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Southern Utah University will launch in January a pilot program that will enable students to complete a bachelor's degree in three years.

SALT LAKE CITY — Southern Utah University will launch in January a pilot program that will enable students to complete a bachelor's degree in three years.

Completing an undergraduate degree in three years means students must be "fully engaged" in summer sessions following their freshman and sophomore years.

"This is a pilot project for the system," said SUU President Scott Wyatt, referring to the Utah System of Higher Education.

"What we learn with this we believe will help all the institutions become more efficient," Wyatt told Utah lawmakers during the recent legislative session.

Participation is voluntary, although SUU officials estimate half of incoming freshman will seek to complete their bachelor degrees in three years.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said the Utah Legislature has been working with state colleges and universities to develop innovative ways to allow students to complete their degrees more efficiently so they can enter the workforce sooner.

“Southern Utah University's three-year bachelor degree program certainly fits that criteria. We have great confidence in SUU, as well as (its) president, his leadership team, faculty and staff. We are eagerly anticipating the outcome and success of this program and hope to be able to replicate it in other state institutions,” Vickers said.

The Utah Legislature recently appropriated $3.8 million in ongoing funding for the program.

Under a proposed academic calendar on the university's website, students on the three-year track would attend fall, winter and spring terms. The fall term would run from the second week of September to mid-December. Winter term would run from the second week of January through mid-April and spring term would go from the last week of April ending prior to July 24.

"New structural changes will also include robust online offerings and summer classes," a news release states.

Summer break would run from the last week of July to the second week of September, according to the proposal.

For the next academic year, at least, the university will seek no increase in tuition or fees, under the schedule adopted last week by the Utah State Board of Regents.

“We worked diligently on the budget and reviewed all of our operating expenses,” said Wyatt. “Our goal is to keep school affordable, help students get into college and complete their degree."

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Wyatt said SUU is considered an innovator and it has earned the trust of policymakers.

“This initiative is a significant investment in SUU and our success in developing this program will benefit our students, community, and employees, and may pave the way for other schools to follow our lead," he said in a statement.

SUU officials expect that the program "will significantly moderate demand for new buildings, classrooms, offices, faculty and staff members, student housing and increase student success," according to legislative budget documents.