The economy hasn't shifted Southern Oregon University students' choice of major yet, but it has encouraged them to finish faster.

The economy hasn't shifted Southern Oregon University students' choice of majors yet, but it has encouraged them to finish faster.

The accelerated baccalaureate program, which allows students to graduate in three years instead of four, has seen a rise in applications, which program director Curt Bacon attributes to students seeking to cut education costs.

"We're planning some new marketing materials, but I think most of it is people are recognizing that an education in three years is a good deal," he said.

Eight students had already accepted offers by the end of February, with three more months left to apply, he said. Last year, nine students total entered the program.

They're not huge numbers, Bacon said, because the program requires students enter with a relatively strong high school grade point average and a well-defined idea of what they want to study. Once accepted, students are allowed to skip general education requirements and some electives and start work immediately on their major. Students must still fulfill all major and upper division general education requirements.

"The idea is the hard work they do in high school — AP classes, honors, extra science or math — we recognize that, and essentially we're waiving their freshman year of college," Bacon said.

Students are excused from a total of 45 degree credits, so they may graduate with just 135 credits instead of the typical 180 required of a four-year degree. Oregon residents enrolled in the program would save about $15,000 on room, board, tuition, fees and books, Bacon said. Students on the Western Undergraduate Exchange scholarship, who pay one and a half times in-state tuition, would save approximately $17,000 and students paying full out-of-state tuition would save about $27,000, he said.

Major choices

So far, students seem to be sticking with their chosen plan of study and not switching to pre-professional tracks that some might consider more practical.

"Our current enrollment in terms of how it's distributed by major is really not different from how it's been for the last two years, which honestly kind of surprises me a little bit," said Matt Stillman, director of enrollment analysis for the university.

The only enrollment changes Stillman has seen so far are in graduate business programs.

The Master's in Management and Saturday MBA programs, each with about 60 students, are up 40 percent and 68 percent respectively, said Bacon, who is also a business professor. Much of the increase in enrollment is due to more classes being offered online and in the RCC-SOU Higher Education Center in Medford, he said. Enrollment in undergraduate business programs is relatively flat, he added.

Changes in enrollment across all university programs might be more apparent when new students register for the fall term, he said. Switching majors makes less sense for returning students because it could end up costing them more, he said.

"We know for the most part when our students don't graduate in four years, normally it's because they switched majors late in the game," he said. "A lot of students don't like to do that because then it will cost them more."

Even then, the changes may not be significant because the university is emphasizing the value of a liberal arts degree now more than ever before, he said.

"I think even in this economy the value of knowing how to write well and critical thinking and communication skills, those are the things that are still going to carry students career-wise even thought they might not appear as practical on the surface level," he said. "I think the skills of liberal arts degrees are still practical in this economy, maybe even more so."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.