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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some Undergrads Shave A Year Off College To Save

While educators debate the wisdom of three-year college degrees, some ambitious students are going ahead and finishing their coursework in three years anyhow as a way to save thousands of dollars in tuition.
It takes discipline, they say, a clear study plan and, often, an armful of advanced placement credits from high school.
"I didn't think it was worth it to pay another $40,000 to play with my friends for another year, cheer for a year, and write a thesis," said Nina Xue, who earned a bachelors degree in history and French in three years this spring at Rice University, where she also found time to be a cheerleader.
Xue says she didn't start college with a three-year plan, but did have a head start with 26 AP credits. She took more than 15 hours of classes during two semesters and studied abroad one summer for credit. At the start of her third year, she realized she had enough credits to graduate at the end of the year.
It was hard leaving friends behind, but "making my parents pay for another year of school would not have been fair," says Xue, who plans to pursue a law degree and work in New York City next year.
Only 4.2 percent of U.S. undergraduates earned bachelor's degrees in three years, according to the most recent statistics from the Education Department. The average student spends six years to get a degree at a public university and 5.3 years at a private institution, according to the College Board.
A handful of colleges have begun offering three-year degree programs, an idea trumpeted by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former education secretary and college president, at the American Council of Education's annual meeting in February. He called three-year degree programs the higher-education equivalent of a fuel efficient car.
But critics say shaving the fourth year off college could limit a student's social experience and provide a narrower education.
"From a financial standpoint, particularly in these economic times, it's a great deal," said Roxie Catts, an academic adviser at the University of Arizona. But that would mean sacrificing some general education courses, she said — "the things that get you out of your comfort zone and stick with you for life."
Barbara Rupp, admissions director at the University of Missouri, added, "In some disciplines it would not be possible" to finish in three years. "Engineering, for example — it is tough to graduate in four years much less three years."
Another student at a four-year college who figured out how finish in three was Charles Jacobson, 20, who graduated this year in business at Skidmore College. He credits good planning and not AP courses. "Halfway through my freshman year, I had all my courses planned out," Jacobson said.
He was motivated to get a business degree after a summer job with a pet store in high school. He recalls going to the Skidmore registrar's office and posing the idea of a degree in three years.
"The first thing they asked me was, are you sure you want to do that? I said yes, and here is my plan."
Jacobson also found time in college to work as a ski instructor and complete a summer internship with a financial planning firm. He said he needed help from the registrar's office to pull off his plan, but he never had a problem registering for the right classes.
"I did have to take 8 a.m. classes, but that is no big deal," he said.
Raphaelle Peinado of Rye, N.Y., a three-year graduate of McGill, said the tough job market has made her wonder whether she should have hung out in college for another year. "It is pretty daunting for students with a three-year degree to go into a very hostile work environment with little work experience," she said.
On the positive side, she thinks finishing in three years may have helped her get into graduate school; she'll be attending a masters program at the London School of Economics.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

University of California Makes Cuts After Reduction in State Financing

New York Times

The University of California will use a combination of furloughs, deferred hiring and cuts in academic programs to make up for an $813 million reduction in state financing, its president, Mark G. Yudof, said Friday.

Mr. Yudof said the actions amounted to a major retrenchment for the university, which has long been regarded as the nation’s leading public university.

“The impact of this cut is devastating,” Mr. Yudof said at a press briefing. “There is no way that we are going to be able to look every student in the eye and say, ‘Tomorrow, the University of California will be just the way it was yesterday.’ ”

Most of the university’s campuses will defer at least half of their planned faculty hirings, Mr. Yudof said, and the Berkeley campus expects to reduce faculty recruitment from the usual 100 positions a year to 10.

Chancellors from the individual campuses will present their cost-cutting plans next week to the state Board of Regents, which must vote on the entire budget.

Many of the planned cuts, and those already put into effect, impinge upon the university’s academic offerings.

The Irvine campus has halted admissions to its education doctorate program for working professionals, and its Latin American studies program is on hiatus. Class size is expected to increase 10 percent to 20 percent next year, while faculty and staff is expected to decline by at least 10 percent over the next five years.

At the Davis campus, the Medical Center has eliminated its liver transplant program, and in the division of humanities, arts and cultural studies, 44 courses and sections are expected to be cut.

The University of California, Los Angeles, will close its Labor Center, and deans and faculty members have been told to reduce courses, majors and faculty size by 10 percent to 20 percent over the next year. The freshman enrollment target on the campus for the 2009 fiscal year may drop by as many as 500 students.

At the Santa Cruz campus, most general-education courses with fewer than 100 students enrolled have been canceled, along with the bachelor of arts degree in earth sciences and the minor in music. Creation of an environmental sciences major has been deferred.

The San Diego campus has eliminated senior seminars, a small-group experience for students, and curtailed freshman seminars.

The University of California has faced financial challenges for years, leading to bigger classes, fewer course offerings and deferred maintenance — and caused some faculty members to defect to competing universities.

Tuition has risen to more than $8,700 for in-state students this fall, more than doubling from the $3,859 nine years ago.

Systemwide, 724 staff members have been laid off, and there may be more, Mr. Yudof said, especially if unionized employees reject the furloughs.

The furloughs, to be implemented Sept. 1, will be systemwide, with some exceptions, including those whose jobs are fully financed by research grants.

“It’s important not to take money from enterprises that are really entrepreneurial,” Mr. Yudof said, “and it wouldn’t help us with our deficit. Maybe this will encourage people to be entrepreneurial and go out and get those grants.”

In response to urging from university employees, the furloughs are structured so that people who earn more take bigger pay cuts. Those earning less than $40,000 will have 11 furlough days, equivalent to a 4 percent pay cut, while those earning more than $240,000 will have 26 furlough days, which is about a 10 percent pay cut. Mr. Yudof said he expected that faculty members would not take furloughs on their teaching days.

The university may also close for some additional days, as other California offices have done.

Over all, Mr. Yudof said, furloughs and pay cuts will offset about a quarter of the $813 million in budget cuts, and previously announced increases in student fees will offset another quarter. About 40 percent will come from cuts decided on by chancellors at the individual campuses, and the remaining 10 percent from systemwide changes, including refinancing of debt, and further cuts in the president’s office, where the budget has already been cut by a third.

The university’s struggle is the latest and starkest example of the statewide effects of legislators’ inability to come to an agreement with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over how to deal with a $24 billion budget shortfall. The state’s controller has been forced to send i.o.u.’s to many of the state’s vendors and taxpayers. Most large banks said they would refuse to accept the warrants after Friday, leaving people and businesses to decide whether they will hold onto the warrants until they mature in October or try to find some other method of cashing them.

On Friday, much of state government shut down for the third monthly furlough day ordered by the governor to save money.

Financing for the University of California system rose only 2 percent from 2001 to 2008, a period when enrollment grew 30 percent, and financing for state prisons, K-12 public schools and health and human services each grew by more than 40 percent according to a report from the outgoing chairman of the Board of Regents, Richard C. Blum.

At the briefing, the current chairman, Russell Gould, announced creation of a new University of California Commission on the Future, which he and Mr. Yudof will head. The commission will consider how to maintain access, quality and affordability in a tough economic climate, what delivery models for higher education make the most sense, how big the university should be, and how to maximize traditional and alternative revenue streams.

“We’re going to have to change the way we do business,” Mr. Yudof said.

In an interview after the briefing, he said he would like the new commission to look into the possibility of an online University of California and alternatives to the current system of majors.

by: Tamar Lewin