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The Goldilocks Degree

Offer one, two, three, and four year degree options from the same high quality, high prestige universities.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

This concept is targeted at university administrators who would approve, design, and offer new degree options. This idea would give students the opportunity to spend much less for brand name degrees. And it doesn't require disruptive or complex change.

Let's break the constraint of the four year degree, and offer one, two, three, and four year degree options from the same high quality, high prestige universities. Students can decide what they need from the school: many years to explore options and ideas, a very tight focus on core learning for a specific path, or something in the middle. And in that way, students can get top credentials and control their costs.

Helping students "learn how to think" is an important goal of a university. The four year bachelor's degree is intended to deliver on that promise. This goal can still be accomplished in these shorter time frames and using the domain of knowledge that the student chooses as a focus. The university needs to make sure it is designing all classes to push that type of critical and creative thinking, not just rote learning. In that way, all students in all degree options build the essential skills of critical thinking and expression. Four years of that kind of academic work should have more impact than one year, but the "pick your degree" approach moves the choice of "how much to buy" to students rather than administrators.

Will the world accept these new, short degrees? The university brand will speak to the quality of the education and the readiness of a student in the path selected. Expectations (and opportunities) for a four year student should be greater if the four year experience is producing on its promise. A student who completed a two year undergraduate degree would have done the work equivalent to a major in the subject, and would be ready for an entry level position or perhaps to go on to a masters degree. A student who completed a one year program in "computer science foundations" should see opportunities matching that level of preparation. In all cases, the university is making sure that the "University of..." brand guarantees you are looking at the top prepared students for that class of degree.  

I recognize that this challenge is about reducing cost and increasing access to the traditional bachelors degree. But it was pointed out in the Research phase that the "4 year degree" is a pretty arbitrary definition of what a degree must be. It was also pointed out that the broad range of courses required in a four year program are not a good match for every student and every goal. These "pick your size" degrees are consistent with the purpose and effects of a traditional four year degree. This simple change in the structure and types of degrees better fits student needs and can greatly reduce the cost of a degree for many students. 


What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I'm struggling to figure out the lightweight experiment. I can see the market research but not the prototype... It wouldn't be expensive or complicated for a university to market and run a pilot "two year degree" option in one subject area, but you would have to make the commitment to see how it works. That would test demand, test student experience, and test market results. I imagine there are many students who would be willing to take the risk with the new Harvard or Stanford two year degree.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Come up with lightweight experiments to test this idea.

This idea emerged from

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Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

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10 comments

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Photo of Gavin Cosgrave
Team

Jim,
Love the idea! I think the options would force both universities and students to focus on their field... a student who wanted to explore career fields might be better suited for a longer degree whereas a student focused on one skill could spend 1-2 years specifically on their passion. One of the themes of this challenge seems to be that although general education requirements may help with a "well-rounded student" as universities advertise, they may not be worth the cost.
I think even just implementing a 2 year degree program at a university could be a start... I feel like the option may gain popularity fast. Great thinking, excited to see how this evolves!

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks Gavin. I was inspired by Eric's post in the Research reminding us we could cut the cost of college 25% by just cutting to three years (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/research/3-year-college-automatically-decreases-tuition-by-25). That caught my attention and I built out from there. I'd love to see this come to pass, seems such a simple way to improve the education market.

Photo of Eric Geisterfer
Team

Hi Jim & Gavin. Well said Gavin:"One of the themes of this challenge seems to be that although general education requirements may help with a "well-rounded student" as universities advertise, they may not be worth the cost." I agree.
Jim, I appreciate pointing out my idea as your inspiration. I have been reading through the ideas section and there are a number of people who have pointed out a similar concept of a shortened degree - here is another one ( https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/ideas/smart-bachelors-with-payable-courses-and-personalized-selection ). And another similar one (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/ideas/keep-it-straight).
I think we might be onto something.
If OpenIDEO is willing to back me up, I'd be willing to approach my Alma mater, Occidental College, to see if they would be willing to try this. If I were a business owner hiring college students, I would be more concerned about their major than about the general lib. ed. classes they took. So I don't see this as a liability when looking for a job after college.

Photo of Eric Geisterfer
Team

Hi Jim & Gavin. Well said Gavin:"One of the themes of this challenge seems to be that although general education requirements may help with a "well-rounded student" as universities advertise, they may not be worth the cost." I agree.
Jim, I appreciate pointing out my idea as your inspiration. I have been reading through the ideas section and there are a number of people who have pointed out a similar concept of a shortened degree - here is another one ( https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/ideas/smart-bachelors-with-payable-courses-and-personalized-selection ). And another similar one (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/ideas/keep-it-straight).
I think we might be onto something.
If OpenIDEO is willing to back me up, I'd be willing to approach my Alma mater, Occidental College, to see if they would be willing to try this. If I were a business owner hiring college students, I would be more concerned about their major than about the general lib. ed. classes they took. So I don't see this as a liability when looking for a job after college.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Hi Eric. If this idea moves forward, I live in a city with four universities and have some contacts at a few others. Might be able to get some exploratory conversations to happen too, just to understand if it is intriguing and if not what the immediate objections are.

Photo of Eric Geisterfer
Team

Sounds good, we'll have to wait to see what the outcome of this challenge is. I'm sure there are other people who would be willing to approach the colleges they attended. By the way, here is a link to my Idea which I expanded on from the Research phase (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/ideas/how-to-decrease-college-tuition-by-25).

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Really great discussion Eric and Jim! We love how the both of you are already thinking about engaging universities to gain early feedback on this. And thanks for highlighting the relevance of traditional "4-year" bachelor degrees.

We're particularly interested in solutions that are adaptable by institutions and can scale across many colleges in the U.S. The 4-year bachelor degree is a benchmark and not necessarily a requirement for evaluation. It's more important to have a sound business solution that focuses on the Cost of college and how it's paid for:T

Photo of Eric Geisterfer
Team

Hi Shane, thanks for the feedback. Shortening the time period required to get a degree would decrease the cost of tuition making it more accessible to everyone, and it can be scaled across the entire country. Are we off mark here?
Could you clarify a bit more what you mean by:"The 4-year bachelor degree is a benchmark and not necessarily a requirement for evaluation. It's more important to have a sound business solution that focuses on the Cost of college and how it's paid for".
Thanks

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