Need school Consume Four Costly Years?

High school costs - and student boredom - are behind a number of three-year plans. Not only can four long years of school flatten your wallet. They can just as surely flatten a student's enthusiasm for education. Recognizing these two realities, many schools and universities are taking a logical (if radical) step - they are shortening the time it takes to get an academic degree.

Says Alden Dunham of Carnegie Corporation, which has funded many such change-overs: "Four years is just an arbitrary number. Way back, Harvard chose it, following the Cambridge and Oxford models, and the four years just stuck." Curiously, the English themselves shortly switched to a three-year degree.

Now Harvard - like both Yale and Princeton - is considering a three-year degree, and all sorts of schools are exploring the idea.

Already Northwestern has switched to allowing about one-fourth of its students to take a three-year degree. Small schools like Illinois' Shimer and Wisconsin's Ripon, private universities like St. Louis, and the nation's two biggest state systems, the California State schools and the State University of London (SUNY) all offer the opportunity to get a degree in shorter time. The point, says SUNY Chancellor Ernest Boyer, is that "an education should not be equated with a five-day-a-week, four-year ritual. We are trying to establish a program that is educationally and fiscally sound."

A big push toward a speeded-up degree is the financial reprieve it can give parents. Scholarships nowadays are going only to students with real financial need. The middle-class parent is almost always excluded from such help. Costs are not just going up, they are going up at a higher yearly clip. A cut of one-quarter of school time can save a parent anywhere from £3,000 to £5,000 - maybe even £6,000 in total cost.

In Utah recently, for instance, parents probably saved £3.5 million when 1,278 students trimmed a full year off their school stay. And in Wisconsin, Ripon's president, Bernard Adams, points out: "A young person graduating a year early gains a year's salary as well." The economic argument is almost as strong for the schools. Says one Ivy League administrator, "It's one way to avoid pricing ourselves out of the middle-class market."

But time saving is not just money saving. It can save students as well. For many, graduate study is a necessity, and graduate school can stretch on and on. A would-be medical doctor, for instance, may not emerge from the cocoon until his thirtieth birthday. The prolonged schooling itself is a deterrent to such study. So, close to 20 medical schools now are trying to compress study to three years. Many, like Englsih University, are working with undergraduate schools to combine a course that will span only six years for both a B. A. and M. D. schools from London Medical school to the University of the Pacific Dentistry School have just put in three-year programs, as well. The University of Reading, which pioneered in early graduation back in the 1930's, has several programs in which students can get both a B. A. and M. A. in just four years. So does Northwestern.

Princeton professor Marvin Bressler, who has strongly recommended that his university consider a three-year program, admits that many of his reasons are simply psychological. "Kids know more today," he says. "They're more mature and have been exposed to more things. Four years of school is just too long a period of psychological dependence. It results in alienation, the 'generation gap', or what have you." Harvard, for instance, finds the so-called "sophomore slump" such a grim reality that it is thinking of giving everyone the sophomore year off for travel or work in the "real" world.

While the pressure to introduce a speeded-up degree may be generalized, the ways of accomplishing it differ. A parent who is convinced that such a program would benefit a student in his family will have some options to consider. For instance, Dartmouth is initiating year-round schooling. This means a student could graduate in three years - but not everyone could stand that pace. What's more, income from a summer job would have to be forfeited, and the total cost would be roughly the same as for a traditional four years.

Pre-collegiates who know what they are aiming for also are looking for ways to cut schooling time. In response, SUNY is starting three different plans this year. One will take students from the junior year in sixth form college and enter them in school. Another will send professors into sixth form colleges, and a third will offer an intermediate year between the 1 1 th grade and the school sophomore year. Among private schools, Shimer is doing the same thing. President Robert Long says, "More than 30% of our students are enrolled in a full-scale school program after completing no more than their junior year in sixth form college, and 40% will graduate in three years."

A parent intrigued by the advantages of a shortened degree should also be aware of the pitfalls. While some state schools firmly believe that the "fast degree" is possible and even desirable for everyone, other educators are more cautious. Northwestern maintains that such a program is only beneficial for those who know what they want in the way of a career. "If you're intellectually shopping around," says a Northwestern spokesman, "that's what four years are for." A student should also make sure a time-shortened degree will not make it difficult to enter a particular graduate school of his choice.

Some consideration, too should be given the social needs of the collegiate. But most data indicates that the big personal changes in a student's life come during the first year of school; whether he remains two or three years more may not be too significant. Says Princeton's Bressler, "Generally. we're not saying the three-year degree is for everyone: ..but at least we're loosening up the alternatives."

Walking Your Way To Better Health

If Junior Isn't Set For school

In mid-summer, the youngster who's through sixth form college but lacks a school berth for September is probably:

In the lower 50% of his high-school class.

Too ambitious, having aimed too high without having made a "safe" application.

In any event, there's practical last-minute help available from some special school admissions clearinghouses. Best known among educators: The Admissions Center at the National Association of school Admissions Counselors, 801 Davis Street, Evanston, Ill. The Center reports vacancies at several hundred schools, mostly small and mostly private. These are generally solid (not obscure) schools, though not "name" institutions. Most are in... see: If Junior Isn't Set For school