What We’ve Learned from Offering a 3-Year Accelerated Bachelors Degree for 10+ Years
There are colleges around the country that are just now experimenting with the idea of a three-year accelerated bachelor’s degree program as if it’s a novel idea.
According to a recent Inside Higher Ed article, there is a group of 13 pilot institutions that have promised to at least consider three-year accelerated bachelor degree programs. And the goal of the experiment? “To overhaul the curriculum in a way that allows students to learn the skills and material they need for a bachelor’s degree in three-quarters of the time.”
Meanwhile, at Grace College, we’ve been offering students a three-year degree successfully for more than ten years.
After the recession of 2007-2009, we decided to reimagine what a college education could look like. Our greatest desire was for students to experience a Christian liberal arts education and prepare for a career. But we wanted to do it in a new way.
Less Money. Less Time. More Education. More Experience.
After a curriculum overhaul and a redesigned course calendar, our three-year accelerated bachelor’s degree program was born. But that’s not all. We also implemented our bachelor’s and master’s dual degree programs which allow you to get both degrees in four years.
And is it successful? Take a look at our 2017 incoming class. More of its graduates walked in 2020 than in 2021. The accelerated bachelor’s degree is more popular than ever.
So when it comes to three-year degrees — we’ve been there and we’ve done it for ten years. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way!
1. Be clear with students about what to expect.
The three-year accelerated bachelor’s degree is no walk in the park. And it’s important to be candid about that. Students who choose to do the program deserve clear communication about what to expect and what a three-year degree would be like in their specific major. Take education, for instance. While it is possible for an education major to complete their degree in three, it is a challenge considering a full semester of their schooling is student teaching. Our education faculty meet with each student embarking on the three-year program and give them a realistic perspective about what lies ahead for them.
“Doing the elementary education and special education double major is no joke,” said Brittany Tadesse, a 2015 graduate. “But I loved my time at Grace and wanted to stay here so that motivated me to give 100%, and the education professors were very supportive through it all.”
2. Not every program is conducive to three years, and that’s okay.
We quickly realized that not every program was a good fit for three years. Our engineering and nursing programs are rigorous programs that require a full four years to master the skills and knowledge required for those fields. And as we mentioned earlier, we would throw education in the mix of degrees that are better completed in four years than three.
“There is a lot of technical and applied coursework to get through in engineering that would not fit well within the three-year model,” said Dr. Fred Wentorf, chair of the Department of Engineering. “Our projects are extremely involved, and they just wouldn’t play well with 8-week courses. Not to mention, many of our upperclassmen students are in internships with local med tech companies in the midst of what is already a rigorous program,” he said.
“The four-year program allows for nearly 800 clinical hours for the nursing student to be well prepared, confident, and skilled to meet the challenges of today’s health care system,” said Kristen Richmond, coordinator of the Bethel Nursing Program at Grace College. “The clinical agencies recruit our graduates for our above national average NCLEX pass rates and our graduates’ ability to provide holistic family-centered care from a Christian perspective.”
3. Implement some semester-long courses.
While we overhauled our curriculum to make eight-week courses the norm for both three and four-year degrees, we did not completely do away with semester-long courses. For courses such as effective writing and public speaking, we recognize that it takes time to attain proficiency. And capstone research courses necessitate time for data gathering and interviews that is unrealistic to require in eight-weeks time. It’s important to be deliberate about accommodations. There’s a way to be efficient without sacrificing the quality of learning for the sake of time.
4. The accelerated bachelor’s degree truly does knock down barriers for students.
Many Grace students have reported that if it weren’t for the three-year option, they would not be able to afford private Christian education.
“The three-year program made it possible for me to go to Grace College,” said third-year visual communication design student Kali Aten. “I would not have been able to afford a Christian school if it wasn’t for the accelerated bachelor’s degree program. And it didn’t just help me — both of my siblings went to Grace and were able to do the three-year program as well!”
5. Take advantage of the opportunity to offer graduate education.
One of the obvious perks of pursuing the accelerated degree program at Grace is that students can get an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in four years through our dual degree program. And the beauty of it all is that any financial aid you have for your undergraduate degree applies to the master’s degree because they are worked on simultaneously. The dual degree program is also an ideal opportunity for those who don’t want to lose out on the four-year college experience. This way, students can get ahead without feeling like they’re missing out.
6. It’s ideal for students coming into college with dual credits.
We’ve had some incoming freshmen arrive with 20+ college credits. Many of those students are able to fit their courses into three years at a very comfortable pace. Others come in and still crank out their courses at the benchmarked pace and are able to graduate in even less than three years.
Mariah Burger, a third-year senior, recommends that high schoolers take advantage of the dual credit opportunities. “I have enjoyed the fact that I am able to still learn what is needed but in a year less than the average college student. I have had to prioritize what I’d rather do: leadership positions or extracurricular activities because I simply couldn’t do both in the short time I was here. If you want to do the three-year program, work ahead in high school to get dual credits that will transfer to Grace so that you can still graduate in three years but shave off a few extra classes.”
7. It really does work.
There were many critics and nay-sayers when we introduced the three-year program. Will students have a social life? Will they actually be able to graduate in three? Will there be lingering kinks that will keep students from successfully graduating on time? Like all things, the three-year program has not been and never will be perfect, but you can’t argue with the outcomes — our accelerated bachelor’s degree really does work!
2011 was the first incoming class we offered the 3-year degree option to, and 29% of the class successfully graduated in three years. Every year since then, at least 25% or more of each incoming class has completed the 3-year degree program. And the program’s numbers continue to grow.
If you’ve been looking for three-year accelerated bachelor degree programs, look no further. Come to Grace. We’ve been developing competent, confident, and skilled individuals in three years’ time for more than a decade!