If you're headed to Southern Oregon University and worried about the long stretch of time and money you'll have to invest, check out the school's accelerated baccalaureate degree, a pioneering program that lets you skip freshman year and graduate in three years.

If you're headed to Southern Oregon University and worried about the long stretch of time and money you'll have to invest, check out the school's accelerated baccalaureate degree, a pioneering program that lets you skip freshman year and graduate in three years.

There's one big requirement: You must have good high school grades and course work in the core areas that will be waived, says business professor Curt Bacon, director of the ABD program.

"It's one of the best programs I've ever been in," said freshman Mike Culp, who is studying business after graduating from Eagle Point High School with a perfect 4.0 GPA and already has management experience at Circuit City.

"It gives me the opportunity to get into my career faster and I'll save a year of tuition," Culp said. "My parents are helping with tuition and they're pretty excited about it. They know how badly I want to get out there (in a career). I'll graduate with little to no debt."

The program is not a "degree compression" syllabus that crams four years into three, said Bacon, noting that SOU officials believe it may be the only one of its kind in the nation, in that it removes an entire year's requirements.

It allows the waiver of 21 to 45 general education credits — up to one full year of classes — and requires an average 16 credits per term, about a typical load.

Students can qualify with a 3.4 high school GPA, a 3.2 GPA and SAT scores of 1150 in critical reading and math or a 3.2 GPA and composite ACT score of 25 with scores of at least 22 on both the math and English sections.

The ABD program is "for the fast and the serious" — students who have a clear vision of the work they want to do and the degree they need to get there, said Bacon, noting that only freshman basics are waived, not courses in the student's major or minor. He also said the plan won't work for students who change their majors in midstream.

Jill Croucher, a 4.0 graduate of Grants Pass High School, said she was clear on wanting to become a math teacher and she'd already done well in high school on most of the basics. In addition, she'd used the "2 plus 2" program, in which Rogue Community College gives credit for some high school classes.

"I knew what I wanted — math and not general ed," says Croucher. "I'll get my bachelor's degree this spring and go onto my master's of arts in teaching. This allows me to accelerate faster and I save 25 percent on tuition, about $6,000. I'll graduate with only about $10,000 debt."

Freshman Devin Cordes, a 3.89 GPA graduate of North Medford High School studying business, had similar reasons for entering the program: "I'll get into a job sooner and it saves me a year of time and money."

In high school, Cordes said, he took a lot of advanced placement and honors classes. He lives at home and will graduate from SOU, with only a few thousand dollars of debt.

"To any qualifying students, I'd say definitely consider it," Cordes said. "Save yourself a year and a lot of money. It gets you right into your core classes."

Bacon said the ABD program is not well-known among students, with only 15 to 20 enrolled at any one time. He acknowledged the program is not necessarily a good fit for everyone who could qualify.

"I think they're somewhat intimidated; maybe they're afraid they won't be able to do all the other activities of college," said Bacon. "A lot of freshmen aren't clear enough on what they want yet and they need to explore courses.

"But it's fantastic. Parents see it and say go for it. It's the students who have questions about it."

For information on the accelerated baccalaureate degree, see www.sou.edu/abp/haveitall.html or call Bacon at 541-552-6487 or 1-800-482-7672.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.