Demand for college degrees will grow indefinitely.

Here’s are some gentlemen from George Washington University who suggest that colleges should switch to a three-year model to save on expenses. It’s a brief read, a smidge over 500 words.

I meant to post this about a week ago with some extended commentary, but time has been scarce. Instead, let me say this: sure, the three-year model would obviously make more efficient use of college facilities, and could theoretically slash an average undergrad’s room-and-board expenses by up to 25%. But they’d still be buying 4 years’ worth of credits, and the increased course load would preclude work study, which translates into higher loans. (Surely Trachtenberg and Kauvar are not suggesting the operational savings would translate into discounted tuition rates, especially since they suggest hiring additional faculty.)

Anyway, my real disagreement with the op-ed is that they suggest that demand for 4-year degrees will continue to be strong. I think this premise is flawed for several reasons that I hope to better outline in future posts. The short version is: the current job market seems unable to absorb the volume of graduates our colleges are currently cranking out, so increasing the rate at which we award degrees would apparently serve to only exacerbate the problem. In many ways, the crisis in higher education is linked to the housing bubble, and we shouldn’t expect the outcome to be any different.

On a final note, I enjoyed the unbridled optimism of the final four paragraphs, especially the closing thought:

America is blessed with a post-secondary educational system second to none. But we’re victims of our own success — demand is outstripping capacity, even as costs soar. Cutting the undergraduate experience to three years would allow our colleges to be as efficient as they are effective.

Is this the cutting-edge of degree inflation?

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