U moves toward year-round class

The University may implement more three-year programs after the College of Design completes its pilot program.

Haley Hansen

More University of Minnesota students may soon be able to sidestep the traditional four-year college experience.

The College of Design is currently testing the idea, allowing some students to earn their bachelor’s degrees in three years. While the college’s leaders are still waiting to see how the program shakes out, other departments across campus could implement similar initiatives in the future.

Starting fall 2013, incoming graphic design and retail merchandising students could opt to participate in the College of Design’s pilot program, which allows them to complete their degrees a year early by enrolling in eight consecutive semesters, attending school year-round.

It’s still too soon to know whether the program will expand to other majors in the college, said Kate Maple, the design college’s assistant dean for student services.

Graphic design program director Sauman Chu said faculty members and administrators meet regularly to discuss and document the progress of the program, which she said will be helpful to review when the first class graduates in 2016.

She said the course’s pace is quicker during the summer months, which might not be for everyone.

“It’s not one-size-fits-everybody,” Chu said. “But I think providing an alternative option that could be appealing might help some students.”

University President Eric Kaler has been discussing the benefits of a year-round academic calendar for the past couple of years.

His 2015 budget request also noted that all undergraduate students, like those in the pilot program, should be able to take any credits over 13 for free this summer.

Faculty Consultative Committee chair Rebecca Ropers-Huilman said if the University moves forward with more three-year degree programs, each department would likely decide whether the option would be right for it.

But she said students who participate in these programs might not have as much time for extra-curricular activities. Non-traditional students may also struggle in that type of program, she said, because many cannot take a heavy course load.

“It is a trade-off that would be very appropriate for some students, and less appropriate for others,” Ropers-Huilman said.

A 2012 American Association of State Colleges and Universities report found that three-year degree programs could potentially devalue the “undergraduate educational experience” and noted that demand has historically been low  for these types of programs.

The same report found, though, that the programs could lead to more productivity, and may reduce tuition costs for students over time, as they’re less likely to see tuition increases.

Graphic design professor Steven McCarthy said the program is especially helpful for transfer students because it allows them to catch up with their major’s curriculum requirements.

McCarthy said the program also allows students to enter the workforce and begin earning a salary sooner.

“I hope this succeeds,” he said.  “I think, basically, it’s about providing alternative pathways so students have options.”