That’s a question Mitch Daniels confronted as a student at Princeton University. Then, he opted for three and a half, graduating a semester early. As president of Purdue, he raised the question again when he challenged the University community to develop a three-year undergraduate degree.
“The notion that it requires four years to complete an undergraduate degree is really little more than a matter of tradition, a uniquely American tradition,” says Daniels. He goes on to note, “It’s more clear than ever that a solid grounding in disciplines like English, history, political science, philosophy, or communication is invaluable in today’s collaborative, information-based economy.”
This fall, the College of Liberal Arts rolled out Degree in 3, a comprehensive program offering more than 20 three-year degree options in every academic unit within the College. Degree in 3 builds on a road map that the Brian Lamb School of Communication created in response to Daniels’ challenge in 2014 and marks a transition to a three-year degree college.
“As we look at undergraduate liberal arts education, this is a compelling option,” says David Reingold, Justin S. Morrill Dean of Liberal Arts. “It positions students to meld the benefits of the in-demand skills a liberal arts degree provides—great communication, creative thinking, and analytical problem solving—with an exceptional value proposition. We hear the concerns about the cost of higher education. Degree in 3 offers savings over a four-year degree. Add to that the income these students will enjoy by virtue of entering the workforce a year earlier. That extra year of earning power will put them ahead of their peers on the road to success.
“It is incumbent upon leaders in higher education to find innovative solutions to remain viable and to remain relevant,” Reingold continues. “Degree in 3 represents innovation at its best. It is a simple alternative to address the issue of cost. We anticipate that students will see this, too, with a three-year degree becoming increasingly common in our college and, I suspect, in 21st-century undergraduate education in general.”
Unlike many three-year degrees, the Purdue Degree in 3 does not require that a student enter Purdue with Advanced Placement (AP) or other credit. All course maps are built with the expectation that students will start with no credit. Students who do have AP or other credit can reduce their course loads as appropriate. Students will be able to participate in study abroad programs, internships, and campus life, building a robust three-year college experience.
Degree in 3 students will benefit from priority class registration, access to University leadership, and special opportunities to connect with Purdue alumni and guest speakers, as well as the opportunity to
join a new learning community being developed to help build fellowship among students pursuing the three-year degree option. “It will be a great point of pride to be a Degree in 3 student,” says Reingold. “We respect the students who are choosing that option and will celebrate their commitment.”
For students who are driven, motivated, and focused, Degree in 3 allows them to enter the workforce or graduate school a year earlier than traditional plans of study. A cost-effective undergraduate degree option, Degree in 3 can save students $10,000 to $20,000, depending on residency and other factors. Alongside that, students get a jump on earnings. With an average starting salary for Purdue Liberal Arts students in excess of $37,000, the numbers add up in a big way.
The cost savings tied to Degree in 3 can be the key to bringing a Purdue education within reach for prospective students.
“I was an out-of-state student, so the price of tuition was higher than what our whole family was comfortable with paying. But with the three-year program, we saved about $20,000,” says Charlotte Tuggle (BA 2017, Brian Lamb School of Communication). “My parents were definitely excited about the idea. They were confident that I was capable of graduating a year early, and it definitely made conversations about my going out of state for college much easier. They agree that it was a great decision, and they’re very proud.” A reporter for The Purdue Exponent and Purdue’s NPR affiliate WBAA, Tuggle was named the 2016 Student Journalist of the Year by the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She graduated on May 13 and started a full-time position with WBAA on May 15.
“Honestly, I think the three-year degree option is a great fit for Liberal Arts. I think that in our college, there’s an emphasis on experience-based learning, and while being in the classroom is important, it should be a jumping-off point. Once you have the tools from class, I think there’s an enthusiasm to start working as soon as possible—maybe because us Liberal Arts kids like our majors,” Tuggle adds. “It’s a great way to hit the job market earlier and save a lot of money. Now that I’ve finished my degree, it was absolutely worth it.”
Tuggle’s mother, Becky, appreciated the support her daughter received at Purdue. “I knew that completing a degree in three years at Purdue would be a challenge that Charlotte was well prepared for,” she says. “In addition, she received excellent guidance after accepting the three-year program. Her advisor helped her stay on track to complete her short- and long-term goals. I believe Charlotte was given opportunities at Purdue that would not have been available to her at any other college. Purdue faculty and staff mentored her and provided invaluable tools to help her succeed in college and beyond.”
“I’m excited about this new program,” says Reingold. “What we’re doing expands the alternatives available to Liberal Arts students, and for some, the associated savings will open the door to attend Purdue. Degree in 3 offers an option for the student who is hardworking and committed. I’m also pleased that we are building elements that will support students in Degree in 3, like a learning community that will debut in fall 2018 and programming that will engage these students and create a sense of shared focus among students who choose to complete a Degree in 3.”
For Kelsey Dilday (BA 2015, English), who completed her degree in three years without the benefit of a formal plan to do so in her major, support for students like her is a welcome evolution. “I was ecstatic to hear about the new three-year degree options. To me, the single best thing about the new three-year programs is that there will now be more people actively encouraging incoming students to take a three-year path. I had an amazing time at Purdue, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Dilday, who will enter her third year of study in the McKinney School of Law at Indiana University this fall, says she explored the three-year degree path to save money. “My parents were generous enough to pay for my undergraduate education, but I knew that attending from out of state, even with Purdue’s generous scholarships, was expensive. Saving my parents a year of tuition was the least I could do for all they’d given me while growing up.”
“It takes guts to say you will complete a Purdue degree in three years,” says Reingold. “There are no shortcuts here. These students will complete every requirement of a Purdue bachelor’s degree, and they will do it in three years. It will reflect a particular focus and work ethic that will set Degree in 3 students apart. When they walk into the world, whether it’s for graduate school or into the workforce, I assure you there will be no question they earned it.”
A peek into the Purdue archives reveals that the Degree in 3 concept surfaced nearly a century ago.
In the course of his research on Purdue’s history and people for a book to commemorate the sesquicentennial in 2019, writer John Norberg discovered that President Edward Elliott may have been the first to advance the concept of a degree in three years at Purdue.
Early in his 23-year tenure as president, Elliott put forth the idea. In a May 3, 1924, speech, “Pursuit of Power,” at the Purdue Semi-Centennial, he said, “I am convinced that the present four-year program of training for all students is unwise, uneconomical, and unjustified. It is my intention, shortly, to propose to the faculty of the University that our curricula be reorganized so as to permit students of ability and persistence to complete the work for a degree within three years instead of four.”
In fact, at various points in Purdue’s history, students have found a way to do exactly that.
For alumna Judy Brandau (BA 1970, Spanish), it was her freshman academic advisor who first mentioned that a three-year degree could be an option based on her high school advanced placement credits. “It sounded great to me,” says Brandau. “An additional benefit of my particular three-year plan was that by my senior year, I was taking some graduate-level Spanish classes in order to fulfill my credit requirements. Since I had planned on going to graduate school after Purdue, I was able to get a teaching assistant’s position to offset some grad school costs at the University of Missouri. So in four years, I had both an undergraduate degree from Purdue and a master’s from Mizzou!”
Brandau went on to a successful career, retiring as vice president of international business operations with Marriott International. Her first car also came courtesy of her parents and her three-year degree. “My parents promised me a car if I did indeed graduate in three years!”
“I am really excited that Purdue is formalizing this three-year option,” says Brandau. “Having a more structured plan would have been extremely helpful. Also, as an out-of-state student, had my parents known in advance that they were only committing to three years financially, the decision to select
Purdue over other universities would have been a slam dunk. Just as I got a head start with my three-year plan, Purdue will get a competitive head start over other universities with this program.”