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Get in, get done, get on with your life: Southern Utah University’s new 3-year degree

Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University

Imagine this — graduating with a bachelor’s degree in just three years instead of the traditional four. Southern Utah University is the only university in the state offering this innovative concept, allowing students to graduate after taking courses for eight straight semesters – including summers.

By reducing the amount of time needed to graduate, students not only save money but are able to enter the workforce a year earlier than planned.

”We have a lot of students that are motivated and they want to get out in the world, start making money, build their careers and start a family,” said SUU President Scott L Wyatt. “We built this program to allow them to fulfill those goals sooner.”

In 2019, Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature tasked SUU with creating this first of-its-kind program. While students have always been able to graduate in three years by going to college year-round, the challenge has been that most universities don’t offer a robust selection of classes to take in the summer semester. SUU’s approach has changed that.

”Students majoring in degree programs like history could take courses and graduate in three years, but if your major is computer science or engineering those courses must be taken in a set order,” Wyatt added. “What we’ve done is take all the classes a student needs to graduate, in virtually every single major, and set up the classes so a student can graduate in either four years or three years. Either option, however, still requires eight semesters of full-time coursework.”

The university spent a considerable amount of time working on the framework for the new program. It became immediately clear that there were plenty of moving parts to accomplish this goal. From adjusting the academic calendar to ensuring a significantly larger number of summer courses would be taught, SUU administrators, faculty, and staff created a robust three-year degree program in just a matter of months.

Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University

”The greatest challenge with implementing this initiative has been that large institutions are not typically agile, and higher education institutions are notably slow to change,” said Dr. Steven Meredith, special assistant to the president at SUU. “In discussing this in a meeting last year with Governor Herbert, he referred to the slow pace of change in higher education as ’the speed of cold peanut butter.’ That said, the faculty and staff at SUU have worked very hard to embrace the changes and challenges brought on by the three-year degree option, and I would say that we have gotten to the point where we are now at the speed of ‘warm peanut butter.’”

The three-year degree option went into effect January 2020 and current SUU students are able to register for summer courses in February.

The new three-year degree does more than just allow a student to graduate a year earlier, saving themselves time and money. Utah taxpayers also stand to gain. Wyatt added that if every state university implemented a three-year degree program the savings to the state could be significant.

”We have eight public colleges and universities in Utah that sit largely idle for a third of the year. That’s a lot of money for taxpayers,” said Wyatt. “There’s such a lack of space utilization during the summer months. How significant is it? If every state university instituted a three-year degree option, we’d need two fewer universities to meet the current demand. That’s a significant saving to taxpayers”

The three-year bachelor’s degree is an optional program for students to accelerate the traditional undergraduate process and enter the workforce earlier while still gaining the professional hands-on experiences needed for the job market. The three-year program will reduce barriers to graduation making it easier for students to save time and money.

To learn more information about Southern Utah University’s three-year degree visit, www.suu.edu/3years.

Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University