A Degree with a Guarantee?

November
2011
Atondo, Elizabeth, Los Angeles Pierce College, Articulation Officer and Curriculum Chair; Content developed in consultation with

Senate Bill 1440 has the potential to streamline the transfer process through the statewide adoption of portable associate degrees. We have developed these degrees through the Transfer Model Curriculum (TMC) process. Ideally, the TMCs contain coursework that provides students with a foundational understanding of their major as well as what they need to be prepared to study at the upper-division level after transfer to a CSU campus. Students who complete a TMC-aligned degree in their chosen major are awarded an AA-T or AS-T degree. The potential benefits for our students who complete this degree are significant: they are guaranteed admission to the CSU system. Additionally, they will have obtained an associate degree, a significant milestone in their educational career, as well as be prepared to transfer and continue their baccalaureate studies.

Ideally, the AA-T and AS-T degrees would work for our students in the same way the CSU GE Breadth Certification Plan and the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) currently do. Both these general education plans are offered at all our colleges and are accepted by all CSU and UC campuses as full completion of lower-division general education requirements. Imagine the clear transfer path our students could follow if completion of an AS-T/AA-T was accepted by all CSU campuses as full completion of both lower division general education and major preparation requirements.

The current reality, however, is that each CSU campus individually determines if and how the AA-T and AS-T degrees will be accepted, resulting in varying curricular requirements depending on the combination of CCC and CSU major requirements.

Further, a complex set of CSU admissions rules means the degrees may be required for priority admission to impacted majors or campuses, yet students who complete these degrees may still find themselves having to take additional lower-division major coursework after transfer or, conversely, major coursework at the CCC before transfer that does not fulfill major requirements at the receiving CSU campus. The interaction of these varying curricular requirements and admission rules means the AA-T/AS-T may be advantageous for some students, disadvantageous for others, and neutral for some. The goal is for the degree to be advantageous for all students.

Additionally, communication to local colleges about the program has focused on encouraging degree development and promotion, not on student counseling and advising. We have a professional responsibility to let our students know what their transfer options are and the benefits of each. At this point in time, the complexity of SB1440 implementation makes effective student counseling a challenge. We need to focus on the development of clear and consistent counseling tools so that we can best advise our students.

To be fully successful, an AA-T or AS-T degree should guarantee the completion of all lower division major and general education requirements at all CSU campuses that offer an aligned major, as defined by the major codes published in CSU’s Undergraduate Majors/Degrees Matrix. In this scenario, CCC transfer student Anna, pursuing a major in Business Administration, can complete the TMC-aligned AS-T degree in Business Administration at any of our colleges and transfer to any CSU campus knowing that the coursework in her degree will fully satisfy all CSU lower-division major and general education requirements. This would truly make the AA-T/AS-T valuable to all transfer students by serving the dual purposes of an associate degree and full preparation for the upper division major.

If we can’t achieve the ultimate goal, then one useful alternative would be that any CSU campus accepting the TMC must guarantee that a TMC-aligned AA-T or AS-T will fulfill all lower division major and general education requirements at that CSU campus. This would enable community colleges to provide students with a list of the CSU campuses where the AA-T and AS-T degrees are fully accepted. In this scenario, our CCC transfer student Anna, can easily see the range of CSU campuses that do accept the TMC-aligned AS-T degree in Business Administration as full completion of major and general education requirements. Based on the CSU campus Anna is planning to attend, she can then make an informed decision on whether she should complete the AS-T degree or pursue the traditional transfer pathway, an option still available to all our students.

Another alternative is the acceptance of a TMC-aligned AA-T or AS-T by all CSU campuses that offer an aligned major as defined by the CSU major codes but not necessarily as full completion of lower-division major requirements. In this scenario, some students may be required to complete additional lower-division major requirements as part of the 60 units remaining after transfer. In this case, our CCC student Anna, pursuing her major in Business Administration, could complete the TMC-aligned AS-T degree at any of our colleges and be assured that she will not need to complete more than 60 units after transfer to any CSU campus. However, she may find herself at a CSU campus that requires her to take additional lower-division major requirements after transfer that could have been completed at the community college prior to transfer.

The CSU system should be commended for its progress toward accepting every AA-T and AS-T degree at every CSU campus offering an aligned major. Community colleges can best support this effort by adopting AA-T and AS-T degrees targeted to the efficient completion of CSU lower division major coursework. The success of this program depends on the partnership between the community colleges who must design degrees useful for transfer and the CSU campuses that are charged with accepting them as fulfillment of lower division requirements. It is only through open and candid communication, thoughtful design, and shared commitment that the ultimate goal of these degrees—associate degree completion, full transfer preparation, and statewide portability—will be achieved.

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