One way to rethink higher education
The Trump administration has granted a 60-day reprieve for federal student loan payments and temporarily dropped the student loan interest rate to zero. While these measures provide temporary relief, they will do nothing to combat historically high tuition costs or end the cycle of student borrowing and indebtedness.
With prolonged university closures, lawsuits for tuition refunds, and economic uncertainty ahead, now is the time to reform higher education. But in our hyperpartisan political environment, that is easier said than done. If we truly want to improve higher education, we must pursue a bipartisan approach that lowers tuition costs, reduces student loan debt, expands college opportunities for high schoolers, and comes without raising additional taxes. Currently, there is only one reform path that fulfills these goals: Degree-in-Three Reform.
Degree-in-Three Reform calls for transitioning the college system from the traditional four-year degree toward a three-year degree model. By eliminating one year of college, tuition rates drop by 25%, and students pay less out-of-pocket, have fewer loans and interest to pay back, and can more easily financially-access college. Further, by removing a year, students could obtain employment and earn a salary one year earlier, which improves their immediate economic positioning. According to Paul Weinstein, graduate program director in public management at Johns Hopkins University, colleges could eliminate a year by implementing a trimester system, removing redundant class requirements, focusing on earlier major selections, offering crossover classes for students pursuing master’s degrees, and/or accepting more AP credits.
Additionally, most colleges already allow students to substitute internship experiences for classroom credit, including Adelphi, Albany, and Harvard. Some schools even allow internships to fulfill a full semester’s worth of class credit. Accordingly, colleges could eliminate a year by creating formal internship programs-for-credit. As incoming college students face uncertain economic futures, maximizing work experience through internships significantly improves preparation and competitiveness in job markets.
A criticism of Degree-in-Three Reform is that reducing the length of college could potentially compromise education quality. However, more than 32 universities already offer three-year degrees, according to Weinstein. Moreover, most colleges already allow students to substitute work experience for class credit. So, students obtaining earlier employment and real-world experience can hardly be viewed as an educational compromise. By allowing students to graduate one year earlier, colleges could open up more seats in their incoming classes, which means more educational opportunities for high schoolers and no lost profit for colleges.
Degree-in-Three Reform presents a bipartisan solution to a divisive national issue. With respect to education reform, Republicans have proposed reducing the government’s role in administering loans in favor of private-sector lending, while Democrats have advanced free college and debt cancellation. With these antipodal approaches, bipartisan action would seem virtually impossible. However, Degree-in-Three Reform caters to both parties’ interests. Tuition rates and loan debt would decrease, and more students would be able to attend college. These benefits accrue without raising a dollar in taxes or expanding government involvement. Republicans could still pursue their original higher education platform of reducing government involvement, and Democrats could still pursue free college and debt cancellation.
Despite its many economic and efficiency benefits, Degree-in-Three Reform has failed to overcome the inertia of our traditional four-year degree system. But as college tuition costs and loan debt reach their highest levels, we must address these problems with tangible solutions to prepare the next generation of students for an uncertain economic future.
Oliver Roberts, of Massapequa, is a second-year law student at Harvard Law School.