Traditional students on campus take as little as four years to graduate to earn their undergraduate degrees. New curriculum initiatives now allow them to add on as little as one year to complete both their bachelor’s and their master’s degrees.
Known as the Accelerated Pathway Programs, or “4+1,” these allow students to shave off one to two years of school time and save on tuition expenses.
Reaction to these programs by students has been positive and growing.
Depending on the major, it can take a total of six to seven years to graduate with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, but at Southern, the Accelerated Pathway Program offers an even more efficient way for students to complete their degrees and start doing the work that they love in a shorter time frame. The program allows undergraduate students to complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a total of five years, shaving one to two years off the time it generally takes to finish, saving students the extra expenses in tuition.
Kira Fitch, a senior majoring in chemistry, is enrolled in the BS, biochemistry and MS Accelerated Pathway Program. Fitch says choosing the program was a “no-brainer.” She explains the program makes getting a master’s degree much easier than attending a separate graduate school because it integrates graduate-level courses sooner into a student’s senior year curriculum.
“As long as you have a 3.0 GPA, you can keep going with your program,” Fitch said.
In order to complete both bachelor’s and master’s degrees within five years, the Accelerated Pathway Programs replace some undergraduate electives with graduate-level courses. This allows students to complete the credits needed for their bachelor’s degree. Once students complete an additional year of graduate courses, they will have completed requirements for their master’s degree.
The programs also allow students to start and complete their master’s research projects as an undergraduate.
Because Fitch hopes to pursue a career in pharmaceutical research, she recently partnered with a faculty member on his project to develop a new antibiotic.
She says that she works in the lab twice a week creating reactions and purifying samples.
“It’s really cool to do research and get ahead and possibly make something new,” Fitch says. “You’re doing research that can make an impact for many people. I really enjoy that I get to do the research.”
Southern currently has more than 20 different Accelerated Pathway Programs in various areas including, the sciences such as biology and chemistry; the social sciences, including sociology and psychology; business administration, including marketing; computer science, cybersecurity; and the health sciences, including recreation and leisure, exercise and sports science and athletic training.
There are multiple opportunities in education, including history, chemistry, physical education, Spanish and anthropology/bilingual multicultural education.
Each program is run by a faculty adviser.
Prof. Hrvoje Podnar is the faculty adviser for the computer science BS, MS in cybersecurity.
The pathway saves students nine credits and tuition by completing both degrees.
Podnar says this program teaches students the specifics of computer security, learning techniques on securing and monitoring systems for security branches, as well as cybersecurity tools used by hackers.
Students in other programs say that the Accelerated Pathway Programs have been a rewarding experience.
Adam Pelz, a senior history major, is also taking courses in the history BS, MA Accelerated Pathway. He says the experience is worth it.
There students select courses focused on American, European and Non-Western history. This program is designed to give individuals an opportunity to strengthen their content knowledge of history.
Pelz in the spring started taking graduate courses.
“The opportunity to challenge myself personally and academically has molded my education into exactly what I always hoped it would be at the college level. By going through the program, expectations have been raised for me by faculty, which have ultimately improved my career as a student and a future educator,” says Pelz
Pelz says although the program is rewarding, it does come with its challenges. “If you are enthusiastic enough to partake in the 4+1 program, then I encourage you to be prepared for the workload and commitment.
“As much as I have loved every second of the program, the workload certainly is a lot and you need be very organized to succeed in this program.”
Angela Toth, a senior in the chemistry, BS, MS Accelerated Pathway Program, says she was also excited about getting to work with faculty she knows. Toth collaborated with her adviser Prof. Jeffrey Webb to develop her research thesis project: testing for lead paint on several bridges across Connecticut.
“He recommended that I look toward lead-based paint, and then I came up with the idea of focusing it on bridges because, in the ’70s, lead paint was banned from residential use,” says Toth. “Almost every bridge that I’ve tested so far has lead paint on it. I’ve gotten good results on it, but not very good-for-the-environment results.”
Toth says getting her master’s through the 4+1 program gives her the experience necessary for possibly higher education, such as a doctorate. And leaves her career options open.
“I think it gives you a leg up in finding a job, and then also if you want to go further in your education,” Toth says. “Once you’re a chemistry major, there’s still so many options and directions that you could go.”
Toth says the fast pace of the program also shows potential employers a student’s individual work ethic and motivation.
“I think the benefit of it is that you could get the exact same amount of education with it,” Toth says. “It’s just in a smaller period of time, and as long as you’re a motivated student, you can really get the most of it.”
Students starting the program are also eager to get ahead. Isabella Hodson, a junior in the BA, MA Psychology Accelerated Pathway Program, says she looks forward to starting her research and graduate courses next year. She eventually wants a career in clinical psychology and hopes to conduct research related to her specific interests.
“The main differences will probably come about next year, where I’ll have a thesis course that I’ll have to take,” Hodson says. “This semester is when I’m starting to think about it and trying to get an idea. Next semester, I’ll probably start thinking about doing actual research with some of the professors on campus.”
Like Toth, Hodson says research was the part of the Accelerated Pathway Program she was looking forward to most.
“I think the research component is the biggest thing,” Hodson says. “It’s nice to be able to get the experience with it and to focus on it a little bit more heavily before going into a master’s where you’ll have to do that anyway.”
Like other students, Hodson said she appreciates how the Accelerated Pathway Program spares her the additional cost of attending graduate school. Many career fields, including psychology and other sciences, also require that students complete higher levels of education in order to be competitive. Students who graduate from the Accelerated Pathway Program also have the added advantage of applying to doctoral-level programs sooner than the average graduate school student.
“Honestly, a lot of it is just to save money,” Hodson says. “In really any field in psychology, you end up needing at least a master’s. It just made more sense to try to cut down on the amount of time it would take and to be able to get ahead.”
What Hodson likes most about the Accelerated Pathway Program, though, is that she can complete her degrees earlier and start working.
“It just lets me move forward more quickly,” says Hodson. “For me, I enjoy education and I enjoy learning new things, but really the goal is to be able to practice.”
Pelz says any one of the 4+1 programs at Southern are “a fantastic opportunity to accelerate your studies and challenge yourself academically.”
He says by going through such a rigorous program, students learn better organization, communication and time management skills.
“You will find yourself in a much more developed phase as a student and learner and lover of the topic, than those students in the same grade level as you.”
By Gabrielle Tunucci and Jamiah Green