Since its announcement during the 2019 Spring semester, the 3-year degree program has been a major topic of discussion among SUU students, faculty and staff. Amidst the rumors and speculation, the plan set in place for the 3-year degree program is one that has the SUU community excited.
Conversations that eventually lead to the 3-year degree plan began as far back as 2017.
In an interview with SUUNews.net, University President Scott Wyatt said SUU administrators began, “…discussing what we could 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.”
In May 2019, President Wyatt announced that the Utah State Legislature approved a budget of $3.8 million for Southern Utah University to put a 3-year degree program into action. This budget goes towards paying faculty members over the summer semester, and summer scholarships that will now be offered to full-time students.
Daniel Bishoff, the Assistant to the President for Strategic Innovation, is co-leading the program alongside Steve Meredith, the Assistant to the President for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness.
“The most important thing to remember it is that it is optional,” said Bishoff. “No students or faculty have to do it. Scholarships will be available in the summer for students.” All students and faculty have the option to participate, and their schedules will stay the same if they choose to opt out.
In a recent interview about the 3-year degree program, Daniel Bishoff said, “ The whole idea here is more opportunities for students, not less.”
Many students have expressed concern about losing some of their holiday breaks, while others worry their semesters may be longer.
“There will still be a Spring break and a Thanksgiving break,” Daniel Bishoff said.
Spring and Fall semesters will be adjusted, however, as the curriculum will have to adapt to the semester being one week shorter.
One of the most notable changes affected by the 3-year degree program is that the Summer semester will have more course options available, which is what will eventually allow students to receive their degree in three years rather than four.
In the past, SUU offered about 450 courses in the summer, and relatively few students enrolled in courses over the summer. The hope with this new system is to offer 700-800 guaranteed courses, encouraging students to finish their degrees much more quickly if they would like to.
A major issue surrounding summer courses in the past has been a lack of scholarships. With the 3-year degree program, more scholarships will be available to encourage students to attend the Summer semester full-time.
Another issue expressed by faculty and students alike has involved a class dissolving if there aren’t enough students enrolled. Previously, if a course didn’t have at least ten students enrolled, it would likely be canceled. Now, even if there are only a few students in a course, they will still continue with that course.
The administration wants to ensure stability and reward students that participate in the summer semester.
“We have a lot of professors interested in doing it,” Bischoff said. “The state does a four and five-star jobs report every year, and so those are the jobs that we’re starting with. Those are Stem jobs, including education and a few others.”
SUU administration hopes that with experience and continuous funding, support for the 3-year degree program will eventually expand to every discipline and program on campus.
Making major adjustments to calendars and course schedules can be difficult, however.
“Change is really hard in higher education. We have been doing the same thing for hundreds of years,” President Wyatt said, “I would like to suggest that SUU is a little more creative, we are a little more concerned with student outcomes and we are trying to do what we are teaching, which is problem-solving and critical thinking.”
President Wyatt has stated that the 3-year degree program will be successful if 50-70 percent of students participate. It is not expected that all students will participate, nor will students be required to participate.
“The challenge for us will be how fast students decide they would like to participate in a year less to get a degree and come study here in the summer,” President Wyatt said. “ 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.”
The 3-year degree program is one that gives SUU students the unique opportunity to earn a degree a year faster than at any other institution in the state. Questions and concerns regarding the 3-year degree program can be directed to the Executive Director of Marketing Communication, Nikki Koontz, at 435-586-5400 or email@example.com.
Story by: Moriah Spainhower
Photos courtesy of: Mitch Quartz