As Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts prepares to become the second division of the campus to offer three-year degrees, there’s little data to suggest the idea warrants an expansion.
“Are they better off than they would’ve if they didn’t go into it? That’s the question we have to ask," says Sociology Department Head Linda Renzulli. "We don’t know. And I would love to study that.”
Renzulli's is one of several department within the College of Liberal Arts that will soon start offering three-year degrees. She says she doesn’t think there’s any risk to students, but also concedes the program is probably only for a select few.
That jibes with what Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication has seen over the past three years.
Josh Boyd is the Lamb School’s undergraduate director and says only a small fraction of the approximately 500 graduates from the school in the last three years have participated in the three-year degree sequence.
“We may have had one or two drop out, but I keep track of the ones that are still on track. So we’ve had 10 – four have finished, six are still on track,” Boyd says.
Boyd says that should cause his colleagues to temper their expectations about how many students will want to participate – especially because it’s been hard to advertise the communication program to students who might be interested in it, since Purdue uses the nationwide admissions process called the Common Application.
“While there are some places [on the Common Application] that students can give responses that are specific to Purdue, as opposed to other universities that they’re applying to, my understanding is that we can’t add those kinds of boxes or directives so that we really know what students are looking for," Boyd says. "So we have to find that out through other sources.”
And he says when students and parents are presented with the idea of a three-year degree, he’s seen very different reactions.
“We anticipated that students and parents would both be really excited about this. And our experience has been parents are much more excited about it than students are.”
He says that’s largely because the three-year track costs less than the standard four.
Adding Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts to the mix will expand the number of majors eligible for three-year degrees by about four dozen.