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College in three years? Why some students are hopping on the fast track

April 23, 2010 | 11:46 am

Kayla Bortolazzo is about to finish college in just three years, a rare accomplishment that some educators around the country hope to make more common.

A resident of Redding, Calif., Bortolazzo is enrolled in a special program at Southern Oregon University that waives some introductory classes for academically gifted students and gives them first dibs at course registration.

So in the fall, the 20-year-old English education major will head to graduate school and then, she hopes, a teaching career -- with a year's worth of unspent tuition dollars still in her family's pocket. Bortolazzo said she knows that finishing college in three years won't work for most students and that many are not rushing to graduate into a depressed economy.

But she recommends a fast track "to anybody who is really motivated, feels they have the time to commit to it and really wants to get out in the job market."

Students like Bortolazzo are drawing attention these days as families look to reduce tuition bills and colleges try to stretch limited budgets and classroom space. About a dozen, mostly small, U.S. colleges and universities now offer formal routes to earning a degree in three years instead of the usual four or five. And many others, including the University of California, are studying ways to start such an option.

"It's really indefensible in the current environment for universities not to be exploring more efficient use of their facilities and how to save students time and money," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. Education Department secretary who is a strong advocate of three-year degrees. Even if they make up a minority of college populations, he said, "some well-prepared students can do their work in three years, and colleges should create a track for them."

Not everyone agrees.

Read Times reporter Larry Gordon's full story here.

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