Defining the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science

Mark Wade Lieu, Associate Degree Task Force Chair

In Spring 2007, the plenary body at the Academic Senate General Session voted to adopt the following resolution (9.01):

Whereas, The historical use of the terms "arts" and "science" in universities pertains to the separate disciplines under the Arts and under the Sciences;

Whereas, The use of the terms "associate in arts" and "associate in science" is inconsistent across the California Community College System; and California community colleges, because of their mission, have found it necessary to include occupational programs under either the associate of arts or associate in science;

Whereas, Title 5 language does not define the associate degree, and the result is a lack of meaningful distinction between the associate in science and the associate in arts, in addition to colleges pursuing the creation of other associate degrees such as the associate in fine arts; and

Whereas, Students and others are ill-served by the lack of clarity, and the Academic Senate survey revealed a need to clarify the nature of a degree title;

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges support and establish statewide definitions for the types of associate degrees offered by California community colleges.

The Academic Senate's Associate Degree Task Force took on the task of developing definitions to delineate between the Associate of Arts (AA) and the Associate of Science (AS), and proposed definitions (see below) were presented at the Spring 2008 Plenary Session. A vote on the resolution to adopt the definitions was postponed (formally known as being "referred") to allow for further discussion in the field, and the definitions will return for reconsideration at the Plenary Session this November.

In developing definitions for the two degrees, the Task Force examined practice across the system. Initially, many argued for definitions that would parallel usage of the terms in four-year institutions. Research into usage at the CSU and UC, however, revealed wide variation and even usage that is counter-intuitive. For example, English was discovered to be sometimes offered as a Bachelor of Science degree and Biology sometimes as a Bachelor of Arts.

An examination of units for the AA vs. AS suggested a possible delineation by units. A study of these degrees over the last 50+ years shows that the AA (excluding general education) comprises an average of fewer than 30 units, while an AS averages more than 30 units. Discussion with the field, however, showed general dissatisfaction with a delineation purely based on units.

An examination of types of degrees offered by program (as listed in the Taxonomy of Programs) showed that there was no clear demarcation by discipline. For example, of the top ten degree programs in community colleges, three programs, Interdisciplinary Studies, Business and Management, and Family and Consumer Sciences, were each represented twice for both the number of AAs and the number of ASs awarded.

Given that current practice provided inadequate parameters for a proposed definition, the Task Force used input from the field to create definitions that focused on the message our degree titles should convey, and it arrived at the following proposal:

An Associate of Science is defined as an associate degree in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in the area of career technical education (CTE); all other degrees would be designated as an Associate of Art.

Under this proposal, there is a clear message about our two degrees and the definitions are easily applied. For the majority of disciplines, there is a simple and clear demarcation between an AA and an AS. English would always be an AA. Biology would always be an AS. The utility of this proposal comes with disciplines that could be either one. For example, in the discipline of photography, a degree that is focused on the fine arts aspects would be an AA. However, a degree that is focused on application, such as commercial photography, would be in the career technical education (CTE) arena and thus an AS.

As an additional example, consider the discipline of environmental studies. As a more humanities-focused degree, with the degree engaging students primarily in an examination of human behavior, its impact on the environment, and the implications for the future, the degree would be designated an AA. Conversely, if the degree is focused more on practical issues that are directly related to an occupation such as Hazardous Waste Management, or if the degree is focused more on the chemical, biological, and ecological aspects of the discipline, the degree would be designated an AS because of its CTE and science focus.

The Task Force encourages you to discuss these proposed definitions with your local senate and within departments and to bring your arguments, pro and con, to the Fall Plenary Session debate on adoption of this proposal for statewide application.

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