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I'll Take Five Bachelor's Degrees, Please

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Baseball had Babe Ruth. Hockey has Wayne Gretzky. And the academic arena has Eric Coyle, who will graduate soon with five bachelor's degrees - an achievement kicking up controversy on his campus.

A six-year student at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV), Mr. Coyle expects to collect BA diplomas in political science, criminal justice, sociology, psychology, and communications. "I had no idea I might be the first person to earn five collegiate degrees" at once, he says. Some have told him he is the first to do so, but Coyle isn't sure. The 1998 Guinness Book of World Records has no such category.

He is just happy, he says, that his plan to wow top law schools by earning multiple degrees worked. His 3.9 grade point average, high test scores, and five degrees got him into law schools at Georgetown, Cornell, Boston University, and five others. Harvard and Yale are yet to report.

The achievement has caused consternation as well as applause at UNLV. What upsets university officials most is not the number of degrees, but Coyle's unprecedented 11th-hour push to get the job done.

This semester Coyle expects to earn 64 credits - more than four times the normal course load (about 15 credits for five courses) for a full-time student. He is taking 14 university classes (43 credits), two community college English classes (6 credits), three internships (9 credits), and his senior thesis (6 credits).

Provost Douglas Ferraro has worried that Coyle's overload - approved by other officials - might reflect badly on the university. "We either have an incredibly remarkable student here, or there might be implications about the quality of our courses," he said last month. "The educational process is something more than the accumulation of credits."

Seeming to corroborate Mr. Ferraro's concerns, other academicians have voiced concerns about the signal sent by earning so many credits so fast. "It would certainly raise questions about the [academic] standards," Jack Warner, vice chancellor of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education in Boston was quoted saying in local media reports.

But Frederick Preston, a sociology professor who is one of Coyle's advisers, says that anyone who says the university's academic experience is easy "just doesn't know what's going on here."

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