Students and Alumni Debate Three-Year Degrees



Students cheering at Yankee Stadium during NYU’s 2017 Commencement.

Sarah Jackson, Deputy News Editor

The first annual CAS Student-Alumni Debate was held earlier this month in Jurow Lecture Hall. The Oxford-style debate pitched two-person teams — one student and one alumnus each — against each other to debate whether a three-year undergraduate education is superior to the current four-year model. In the end, the audience voted 18-12 in favor of the argument for the three-year model.

CAS senior Akash Lodh and 2017 graduate Devon Weis argued for the motion, pivoting off of their central argument that three-year undergraduate degree programs would help alleviate the growing burden of student debt by eliminating the cost of a fourth year.

“We’ve switched the 2008 housing bubble for a student debt bubble,” Weis said. “What happens if the student debt bubble pops?”

CAS sophomore Bryte Bu and 2017 graduate Will Lockwood debated against the motion, maintaining that cutting the fourth year leaves less room for core classes and the skills they help develop.

“A four-year education allows for American universities to establish a core curriculum that develops a necessary base set of skills,” Bu said. “These core classes are key to building communities in our schools.”

Many European universities offer three-year undergraduate programs, often because they do not require students to take many general education courses, if any at all.

In the United States, NYU has joined a relatively short list of higher education institutions that have implemented accelerated degree programs. Almost 20 percent of undergraduate students at NYU graduate early, according to the NYU Accelerate website.

In an email dated last September, President Andrew Hamilton briefly mentioned attempts to create three-year degree programs at the university.

“Humanities faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Science have developed an optional three-year pathway for students pursuing a humanities major; faculty in other schools are also examining undergraduate and graduate degrees that can shorten the time to graduation,” Hamilton wrote.

Among the programs that landed NYU a spot on the list are several accelerated bachelor-master programs as well as one of the nation’s first three-year medical programs.

No further updates have been provided about the progress made by faculty in other schools to shorten the length of degree programs.

Bu and Lockwood also branched off into the argument that students need flexibility in college to decide for certain what they will study.

“Losing that extra year means people will stick to majors with preconceived notions as being safe and get locked into these majors,” Bu said.

Lockwood claimed that, if a three-year degree system were put in place, the decisions traditionally learned in college would still have to be made sometime, most likely being pushed up earlier in life. In most cases, that would be high school, where he argued that teachers are unequipped to help students figure out which majors to pursue.

“If we have the work of guidance counselors pushed into the classroom, we’re going to make high school teachers worse at what they do and what they’re best at, and it’s not going to serve the students well,” Lockwood said. “We need to keep college what it is, a new experience, a chance for personal, technical growth, not only in your skills, but in developing as a person.”

On the other side of the table, Lodh argued that students do not need high school teachers to set themselves up to graduate early — they’re already doing it themselves.

“Learn the new reality that people are coming to college more prepared than ever,” Lodh said.

In fact, more and more high school students are taking Advanced Placement classes. For many students, transferring these credits to their college transcripts is the easiest way to graduate early.

CAS sophomore Daria Berman is among the 20 percent of students graduating early from NYU, completing her degree in three years because she entered with many AP credits.

“Since I had the AP credits to fulfill most of my cores, and I knew which majors I wanted to pursue, planning to graduate early was fairly simple,” Berman said. “Graduating early helps you plan ahead of time and teaches you to really focus on the fields you find fascinating.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 19 print edition. Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected].