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University of Mary’s Year-Round Campus, where students leapfrog higher education’s biggest challenges

University of Mary - published on 03/21/17

From Benedictine roots, the future of the university takes shape on the Dakota plains

The nation’s high school seniors are anxiously awaiting college acceptance letters. These days, however, students and their families face more than just the usual Will-I-get-in? worries. Never has the decision to pursue higher education been accompanied by so many challenges:

  • The cost of higher education (tripled over recent years)
  • The time it takes to complete an undergraduate degree (and the graduate education so many professions require)
  • The crushing burden of student loan debt (at a staggering national total of $1.6 trillion), which robs students of the earning power of their degree

While politicians debate ways to address these challenges, a Catholic university in Bismarck, North Dakota is pioneering a real solution.

A new pathway opens

Pioneering is nothing new to the Benedictine Sisters who came to the Dakota Territory in 1878 and founded the college that would become the University of Mary. In their spirit, Mary is already a model of innovation built on a solid base of tradition. Offering degrees in today’s most in-demand fields, at a tuition cost that’s half the national average for private higher education, Mary has already earned a reputation for affordable excellence.

But was there more the University of Mary could offer, when challenges deter so many from even applying to college? Walking the empty campus during the summer, university president Msgr James P. Shea had an inspiration. “Why just one way to a university degree? Why not open a new pathway that enables students to experience vibrant college life and learning in every season, year-round?”


It makes sense. The US inherited the traditional summers-free college calendar from European universities designed to serve the aristocracy. That model once served our country’s primarily agricultural societies, but has long outgrown its practicality for today’s students.

And so the University of Mary’s Year-Round Campus (YRC) was born. Not just an accelerated summer session, the YRC is designed so that students graduate at less cost, in less time, and with greater earning potential than in traditional programs.

Can I afford college? Bucking the cost trend

Lower cost is a welcome factor for many students and their families. In addition to University of Mary’s already-low tuition rates, students enrolled in the YRC receive a discount on summer fees—even though the level of instruction and the amenities of campus living are at the same high level as in the fall and spring terms. That’s a deal-maker for students and their families.

“I was very interested in saving money and time with this program that involved the Year-Round Campus,” says student Sarah Frank, whose parents also loved the idea.

How can I justify taking so many years to graduate? Making time count

University of Mary’s YRC helps students leapfrog one of the most aggravating higher education obstacles – time-to-degree. The average US student now takes 5 or 6 years to complete a traditional 4-year degree program – and significantly longer to complete postgraduate work. At Year-Round Campus, students can earn their undergraduate degree in just 2.6 years of continuous study.

And because University of Mary offers advanced degrees in many programs, YRC graduates can transition immediately from graduate studies, earning a Master’s degree in a total of 4 years – less time than it takes most US students to earn a B.A.

“I’m planning to major in Marketing and receive my Master’s in Business Administration,” says student Karly Palczewski. By going to school year-round, Karly says, “you open yourself up to summer internships and job opportunities that I wouldn’t be able to pursue in my small hometown. It will give any student taking the year-round path an advantage.”

When will I ever begin to earn why my degree cost? Breaking the yoke of college debt

The Year-Round Campus plan, Msgr. Shea says, takes the two or more empty summers traditional students have and flips them around to the postgraduate period, so students can enter the work force that many years earlier. Not only does this liberate students and families from the educational debt load – it also grants Mary’s YRC graduates an immediate boost in earning power.

That may not seem like much, but the combined reduction in student loan debt and accelerated entry into the work force gives YRC graduates an average $322,193 lifetime-earnings benefit over their traditional-program counterparts – a benefit that increases to $529,409 for students with a Master’s degree.

A real revolution

Msgr. Shea believes the Year-Round Campus model is the first great revolution in higher education since the GI Bill made college affordable for veterans of World War II. He is confident that what University of Mary has pioneered will soon spread across the country.

It’s appropriate that such innovation in higher education come from a Catholic university. The Church has always led the way when it comes to, as University of Mary’s mission statement says, “preparing leaders in the service of Truth.”

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