ROCHESTER – Lori Carrell spent the pandemic trying to figure out how to make college education cheaper and faster with the same quality. Her answers could be used nationwide as colleges consider offering accelerated undergraduate degrees.

Carrell is chancellor at the University of Minnesota, Rochester (UMR), which launched an accelerated program last fall called "NXT GEN MED" to offer a health sciences degree in about 2 ½ years. Students attend classes year-round and work in paid internships through Mayo Clinic as part of the program. Ten students enrolled in the first year.

"NXT GEN MED" is part of a national program Carrell helps lead called "College in 3." A dozen colleges and universities, including UMR, are launching accelerated programs to grant undergraduate degrees in three years, and potentially save money for students and institutions.

The idea stems from Robert Zemsky, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has for decades called on higher education to offer accelerated degrees. Zemsky and Carrell wrote a book published in 2021, "Communicate for a Change – Revitalizing Conversations for Higher Education," that became the catalyst for "College in 3" and "NXT GEN MED."

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Carrell outlines how UMR officials started "NXT GEN MED," what it means to offer a three-year degree and what the future holds for "College in 3." Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What is "NXT GEN MED?"

A: "NXT GEN MED" is a career-connected, accelerated version of the bachelor of science in health sciences degree — supported by a new tech platform and by research-based practices that should enhance student success. We're working to design new ways to do college that address the two primary challenges in higher education: cost and quality.

Q: How does this make education cheaper for UMR students?

A: They're paying for seven terms instead of eight. They have embedded paid internships. They have work opportunity when they're done. That doesn't lower the cost of the education, but it is an important variable when you're doing financial analysis. Over these next few years, we have designated special scholarships and we're working with each student around what other financial aid they have.

Q: Why did UMR choose a health sciences degree as a pilot program?

A: In our pilot, the degree is the bachelor of science in health sciences, with a specialization in the business and leadership of health care, rather than direct patient care. We chose that because of pressing talent shortages within the health care industry. We chose it because it's an existing degree. We worked with hiring managers at Mayo to identify the competencies that they need in new employees coming straight out of college. That partnership piece, it's a lot of work to get that set up, but we think it's part of how some facets of college need to be enhanced because we are working more closely with employer partners.

Q: The program started last fall. How have things gone so far?

A: There's so much that we're looking at in the pilot and enhancing with student feedback as we're going through. There's the design of the program, the different kind of structures around projects and the different timeline around blocks of courses in seven-week chunks. The students are doing well. They self-report that they are not overstressed, that the way we have scheduled these seven-week blocks, they have not found that to be a pace that is overwhelming. It's intense, but we're really focused on their well-being as well as their academic progress.

Q: How does this relate to the "College in 3" project?

A: We are one of the pilots within a group of 12 nationally. Bob Zemsky and I are leading that experiment. We wrote a book together during the pandemic, and from that project grew the notion that if campuses could have broad conversations about the outcomes that students experience and the value of college, and redesign college, that good things would happen.

Q: What is the next stage of "College in 3?"

A: The next step would be to secure additional funding to expand beyond those 12 pilots, perhaps 100 pilots nationally, and UMR would be one of those pilots. We anticipate that many campuses will work on a design like this. We'd like for that to be coordinated so we can all learn from each other.