Skip to main content

My Bill Could Make College Much More Affordable

Three-Year Degrees Should be a Realistic Option for Ohioans
By Jerry C. Cirino
October 3, 2023
On The Record

As a proud grandfather, it’s been my pleasure to witness some of my 37 grandkids begin attending Ohio’s best universities. Higher education can bestow countless rewards for the next generation—including critical thinking skills, pathways to fulfilling employment, and an overall better quality of life. 

But the cost of college can put a nearly unbearable burden on our students. Enormous student loans have become the new norm because of an egregiously expensive four years. Ohio is the 11th state in the nation for student loan debt load. We need to look at the root of the problem: what factors are driving the exorbitant cost of a modern education?

Senate Bill 83 contains a major step to reining in skyrocketing institutional spending. I outlined the details in an op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch following the Wall Street Journal’s eye-opening discovery of where much of that money goes. We need accountability and transparency in our schools’ finances so our young adults know where their dollars are being spent. 

But my bill also explores another avenue to potentially lower costs for students – reducing the amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree. Ohio needs to think outside of the box on the future of the traditional four-year degree. A three-year option would be a major cost cutter, truly changing the game for families on tight budgets. We know this because the option already exists for a few students in our state. 

Ohio colleges already have pathways to earn bachelor’s degrees in three years for 60% of offered majors. And the payoff can be massive. By graduating a year sooner, students can save on a year’s tuition while getting a head start embarking on a career and earning a salary. 

This year, tuition at Ohio State for a first-year, in-state student at main campus is $12,859. At OU Athens, that cost is $13,746. And at Miami, nearly $18,000. These totals do not even count housing, meal plans, or the money spent on books and other resources a student needs to succeed. 

That one less year of tuition can account for tens-of-thousands of dollars in savings.

But the current path has many barriers and can be incredibly rigorous. To obtain a three-year degree, a student usually must first acquire numerous earned credits in high school through programs like College Credit Plus. Yet, on top of that, the student must carry an extremely heavy number of class hours over those three years.

Is that a reasonable burden for the average college student? Likely not, especially for the student with an internship, a part-time job to pay the bills, the non-traditional student, or the student athlete. 

It’s time to get creative and discover if the three-year degree is reasonable for more students. Senate Bill 83 asks that these possibilities be formally examined. 

Senate Bill 83 requires Ohio’s Department of Higher Education to complete a feasibility study to see if the three-year degree is a viable option for almost every student. The study has to focus on a variety of fields to see if requirements for a bachelor’s degree can be streamlined. 

Any proposed solution cannot include the use of College Credit Plus, or any other current programs used to accelerate degrees, so that a three-year degree can be a real possibility for more Ohioans. 

Streamlining some majors makes more sense than others. We certainly want to ensure our nurses, architects, and other professionals have adequate training. Not all programs lend themselves to this concept but many, like liberal arts or education majors, likely can be streamlined. 

The study of the three-year degree is not a revolutionary idea. Earlier this year, Inside Higher Ed reported that a group of academics from universities across the country are studying the potential of a three-year model that only requires 90 to 100 credits. The goal is “improving student outcomes and lowering the cost of a bachelor’s degree.” 

Twelve participating universities—public and private, small and large—are launching pilot programs, all at different stages. This attempt underscores the pressing need for a three-year option, and SB 83 seeks to find a viable path for Ohio college students.

Our students deserve to graduate ready for the workforce and without clouds of debt hovering over them. Senate Bill 83 can help make that a reality.