of course, for any student to try to finish a bachelor’s in three years without the existence of a program. But the “Finish in 3” program, as it’s called, makes the process easier, said Dave Meany, spokesman for the university.

Here are the details at the “Finish in 3” link:

Details about the Finish in 3 Program:

  • You must sign-up before beginning your coursework at EWU.
  • You’re guaranteed priority registration.
  • For each quarter, including summer, you’ll pay the same flat rate for tuition as students enrolled in 10 – 18 credits.
  • Student housing is available during the summer.
  • You’ll need to attend college continuously year-round after signing up.
  • No previous college credit is required.
  • You can begin either fall quarter (starting in 2016).

Those of you who followed our Roundup link may also have clicked through to the Progressive Policy Institute article by Paul Weinstein that prompted the discussion.

Note that the EWU program differs from Weinstein’s proposal in that it appears to be the same  curriculum, but the fourth-year is handled by attending three summer quarters.

Weinstein advocates something different. He urges schools to reduce the time required by rethinking the course of study.

While some schools might be tempted to squeeze a four-year degree into three years, that approach would be unwise, given that the majority of today’s college students need six years to complete a bachelors.

A better approach would be for schools and their accreditors to rethink their curriculum. For example, reducing the number of electives, cutting back on core requirements or shifting to shorter semesters are all options that schools could use to move to a three-year bachelors and improve the educational experience.

He points out:

Three-year colleges are the norm in many European countries, and a few enterprising universities here have begun to follow suit. This proposal would require any U.S. college or university with students who receive any type of federal student aid to offer the option of earning a bachelor’s degree in three years, and to hold annual increases in the price of tuition and fees to just over inflation.

By making a three-year bachelor’s degree the norm the cost of attending college would drop dramatically. Students currently attending four-year public schools (in-state) would see savings on average of $8,893 while those at private schools would experience a $30,094 reduction.


There’s merit in considering how best to deliver higher education. We’re not prepared to call squeezing the four-year program into three years “unwise.” To us it makes sense to structure a program in a way that allows students to graduate in less time. While it may be true – probably is – that most students require six years to finish the BA, that’s not an argument against organizing the curriculum to facilitate steady progress. 

And it also makes sense to test whether the current four-year program can be restructured to reduce the cost of higher education without sacrificing quality.

EWU is to be commended for providing students a creative option to hasten their path to a BA. 


We also want to highlight this story from Economics 21: College Access is about Guidance as well as Money

A central debate over today’s higher education policy is how to get more students going to college. Less discussed is how to ensure that promising students from underprivileged backgrounds attend better colleges. Since evidence indicates that college attendance can be a breakeven investment or even a losing one for students who are not prepared, the second goal ought to receive some more attention.

The article focuses on research comparing programs at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M. The UT program successfully boosted enrollment and graduation rates, while the effort at A&M was not successful. The key difference:

The UT-Austin program offered free tutoring and peer mentoring, and allowed participating students to take special entry-level classes with enrollment limited to students in the program. Instructors were able to tailor the courses to the unique needs of the program’s students, many of whom came from poor-quality high schools. The TAMU program, on the other hand, had only limited institutional support.

With all the usual caveats, a tentative conclusion:

While more research is certainly needed, stronger institutional support shows more promise than other proposals, such as increasing Pell Grants or expanding affirmative action…

 It is not enough to open the doors of top colleges to promising students; they must also know they can succeed. In higher education, as in other policy sectors, the solution must be more than throwing money (or regulations) at the problem.