What are the Pros and Cons of an Accelerated Degree Program?

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The goal of an accelerated program is to get students out of school and into the workforce as quickly as possible. As prospective students begin choosing a program that is the right fit for them, they may consider an accelerated degree program. This often means weighing the pros and cons of an accelerated degree program to make a decision. The most salient feature (and biggest selling point) of an accelerated degree program is the ability to finish faster. While that is a major benefit, it can come with a cost. Below we take a look at the pros and cons of an accelerated degree program by breaking down each feature and discussing the positives and negatives of each.

Course Load

The vast majority of accelerated degree program students are non-traditional students who work full-time jobs. Moreover, many have partners and children. For them, attending college is just one more hat they have to wear. In addition to the term length, course load management plays a large part in successfully making it through a term. Master’s degree program students are considered full-time at the six-credit mark. Students can manage their courses by taking either one or two classes at a time. For those with 8-week classes, it’s possible to attend full-time (six credits) without ever taking more than one class at a time. This is possible because two 8-week courses occur one at a time within a 16-week semester.

Some critics argue that cutting down the term length to times as short as five weeks sacrifices the rigor of the course and is more of a marketing tool to get students to enroll. Some studies have shown courses ranging from 5-10 weeks can result in the knowledge transfer process where content is not able to become part of the learners’ long-term memory. This can impact long-term recall. Proponents of shorter classes argue that without the condensed classes, some students would be blocked from earning a master’s degree. They argue that the outdated 16-week semester model that was created for traditional-age college students. Moreover, administrators and professors say that students are required to move through just as much content as courses lasting 16 weeks.

Accelerated online bachelor’s degree programs consist of far more credits and can’t be shortened as much as a master’s degree. As such, there are undergraduate programs online that achieve accelerated status mostly through accepting transfer degree credits from other institutions. These are typically associate degree programs from community colleges. Online undergraduate courses will most likely be 16-week classes as institutions are wary about cutting them too short.

Within the past decade, many institutions specializing in online bachelor degree programs have moved to competency-based course completion models. A student’s ability to complete a course isn’t contingent on a chronological basis. Rather, students are required to achieve mastery in salient skills and/or knowledge areas. This allows them to progress at their own pace. Highly motivated students can move through classes much faster and shave off valuable time through rapid mastery and progression.

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Extracurricular Activities

The traditional undergraduate experience includes a lot of extracurricular activities such as clubs, sporting events, and informal social gatherings. These types of engagements certainly suffer due to the nature of online learning. However, the majority of online students are not looking for those types of things anyway. For those that may be seeking extracurricular functions, most undergraduate and graduate online programs offer some form of an extracurricular outlet. These might include a student-run organization related to the major. There might be on-campus residencies that allow students to interact in person. These in-person meetings generally last one week. They’re  a nice blend of academic and social programming that foster close connections with peers and faculty.

Financing and Scheduling

When considering the financing and scheduling of classes, most believe accelerated programs offer several benefits. Some accelerated programs actually cost less than traditional programs. Many of these programs are designed with flexible scheduling options to accommodate non-traditional students. Typically these are adult learners with full-time jobs and families. One disadvantage is that there can be less available financial aid for accelerated programs.

Accelerated degree programs offer students the same education as a traditional degree program but can be completed in much less time. Weighing the pros and cons can help prospective students determine if these are the best programs for them.

Hybrid Format

Hybrid accelerated programs have pros and cons. Hybrid programs may require one or two campus residencies during the program or they may have weekly on-campus instruction in a classroom. Hybrid programs with weekly in-person instruction are regional programs aimed at local students who can travel on-site with minimal issues. With such a large in-person commitment, many working professionals may find it to be cumbersome and opt for a 100% online format.

Some hybrid programs require lengthy residencies that can extend to a week or more. This may increase the costs in terms of tuition and fees to pay for travel, room and board, and meals. Additionally, some students find it difficult to schedule large blocks of time to be away from their jobs or families. While hybrid programs offer enriching face-to-face learning and networking opportunities, they come with extra commitment and costs.

Not including online programs, more accelerated degree programs are incorporating blended course curriculums to complete the number of hours in less time. In these programs, half of the student’s time is spent in a classroom. The other half is designed to be completed online with:

  • various activities
  • taped lectures
  • readings
  • discussion forums
  • other types of activities

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Most Popular Accelerated Degree Programs

Business
Accelerated business degree programs have always been at or near the top when it comes to popular online programs. The bachelor’s degree in business is typically the most common degree due to its utility and diversity.

Accelerated bachelor degrees in business can be completed in 3-4 years when starting from scratch. Students can complete the 120-credits at one institution. Or they may choose to complete an associate’s degree at a community college before transferring to a baccalaureate institution. Students with previous college experience can complete an accelerated bachelor’s degree in business in 18-24 months.

Accelerated master’s degrees in business can be finished in as little as 12 calendar months depending on the program. The typical timeline ranges from 12-24 months and depends on:

  • course load
  • programmatic structure
  • the ability of the student to finish as quickly as possible

Other popular majors related to business include:

  • accounting
  • economics
  • finance
  • supply chain management

Computer Science
Computer science and IT-related degrees are popular accelerated degrees options as they are in high demand. They also prepare graduates to sit for industry certification exams, which can increase employability and pay. The typical accelerated bachelor’s degree program can be finished in 3-4 years for new students and 1-2 years for transfer students with considerable previous college experience. Students can also shorten the timeline by passing exams that give them credit for mastery of certain skills and knowledge.

Education
Bachelor’s and master’s degree in education are popular choices as they prepare students for a specific career path. These programs also do not have long lists of prerequisites. This means  people with previous college credits or those wanting to switch careers can make a seamless transfer. Bachelor’s degrees in education typically prepare students for their initial teaching license in elementary, secondary, or special education. They can be completed in 3-4 years for new students.

Graduate programs in education can vary from those seeking administrative credentials to classroom teachers seeking certifications in specific areas such as:

  • career education
  • distance learning
  • special education

Peer Engagement

Detractors of online education have always pointed to a lack of peer and professor engagement as the main argument that online instruction is inherently inferior. For students seeking in-person discourse and interaction with peers, online courses might not be the preferred modality. Students may be better off in a hybrid program that requires occasional residential visits or even a course that meets in-person once or twice per week.

With the new technology, students can now engage with their peers and professors at even greater rates than in person. Synchronous courses students meet virtually, in real-time can get even more interaction as some people are more comfortable speaking in an online seminar. Additionally, using online communication channels such as message boards and forums allow students and professors to engage each other in writing. This is helpful to those who may not be as comfortable speaking. Communication scholars posit that online connections, friendships, and networks can be even stronger than in-person relationships.

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Semesters vs. Terms

Accelerated programs often use shorter periods for classes to be completed, with quarters or terms taking anywhere from between 5 and 12 weeks to complete. In contrast, traditional programs are completed in 16-week semesters, meaning a longer amount of time spent taking each course. Longer semesters give students more time to study and learn each subject.

Typically, a full-time student in a traditional bachelor’s degree program will take 12-17 credits per semester, which equates to 4-5 courses at one time. These programs are designed to be finished in about four years. Master’s degree programs are typically designed to be completed in two years. Enrollment in master’s programs is evaluated differently as six credits are typically considered full-time. Often, classes in traditional programs for both degrees are offered in 16-week semesters.

In an accelerated degree program, students complete the same number of courses and coursework in one to three years or sometimes less for a bachelor’s degree. Courses in a master’s degree program can be completed in one to two years. Courses are continuous throughout the year. Many accelerated program courses are offered in 8-week terms rather than the longer 16-week semester.

Synchronous and Asynchronous

Synchronous delivery refers to real-time delivery of course content such as a live streaming lecture. Asynchronous delivery is not in real-time and allows students to view the content on their own schedule. Each form of delivery has its pros and cons. It depends on the students’:

  • learning needs
  • goals
  • schedule

The main drawback of synchronous learning for distance education students is the requirement to be online at a certain time. This means students do not have the latitude to view content when they want. This can be a difficult task for students with full-time jobs and other obligations such as family. There is evidence that synchronous learning can increase engagement due to the live nature of the content and the ability to have discussions.  However, other studies have shown asynchronous students can engage with content at a deeper level because they can learn it on their own time.

Time

The amount of time spent on an accelerated degree program can be both a benefit and a disadvantage. An accelerated program means more to do in less time. The programs include the same number of courses with similar readings and comparable amounts of coursework as a traditional four-year program. On the surface, that looks like a definite benefit, but there are disadvantages to this as well.

The amount of time required to complete the courses more quickly can be a disadvantage. With families and full-time work positions, students in an accelerated degree program will find themselves with a full schedule and much less free time than students in a four-year program.

Conclusion

When choosing an accelerated degree program, consider your current situation and try to find the best fit. After reading this list, it should be apparent that not all accelerated programs are built the same. Whether you’re seeking a bachelor’s or master’s degree, it is imperative to find the programmatic fit that works best with your lifestyle and goals.

BDP Staff
September 2021

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