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Growing Trend: Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Just Three Years

Release Date:
8/13/2013 1:00 PM
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August 13, 2013

Business, features

WEST HAVEN, CONN. --- In the University of New Haven College of Business’s new Fast Track program, 24 students are taking six courses a semester and earning an average GPA of 3.6 as they work toward earning a bachelor’s degree in just three years.

Students said they chose to be part of the program to save on the cost of a full year of tuition and room and board in a difficult economy, to get started on their careers more quickly and to be part of a cutting-edge higher education concept – the three-year degree.

“It is a new concept that not a lot of people know about, so when I explain it to them, they are either amazed that I am able to do that or they think I’m crazy for trying to attempt it,” said Emily Sellar, a second-year hospitality and tourism management major from Manville, N.J. “There’s no hidden formula. It just takes a lot of dedication.”

Other colleges with three-year bachelor’s degrees include St. John’s University, Hartwick College, Lesley University and the Ohio university system. Students who choose the three-year program take the same number of courses and credits as four-year students – they just do it more intensely.

UNH’s Sellar is typical of Fast Track students. She is extremely involved in campus life as a USGA senator and a member of the UNH Marching Band and the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality. Sellar also interns with UNH Athletics.

Mary Miller, director of UNH’s Fast Track program and of the College of Business’s undergraduate experience, said the students are typically involved in two or more organizations and clubs; most hold down jobs and seek summer internships. “The students are emerging as leaders on campus,” she said. “They want to be challenged. They bombard me with ideas. They are all incredibly success-driven and highly motivated.”

Elizabeth Davis, dean of the UNH College of Business, said, “The world of work and organizations needs leaders who can challenge the status quo. The UNH Fast Track students are meeting this challenge by pushing themselves and, in the future, pushing their organizations. This group of young leaders brings energy and innovation to their work and to those around them.”

Fast Track is a highly selective program. The students arrive at UNH with 12-20 AP credits or, in the case of Jenny Lam, a first-year student from Malta, N.Y., with 35 credits.

Still, taking on six classes can be daunting, Miller said, so each student in the program has an academic advisor and a Fast Track advisor, as well as other academic supports. Lam said she frequently visits the Center for Learning Resources, which offers academic support and tutoring. 

Students who complete their degree in the three-year time frame can complete their master's degree in business administration (MBA) in one additional year to a year and a half, depending on the academic program.

As the public debate about the future of higher education swirls, the way it will look in the years to come and what it will cost, the three-year bachelor’s degree option is still relatively rare, said Miller. “I would like to think we’ve gotten out ahead of this. This program moves UNH’s College of Business forward strategically.” She said the university administration has been extremely supportive of the program.

One outcome of the program is that the Fast Track students are a tightly knit community, said Scott Castellano, a second-year accounting major from Merrick, N.Y. “Becoming a real community of learners has happened simply due to the maturity level of everyone in the program,” he said.

Miller said second-year students instinctively began to mentor the first-year students, not in a formal way, but because “everyone in the program roots each other on.”

A gathering spot of choice: the library, where they often study together.

Sellar said she was reluctant at first to apply to the program, afraid it would prove too difficult.  “But when financial aid didn’t work out, I knew I had to find a way to reduce the amount of loans I would need. So I reconsidered.  Now that I am in the program, I think it is one of the best decisions I have made,” she said. “The best part of the experience is the people I have met through it. I really can’t imagine what college would be like had I not done Fast Track.”

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico and California. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.