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Dual degree programs give motivated students head start
Phil Swarbrick graduated from Chicago's DePaul University last year with a Bachelor of Science degree in network technology and a Master of Science degree in computer information and network security. Under normal circumstances, the undergraduate and graduate degrees would have required six years. But Swarbrick completed them both in four years, thanks to a dual-degree program.
At DePaul, the dual-degree program from the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) normally telescopes a six-year course of study down to five years, but Swarbrick accelerated the program still further to eliminate another year.
"My parents were paying for college for the first four years, but any advanced degree I wanted to pursue would have been on my own," he says. "So in doing it in four years, I was able to avoid taking out student loans. Not only am I in the workforce a year or two earlier, but I'm in the workforce with more advanced knowledge and education."
For many reasons, dual-degree programs that allow students to earn two degrees in less time and with less expense than they could pursuing the degrees consecutively have grown in popularity at Chicago-area colleges and universities. The appeal to students of less time and expense is obvious and understandable. But the programs are also popular with university administrators, who see them as drawing cards and tools to retain particularly gifted students at their institutions.
At DePaul's CDM, the dual-degree program was launched about five years ago as a nod to the increased favor with which employers in the technology field were viewing master's degrees, says Lucia Dettori, associate dean. "We wanted to provide students a way to stay with us another year, and instead of getting a double major, put that time and energy and money into an advanced degree," she says. A number of options are made available to students, she says. "You could do an undergraduate degree in network technology, and specialize for your master's in network security," Dettori says. "Or you could have a computer science degree for your bachelor's, and then launch a career in management by getting a master's degree in IT project management."
Students can also choose to get both bachelor's and master's degrees in the same discipline - for instance, computer science - with the latter degree providing a depth of understanding and skills not obtainable from an undergraduate degree alone.
How it works
At DePaul, the CDM dual degree program is structured so that students take three graduate courses while finishing their undergraduate studies. These courses count toward both the undergraduate and graduate degree.
"You take the courses at undergraduate course rates," Dettori says. "So you are essentially getting a discount off your master's degree." Because the three courses count toward both degrees, the time needed to meet both degree course requirements is shortened, allowing most students to finish both degrees in five years. Students also benefit because the master's degree can be the differentiator in the job market, opening the eyes of prospective employers in a difficult job market, Dettori says. "In these challenging times, more people are considering staying in college and furthering their educations rather than entering a job market that is challenging. We provided them a way to do it quicker and cheaper." There is also some cache with employers flowing from having been accepted into dual-degree programs, she adds. These are not programs for run-of-the-mill students.
"In order to enter these dual-degree programs, you have to have a high GPA," she adds. "And we felt this was a way of keeping the best students motivated and challenged. And these are the same overachieving students who would get two majors. We said to them, 'Don't take the two majors; further your education and marketability by getting a master's degree in about the same time.' "
Drawing increased interest from students this year is a dual degree program the Elmhurst College Physics Department offers in partnership with Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology, allowing students to simultaneously take basic science and general education courses from Elmhurst and engineering courses from IIT, says Earl Swallow, Physics Department chair at Elmhurst College.
Upon completion of the normally five-year program, students receive a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Elmhurst and a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from IIT. Electrical engineering, computer engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, architectural engineering and civil engineering are all available. Students enrolled in the program can participate in student activities and use all available facilities at both Elmhurst College and IIT, Swallow says.
Meantime, Lake Forest College in Lake Forest has just added four new dual-degree programs to augment one long-standing program. The program in existence for some time is a five-year Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science program offered in conjunction with Washington University in St. Louis, says Janet McCracken, Krebs Provost and dean of faculty at Lake Forest College. "You get a B.A. in physics here and a B.S. in engineering from Washington University, with three years in Lake Forest and two years at Washington University," McCracken says.
Newer dual-degree programs at Lake Forest include three programs combining Bachelor of Arts degrees with law degrees offered by three different schools of law.
The other is a program combining a Lake Forest Bachelor of Arts degree with an MBA or master's of public administration from the Graduate School of International Policy and Management at Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, Cal.
DePaul graduate Swarbrick admits dual-degree programs require discipline and hard work. However, he knew it would pay off, he says. Besides, he added, he is the type of person who wanted to get his degree out of the way and enter the workforce.
Does he have advice for prospective dual-degree students? "They need to plan long-term, because it is definitely something that's tough to get through," he says. "But after I was done, I felt like it would have been a bigger disadvantage to have delayed my entry into the workforce than to have worked harder and gotten it done sooner." ■