Utah Public Colleges Try Three-Year Bachelor’s Degrees

Instead of the regular 120 credits, the new programs would require a minimum of 90 credits.  

Southern Utah University is among the Utah schools considering options for a three-year bachelor’s degree. In this photo, members of the Southern Utah Thunderbirds Cheer and Stunt Team perform at the Orleans Arena on March 11, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Louis Grasse/Getty Images)

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

During the 2022-23 academic year, Utah public colleges and universities awarded 19,219 bachelor’s degrees. It was about 100 more than the previous year. But, the Utah System of Higher Education wants to see even better outcomes with a new system: giving students the option to get their bachelor’s degrees in three years rather than four.

Utah is the first public system in the country to approve a faster path to graduation by implementing a Bachelor of Applied Studies category. Instead of the regular 120 credits, the new programs would require a minimum of 90 credits.

“This exciting change in policy opens the door to innovation on our campuses and allows each institution to develop proposals for three-year bachelor’s degree programs,” said Aaron Skonnard, Utah Board of Higher Education member in a news release. “We want to be at the forefront of new approaches in higher education that accelerate outcomes for students while better meeting the needs of our workforce.”

The new category established by the Utah System of Higher Education would require national accreditation and need to undergo approval by the state’s Board of Higher Education before it becomes available. Areas of study would also be limited and tied to specific industry needs, the release said.

Southern Utah University already has an option to complete degrees in three years by allowing students to take summer courses to accelerate their studies.

The school is now taking in mind how to meet the evolving needs of students, said Nikki Koontz, a spokesperson for SUU. Faculty members identified three potential new programs that align with this new approach.

“We are finalizing these proposals in a rigorous curriculum review process and are looking forward to seeing how the accrediting bodies, students, and the employment markets will receive them,” she said in an email. “We want to ensure that each degree meets the standards required for accreditation and eligibility for federal financial aid.”

The 90-credit programs are still in the exploratory phase and need to be cleared through various accreditation bodies, Bryan Magaña, a spokesperson for Weber State University said in a statement. As of now, most departments in the school will continue with 120 credits, but that may change.

“Universities are always looking for ways to show people that college is possible, and a 90-credit bachelor’s degree is one way to do that,” Magaña said. “Weber State is known for meeting students where they are, and some departments here are exploring the possibility of offering 90-credit bachelor’s degrees.”

Roughly a third of Weber State students get their bachelor’s degrees over a three-year period with credits earned during high school, or associate’s degrees, he added.

Other public universities in Utah didn’t reply to requests for comment as of publication time.

Last year BYU-Idaho and Salt Lake City-based Ensign College, private schools founded and sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced they would offer a similar program beginning in April, which would preserve major courses while eliminating electives. The courses are to be offered through the faith’s BYU-Pathway Worldwide program.

Utah’s new formula also follows a pilot considered by some U.S. colleges that would remake the curriculum to allow students to graduate faster, according to Inside Higher Ed. Those schools include:

  • American Public University System
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  • Merrimack College
  • New England College
  • Northwood University
  • Portland State University
  • Slippery Rock University
  • The University of Minnesota at Rochester
  • The University of North Texas
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • The University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh
  • Utica College

Utah News Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Utah News Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor McKenzie Romero for questions: info@utahnewsdispatch.com. Follow Utah News Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today