Oberlin Proposes Three-Year Degrees

A controversial proposal by Oberlin College President S. Frederick Starr to offer a three-year bachelor's degree is turning heads in the academic world, but is unlikely to catch on at Harvard anytime soon, students and administrators interviewed here said yesterday.

And some, such as Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey D. Wolcowitz, said that many students should be taking more, and not less, time to earn their baccalaureate degrees.

"Universities should give students the flexibility and time for studies that is appropriate," Wolcowitz said, adding that there is no specific "right number of years" of undergraduate study to attain a degree.

Proponents of the Oberlin plan say that completing college in three years, instead of the traditional four, saves a year of tuition payments and expedites the college process.

This option is currently available only to those Harvard students who have significant advanced placement credit and who choose to take advanced standing.

"I would want to be careful, though, before moving from a four- to three-year college program, given the fact that we are already concerned with students' preparation upon arriving at college," Wolcowitz said.

William H. Bossert '59, master of Lowell House, also said a three-year degree program is not a good idea.

"A lot of things go on in a very short time in college, while students are learning new things and getting away from their homes," Bossert said.

Four years are also necessary to allow universities to teach the basic skills that many students are not taught in high school, Bossert said.

"Many 18-year-olds are poorly qualified for college and come from secondary schools that downplay basic reading and writing skills," Bossert said.

But Professor of Education and Social Structure Nathan Glazer said he supports the idea of giving qualified students a quick route through college.

Glazer said American colleges are built on the assumption that high school curricula are weak.

"In elite selective colleges, students often have a strong high school background. Students of that type should have the option of a three-year program," Glazer said.

"There are a number of ways for a student to show they had a high school career of more than average quality and content and colleges should adapt to these students," Glazer said.

Glazer added that four years is a long time, and that some students want to complete college sooner so they can move on.

Wolcowitz said that, although he opposes a three-year option, students and families are justified in trying to alleviate the financial burden of a college education.

"Students have a right to be concerned about finances, but shortening the curriculum is not the right way to handle the rising cost of education," Wolcowitz said.

Most students interviewed yesterday said they liked the idea of spending four full years in college.

"College is not only what you learn in class, but also is the development of the individual," said Allen Chu '94, who opposes the option.

It takes time to mature, Chu said, concluding that "students should still have a fourth year to develop themselves more."

Three years of college would be "too intense," said Chloe Zubieta '95, arguing that rushed students would miss out on the "extras" they get in college.

"College is more than the classes you take. It is the entire social atmosphere and extracurriculars," Zubieta said