The move announced Wednesday by Purdue President France Cordova will break the academic year into three 13-week trimesters with a larger lineup of summer courses. Cordova said it will allow students to potentially complete a degree in three years.
"This means students can move more quickly into the marketplace, where earning potential is higher," she said.
Indiana lawmakers slashed Purdue's funding last year, and further decreases in state aid are likely. So Cordova and other university officials decided to create a 10-year plan with the goal of offsetting tuition increases.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who has pushed state universities to create speedier degree programs, praised Purdue's plan.
"Purdue has moved boldly to become more productive, affordable and supportive of students more quickly completing their degrees," Daniels said in a statement. "This is how leaders act."
Though the trimester system won't go into effect until 2020, the school will begin expanding summer offerings this year. Currently, about 6,000 students enroll in classes at Purdue each summer. Campus facilities remain open throughout the summer, which means underused buildings continue to be air-conditioned.
By 2020, they're hoping for 17,000 students on campus during the summer, about half the school's total enrollment. To entice students to stay year-round, Provost Tim Sands said, the university will offer core courses more often, allow incoming freshmen to take classes the summer before they enroll and create a paid research program in lieu of a more traditional summer job.
Other schools have tried -- and failed -- to implement trimesters before, which Sands attributed to making an immediate calendar change unlike Purdue's more gradual process.
The slow change also will allow Purdue to coordinate a credit-transferring system with its satellite campuses, which will not move to trimesters.
"We're hoping to coordinate schedules with them," he said. "But their needs are different."
Implementing the program will carry a price tag, though Sands said the university doesn't yet have exact figures.
Teresa Lubbers, Indiana's commissioner for higher education, said Purdue's plan recognizes that schools must approach funding creatively as state funding declines.
"We think this announcement moves us in that direction," she said.