President Wyatt recently received 3.8 million dollars from the state legislative to start a three-year degree initiative. The three-year degree initiative will give students the opportunity to finish their four year degree in three-years by creating a robust summer semester. After receiving the funds, President Wyatt immediately started spreading the exciting news across campus. Cassidy Harmon and Connor Sanders of the University Journal had the opportunity to sit down with President Wyatt to find out more about the three-year degree program.
Q:When did you start giving the proposal serious thought and developing it a plan?
A:It started a year and a half or so ago, just discussing what we can do to add opportunities for our students. How can we find a way to build programs here that might be a little unique and how do we solve problems that people are facing?
Q: What are the specific steps that had to happen for this three-year degree to come about?
A: When I say three-year degree, I should say, those that normally would finish in four years would like to finish in three, they can do it. For those that normally finish in five, can finish in four. We can do this under our current calendar without any changes, which is a possibility. I told the faculty senate if that is really their preference that we will try it. I doubt it can be successful because there aren’t enough breaks fit into the calendar. The efforts of changing the calendar are really an effort to find breaks that are significant enough that students and faculty feel like they have got a summer vacation of some sort. We could have a calendar similar to BYU-Idaho’s calendar. We might stay on 50 minute classes or we might move to 60 minutes classes. If we move to 60 minute classes we would have a 15 minute break between classes. We will know probably with in the six weeks what the calendar will look like. The goal is to provide more opportunities, not less. Nobody is going to be required to come in the summer, just like nobody is required to come in the fall or spring. It is totally optional.
Q:What made you decide to move to a three-year degree initiative?
A: There are three different pieces that come into this. One, we are trying to find more opportunities for students. A lot of student have said they want to go to school in the summer but there are not enough classes or thier scholarships won’t cover. Second, we are always trying to find a way to get more income for faculty members and staff and this is one way to do it. It provides significant income increases for them. Third, the state is trying out how to help us be more efficient with our space. We are very busy during two semesters and then the campus is mostly idle for four months. We are trying to solve big problems.
Q: SUU will be one of the first schools in the state to accept this new academic calendar and robust summer. Why aren’t more schools taking this approach if there is more positives and so many problems being solved?
A: Change is really hard in higher education. We have been doing the same thing for hundreds of years. I don’t have an answer to why no one else has tried this. I would like to suggest that SUU is a little more creative, we are a little more concerned with student outcomes. That we are trying to do what we are teaching which is problem solving and critical thinking.
Q: Overall, how has the reaction been from the student body?
A:It’s mixed. I have met with small classes and groups of students and everyone of those students, within about half an hour or forty minutes everyone was saying, ‘I want in.’ And that’s because it is all positive. But when somebody gets in their head, ‘Oh this is the BYU-I model that means somebody is going to tell me I have to come in the summer and I can’t go when my friends go,’ it feels very negative. But that is never going to happen. I think that anybody that looks at this carefully will realize that this is a great thing. But I do know that a lot of students are worried about it.
Q:What are the major issues or roadblocks that stand in the way of making this program successful?
A:The challenge for us will be how fast will students decide they would like to participate in a year less to get a degree and come study here in the summer. I think that is going to be the challenge. And we all know that is the challenge. Some students just don’t want to do it in the summer. That’s their prerogative. Our target is to get at least 50% of the students fully participating in the summer. That is our goal, our hope. I think once everybody starts understanding how it works, I think most students will want to do this.
Would you rather make minimum wage for two summers or six months or would you rather get out of school a year earlier and make a professional wage for 12 months? Financially everybody should just keep going through the summer. I know some say they need the money but if all a student needs is the money they can make during a part time job in the summer, borrow the money because you can pay it back in a year and be ahead financially.
Q:Most of what you have mentioned about the program is overwhelming positive but what are some of the disadvantages you think they their are?
A: The only possible difficulty for students is if that calendar is changed so that the semester is shorter or something like that it might create a slight intensity during the semester. But most students work to deadlines like most people. If an assignment is due next week we schedule accordingly. We might have more instances of burn out but once again, this isn’t required of anybody. It’s totally voluntary. I think the really negative is that it is change and change causes people to be nervous.
Q:How do you see the move three-year degree impacting your legacy?
A: I don’t really think about my legacy. I just wake up every morning and think how can the world be a better place. That is really all I think about. But my hope is that we answer the big questions, the difficulties about having so much taxpayer money still idle for half a year hoping we can find students opportunities. How do we solve problems and offer more opportunities, that’s all I do. And I actually really love doing it.
Q:How has the move to the third semester been received from the faculty and staff?
A:Its mixed, but most faculty are pretty excited about it. Everyone sees something that we are going to have to change. And change is a little bit hard. Campus sits idle for four months out of the year. We need to find a way to make it useful. Here is my experience with change. Anytime a change is presented or proposed, it is immediately met with excitement and worries. And we are in that phase of excitement and worries. Its when our assumptions are tested and people have new ideas or new suggestions. This is totally predictable, there is nothing we can propose of any sort that wont have excitement and worries at the same time
Q:What are the challenges you foresee with bringing in more workers and faculty to increase summer size?
A:I don’t think there is going to be any problem in getting the faculty to participate. As the program starts to grow, I think we will find ourselves in a place where every faculty member that would like to teach during three semesters a year, will be able too. I have had some faculty come up to me and tell me that this will make a big difference for my family to be able to do what they love in the summer and make money doing.
For more information on the initiative, visit https://www.suu.edu/three-year-bachelors/faq.html.
President Wyatt also encourages students who have comments and suggestions to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photo Courtesy of SUU