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UCLA considers developing an early graduation program to help students


Percent of UCLA students who graduate within three years

Percent of three-year graduates who complete a minor

SOURCE: Penny Hein-Unruh, assistant vice provost for undergraduate academic support

By Kassy Cho

April 9, 2012 1:08 a.m.

UCLA is considering implementing a program that would be an option for students who want to graduate in three years for financial reasons.

The number of students graduating in three years has ticked up slightly in recent years. That encouraged UCLA administrators to look at ways of continuing to boost those numbers, said Judith Smith, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education. Currently, only 4 percent of students who earn bachelor’s degrees from UCLA graduate in three years or less, she said.

At this time, the administration does not have any specifics, but are instead exploring how the three-year option should be presented to students, Smith said.

“The question is whether we want to increase that (percentage) by highlighting it as something that students should consider, or just something they know about,” Smith said.

Graduating in three years would help students who face problems with increased tuition by reducing the amount they have to pay, said Raquel Saxe, academic affairs commissioner for the Undergraduate Students Association Council who has been involved with discussions on the issue.

But there are still many questions that need answering, officials say.

Smith said she is concerned that the three-year graduation plan would prevent students from gaining the full college experience through participating in enrichment activities.

Data collected by UCLA administrators, however, suggests that students who graduate in three years have very similar experiences to those who stay for the full four years.

Students who graduated in three years from 2004 to 2008 participated in college honors, research, travel study, internships and part-time work, according to recent data provided by Penny Hein-Unruh, assistant vice provost for undergraduate academic support. Thirty-one percent of these students also completed a minor in addition to their major.

Dan Elconin, who graduated in three years last spring, is among those students who graduated early for financial reasons.

Although he participated in many extracurricular activities during his time at UCLA, Elconin said he now feels like he is missing out on his fourth year.

Because he wants a similar experience to his fourth-year friends at UCLA, Elconin still lives in the same apartment near campus with his friends as he did when he was a student at UCLA, and he attends events on campus regularly. He currently works at the athletics peer learning lab, he said.

“I would regret it if I moved away and got a full-time job,” Elconin said. “My friends would be going to parties and sports games and I’d be stuck working.”

But despite missing out on the social aspect of a senior year, Elconin said he did not feel the cost of staying at school for another year to complete a double major or minor was worth it.

Smith acknowledged it is not possible for every student to graduate in three years. All of the students who graduated in three years declared their major within their first year, according to data collected by Hein-Unruh. Any students aiming to graduate in three years would have to follow this path.

Kevin Wang, a first-year undeclared student from Taiwan, said he is considering graduating in three years because tuition is expensive for international students.

Because he is currently undeclared, Wang said he would have to take 19 units every quarter to finish in three years.

“It’s a lot of work, but I’d be willing to do it to save time and money,” he said.

Students in the College of Letters and Science who graduate in three years come to UCLA with an average of 39.7 units of college credit already completed, Hein-Unruh said. More than three-fourths of all these students attended at least one summer session to finish their degrees earlier, she added.

A student’s area of study also plays a role in early graduations, according to the report.

The majority of students who graduated in three years majored in the humanities and social sciences, Smith said. A three-year option would be more difficult for students in engineering and science majors, which traditionally take longer to complete, she said.

In addition, officials are also concerned that graduating in three years may be a disadvantage for students when applying for graduate school, Smith said.

Students would have to apply for graduate school in the fall of their third year when they have only been at UCLA for two years, and may not have done much course work in their major, Smith said. This may make their academic record less competitive, she said.

Hein-Unruh said some of the students who graduated early waited one to three years before attending graduate school.

Wang, who plans on going to graduate school, said he would take a year off to gain some work experience to make his record more appealing.

“My GPA might not be as high as people who graduate in four years, because I would be putting everything together in three years,” Wang said.

Smith said officials still have to do more research before deciding whether to implement a program.

The next step is to interview students who graduated in three years to get a better profile of them and their motivations to do so, she said.

“For some people (graduating in three years) is a great option,” Saxe said. “But we need to be wary of the other details that fall into it too.”

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