U.S. Senator promotes education equivalent of fuel-efficient car

October 21, 2009

If cars can be fuel-efficient, why can’t education be time-efficient?

That’s the premise that Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander is promoting.

Alexander served as U.S. education secretary in the administration of the first President George Bush and also as president of the University of Tennessee.

Speaking at the Reuters Washington Summit, Alexander suggested that more colleges take a look at allowing at least some students to obtain an undergraduate degree in three years rather than the normal four. “It’s one way to attract students,” he said.

How does he expect colleges to respond? “Skeptically,” Alexander said. “Colleges don’t change easily.”

He said that the idea has been tried and worked on a limited basis — and that the marketplace will likely determine how widespread a three-year degree becomes.

The United States has the best universities in the world, and they have been key to developing competitive advantages that help Americans produce 25 percent of all the world’s wealth, he said.

But Alexander said tuition has soared, leaving students with unprecedented debt.

Writing in the Oct. 17 issue of Newsweek magazine, Alexander noted that Hartwick College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York, offers three-year degrees to “well prepared-students” — providing them the opportunity to save $43,000, the amount of one-year’s tuition and fees.

He said a number of other “innovative colleges” are making the offer, too.

“The three-year degree could become the higher-education equivalent of the fuel-efficient car,” wrote Alexander. “And that’s both an opportunity and a warning for the best higher-education system in the world.”

For more Reuters Washington Summit news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Senator Lamar Alexander at Reuters Washington Summit)


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This is the most ridiculous proposal on education reform I have ever come across. Granted, some programs do not fit the standard 4 year rubric, but those are nearly always programs which would require more time, not less.

The education foundation should not be tampered with, the costs are the problem. This is a lazy solution, a bureaucratic solution, and not one that place scholarly excellence as a priority. The real truth is tax dollars need to be funding education. Students should be attending school for free. Education is the one place where tax dollars directly come back in the form of an educated populous. You can’t lose education, and having educated citizens increases state wealth and reinforces our competitive edge globally. If you want to subtract from the number of years and maintain quality, well – we already have that, its called an associates degree.

Posted by eb | Report as abusive

Great idea! Colleges require totally useless courses like foreign language in order to obtain a degree. If you dump the useless courses and only require courses which are useful in one’s field or in the work world, college can easily be cut by 1 year for a bachelor’s degree. This idea is long over due.

Posted by Howard K. | Report as abusive