UVa president suggests three-year bachelor's degree - The Daily Progress: News

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UVa president suggests three-year bachelor's degree

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Posted: Monday, September 13, 2010 11:06 pm | Updated: 5:47 pm, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan floated the idea Monday of introducing a “three plus one” program in which undergraduates would finish their bachelor’s degree within three years and then stick around UVa for a fourth year to earn a master’s degree.

“This is a value proposition and I think a lot of parents would appreciate it,” Sullivan said, addressing UVa’s Faculty Senate for the first time since she became president Aug. 1. “Obviously it wouldn’t be something for all students. It’d be for high achieving students who come [to UVa] with college credit.”

Sullivan did not say UVa is going to implement such a condensed academic program, but said the idea is “worth considering” and has been getting a warm reception from student leaders.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment may recommend that colleges and universities in Virginia encourage students to wrap up their undergraduate degree within three years, thereby saving their parents the cost of an extra year of tuition and opening up a slot for another student.

Sullivan’s “three plus one” idea, she said, might be a better fit for UVa students than simply pushing for students to finish up their bachelor’s degree in three years with the help of dual-enrollment courses and AP credit from high school.

“We’re going to have to put some of our own ideas on the table,” Sullivan said. “If we don’t, we’re going to be left with others’ ideas that might not make much sense for UVa.”

McDonnell has set a goal for Virginia’s higher education institutions to award an additional 100,000 degrees over the next 15 years.

Sullivan said she foresees “moderate” tuition increases and “modest” growth in enrollment at UVa.

Rather than merely expanding the size of UVa’s class of first-year students, she said, the university could instead target adult learners.

“The low-hanging fruit is to go for the large number of adults with some college and getting them into a degree program,” she said.

Vastly expanding the number of traditional first-year students, Sullivan said, could put a strain on UVa’s facilities and resources.

A computer science professor asked Sullivan if she supports the idea of “differential tuition,” in which students enrolled in academic programs that cost more to operate — such as engineering or nursing — would pay more.

“I’m not allergic to differential tuition,” Sullivan replied. “And I’m not allergic to course fees.”

Nursing professor Cheryl Bourguignon, however, cautioned against such a move, pointing out that nursing school graduates do not make as much as engineers and might struggle with additional student loan debt.

“We have to think about the students and when they leave, the amount of debt they’re carrying,” she said.

The greatest challenge facing UVa, Sullivan said, is the university’s ongoing financial concerns. A $14.7 million state budget cut is expected next academic year, the latest in a long line of budget reductions mandated over the past three years.

Sullivan is working on overhauling the university’s budgeting process to make it more transparent and more predictable.

She is also hoping to receive one-time funding from the state to offer better “startup packages” for new hires, a move that could help attract top-tier faculty.

The stagnation of faculty salaries, she said, is a concern and will become a growing challenge as the economy improves. “We need to find ways to invest in our faculty so we don’t lose them to other universities,” she said.

One of Sullivan’s most pressing priorities, she said, is finding a replacement for Leonard W. Sandridge, UVa’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, who is set to retire next June.

Sullivan said she hopes to have a search committee appointed by the end of October. By that time, she said, she also hopes to have redefined the job description, shifting certain responsibilities handled by Sandridge to other divisions of the university.

One such change, she said, has already occurred. UVa’s athletics director, Craig Littlepage, is now reporting directly to her, as opposed to Sandridge. The move, she said, brings UVa in line with 98 percent of other Division I universities.