Katie Ribbens–Staff Writer
College is expensive. So, students are continuously searching for new ways to save. Graduating a year early offers a convenient way to avoid an additional year of tuition costs.
Dordt University recently launched their “Degree in Three” program: a fluid system that offers students a three-year course plan. The idea originated three years ago, when Dordt considered the opportunity to create more flexible options for students. Dordt administration asked Joe Bakker, director of online education, to take the lead on the project.
Degree in Three focuses on eight majors: business, communication, criminal justice, digital media production, English, health and human performance, history, and social work. These majors can consistently be completed in three years, regardless of whether the student enrolls at Dordt during an even or odd year.
Degree in Three also picks majors that do not have multiple prerequisites. The more straightforward the major, the more likely it is to qualify for Degree in Three.
“We tried other majors too, but we would run into roadblocks, where based on Dordt’s current schedule, it’s just not reasonable,” Bakker said. “We did not want to give any unreasonable advice.”
In many ways, Degree in Three reflects the role of an academic advisor. Any student interested in graduating in three years, regardless of if their major is listed on Degree in Three, can plan their coursework with their advisor. Their ability to graduate in three years depends on the number of credits the student earned in high school, how many credits they take each semester, if they want to study abroad, and if they want to take internships.
Each student’s plan is dependent on individual factors, so their advisors help to craft a custom plan, but Bakker said the most distinct difference is that Degree in Three provides the written resources of a laid-out plan.
Degree in Three also reaches out to prospective students. If high school students express interest in Dordt, their admissions counselor connects them to Kandace Brands, an online academic advisor. She meets with them to determine their major, goals, and timeline, helping them build a custom plan for earning some credits in high school.
“We’re finding that students really want to know about details even before they ever come,” Bakker said.
Sherryl Mae Rowe enrolled at Dordt in August of 2020 and plans to graduate in May of 2023. She is a computer science major and is a member of the Kuyper Honors Program. Even though her major is not listed in Degree in Three, she worked with her academic advisor to craft a three-year plan. She earned an associate degree during high school, which fulfilled several course requirements. She chose to graduate in three years for financial reasons and to begin work sooner.
“You’re starting life earlier,” Rowe said. “You really don’t have to pursue a master’s or doctorate unless you want to be a professor in computer science. So, at that point, you’re set for the rest of your life.”
In the past, Rowe had difficulty getting into her core classes. They fill up quickly, and the registrar prioritizes third and fourth-year students. Even though Rowe is graduating next year, she is only in her second year at Dordt.
In addition to financial reasons, Bakker said the Degree in Three program also attracts students who plan to attend graduate school after Dordt.
“They’re trying to condense their overall experience because they know it’s going to be a long haul,” Bakker said.
Graduating in three years is not for everyone. If the student needs to take summer courses to graduate early, they suddenly become a full-time student without utilizing their summer break to work more hours or take on an internship.
“It’s something to think about and consider and be prayerful about,” Bakker said. “It’s not something to just jump in without thinking.”
Rowe takes 18 and a half credits each semester and is constantly overloading.
“I never really have a break,” Rowe said. “You’re really focused on your current experience, like on your schooling rather on absorbing the college experience around you. Pick and choose.”