Students celebrate at the beginning of commencement ceremonies at New York University.
Students celebrate at the beginning of commencement ceremonies at New York University. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

Colleges across the country are trying new ways to confront the rising cost of tuition. One increasingly popular option: accelerated degrees.

New York University recently announced a program that helps students graduate a semester early by taking extra courses throughout the year and during winter and summer breaks. There are similar programs at the University of San Francisco and American University in Washington, D.C., among others.

To fit her coursework into three years of study, 21-year-old NYU student Ashley Korkeakoski-Sears has had to cram. In May, she’ll graduate with a bachelor's degree in English, but she also minored in Spanish and sociology. She’s in NYU’s UNICEF Club and student government. She works two part-time jobs. And she’s doing all of this in three years solely to save money.

“It’s just so much cheaper,” Korkeakoski-Sears said. “You save $64,000 basically. I would have had to take out a lot more loans to pay for my fourth year.”

According to The Institute for College Access and Success, students from public universities graduated with an average of more than $30,000 in debt in 2015. And those at private schools often had more.

Priya Malani of Stash Wealth advises millennials. She said debt is one of her clients’ top concerns. It’s why she thinks a three-year degree is a win-win.

“Because the sooner you can get done paying off your debt, the sooner you can get for planning the fun stuff, like upgrading your lifestyle, and travel, and down payment on a home,” she said.

Think about the money saved from that fourth year plus the salary earned in place of it, Malani said. Finishing school early can show employers drive and hustle.

But Corbin Campbell, a professor of higher education at Columbia University, isn’t sold, because time students spend studying is related to how much they retain.

“Higher education is not a factory, right?” Campbell said. “So it’s not just that you want to get a diploma and a piece of paper, but hopefully that you’re thinking about the learning, the knowledge, the skills that you want to actually get from this degree.”

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that more than one-third of college students change their major at least once. Campbell thinks that’s why students should take the full four years — to figure out whom they want to be.

Korkeakoski-Sears, the very busy NYU student, admits an accelerated program is not for everyone.

“I think for the student that needs that time to figure that out, a three-year degree isn’t going to cut it,” she said.

Up next for Korkeakoski-Sears? One year of AmeriCorps, then law school.