New England College exploring three-year degree as part of national pilot program - New England College
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New England College exploring three-year degree as part of national pilot program

Campus sign on NEC's Henniker campus is winter

Republished from the Concord Monitor, December 6, 2021. Click here for the original article.

By Eileen O’Grady

New England College is participating in a nationwide pilot program this year to look at creating a three-year bachelor’s degree program, an idea that could give students a flexible option amid the rising cost of higher education.

The pilot program, called the “College in 3” project, is an initiative of Robert Zemksy, professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Lori Carrell, chancellor of the University of Minnesota at Rochester, that brings together 13 colleges and universities from around the country to consider creating three-year degrees. The idea is to take a relatively familiar concept – finishing college in three years instead of four – but restructure the curriculum to make it a standalone experience that goes beyond just compressing a four-year timeline. Other nearby participants include Merrimack College in Massachusetts and Utica College in New York.

“The idea is, can a college develop a curriculum that will provide the student with what the student needs in terms of learning outcomes and content and the full bachelor’s degree experienced in three years instead of four?” said Michele Perkins, president at New England College. ” Certainly we think that’s doable and would be attractive to a number of students at New England College.”

Finishing college in three years instead of the traditional four can be appealing because of the lower cost – it saves students and their families an entire year of tuition. But students who try to finish four years of coursework in three years know it usually involves sacrificing sleep, social time, extracurricular activities and other aspects of the college experience to get it done.

“One of the biggest obstacles in higher education right now is managing the cost,” Perkins said. “This is more than just, ‘oh, let’s increase our scholarship pool,’ this is really doing something completely innovative and different, really taking a look at the whole model in higher education, saying ‘okay, is this the only way to do it?’ “

The program New England College is currently considering as a candidate for a three-year bachelor’s is its criminal justice BA, which combines a liberal arts foundation with academics and hands-on learning experiences in the criminal justice field.

The participating institutions have committed to exploring the feasibility of a three-year degree, though they’re not required to implement one by the end. New England College is currently in the exploration stage, according to Perkins, which began in September and will continue until February. From March to August, it will enter a more specific planning process for a three-year criminal justice program, with a goal of implementing the program in fall 2022 and seeking accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education, with a potential launch in fall 2023.

New England College administrators believe three-year programs may be attractive to students in more profession-oriented programs of study who want to begin working in their field as quickly as possible.

A three-year nursing program has been in the works for a while at New England College – unrelated to the College in 3 project – for just that reason is one administrators are hoping to launch next fall. In the accelerated program, nursing students will work through the summer to finish in three years. It’s a different concept from College in 3’s goal of having a three-year degree that doesn’t sacrifice vacations, but follows the same idea of getting career-oriented students into the field faster.

“A student who wants to be a nurse, who really wants to get into the clinical environment, wants to really prepare for the day after graduation, have a job and hit the ground running,” Perkins said. “We believe that programs like that are the ones where students would be able to participate in the workplace and have the opportunity to really slide right into the job of their as part of their goal when they graduate.”

Perkins emphasized that the goal of participating in the College in 3 pilot is not to turn anything into a vocational program – a liberal arts foundation will remain key in the college’s offerings. And it’s not a model she foresees taking over every program, instead just being an option for certain select programs, and admittedly isn’t for everyone.

“Some of our students wouldn’t be interested in three years. Some students stay longer than four years, and that works for them,” Perkins said. “We’re firm believers that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model.”