A new bill would bring together most of Washington's four-year public colleges to design a program allowing students to earn a bachelor's degree in three years.

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Imagine how much money a student could save if a four-year bachelor’s degree could be earned in three years. State Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, is sponsoring a bill that would encourage some of the state’s schools to find ways to do just that.

Bailey, who chairs the Senate’s higher education committee, is sponsoring Degree in Three — a bill that would encourage creative thinking about how to accelerate the degree process. Central Washington University already has such a program, Bailey said, and “they’re the ones who really know what works.”

Under Bailey’s bill — which has bipartisan support — the state’s regional universities (CWU, Western Washington University and Eastern Washington University) and The Evergreen State College would come together to form a work group to develop best practices aimed at helping students get a bachelor’s degree in three years. For now, the state’s two research universities (University of Washington and Washington State University) are not part of the process; getting a degree at those schools in three years is more complex.

If the bill passes, the work group would be given a December deadline to send a comprehensive report to the Legislature, examining how such programs work in other states, and making recommendations on how such a program could be developed here.

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One of the keys to designing a three-year bachelor’s degree, Bailey said, is making sure every class a student takes will count toward his or her major. Colleges must also offer the courses that a student needs each semester, or each quarter. If a student has to wait a quarter — or a year — because a course isn’t offered, that further delays the process.