As the Degree Turns-Notes to Minimize the Drama of Getting your Compliant Degrees Approved

May
2008
Michelle Pilati, Co-Chair, System Advisory Committee on Curriculum (SACC)

Alas, the soap opera continues as colleges submit their shiny new-and hopefully compliant-degrees to the Chancellor's Office. While we know those bold and beautiful new degrees, submitted by the young and restless faculty, have been designed with all my children in mind, we wait, on the edge of night, as their fate is determined. Stephanie Low, their fearless recipient in the Chancellor's Office, in the interest of avoiding General Hospital, has resorted to providing an automatic response to requests for reviews of draft degrees. The tips that follow are based on this memorandum, as well as unofficial conversations regarding degrees. As we all have but one life to life, I hope they will simplify yours.

Truth in Advertising I-Titles
Degree titles should be informative and accurate. The Academic Senate adopted position is that "transfer" is not an appropriate title for a degree-transfer is what a student intends to do, it is not something that one studies. Suggested degree titles for your degrees that would have an area of emphasis include General Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, Liberal Arts, or Liberal Arts & Sciences. With the "truth in advertising" concept in mind, degrees bearing the "Interdisciplinary Studies" designation would need to offer areas of emphasis that mandate interdisciplinary course selections. And an area of emphasis in "Mathematics and Science" would need to require courses in both mathematics and science. Per the Chancellor's Office, the "Liberal Studies" title should be reserved for degrees that prepare students for the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential baccalaureate degree.

Truth in Advertising II-Descriptions
If a proposed degree is intended for transfer, this should be stated. If it is not, this should also be clearly stated. Any degree that does not require either IGETC or the CSU GE pattern and a major or area of emphasis that consists of transferable courses should not be identified as a degree designed for students who intend to transfer. If your degree is intended for transfer, make sure that the general education options are clearly indicated.

As you develop new degrees, why not also review your old degrees? Do you have degrees that claim to be designed for transfer, yet truly do not serve the student well? Why not consider a review of all degrees-with an eye to preventing students from being misled? An example-a major in psychology that is intended to prepare students for transfer would generally not consist of 18 units of psychology courses, nor a sociology major consist solely of sociology courses. Where only a limited number of lower division courses in the major are needed for transfer, support courses should be identified and incorporated into that major. A review of the requirements of transfer institutions will help inform the determinations made by discipline faculty as new degrees are developed or old ones refined. And be sure to bring your articulation officer and counseling faculty into the conversation-their guidance is essential.

Truth in Advertising III-And then what?
A major of area of emphasis is not merely a list of courses-it is a list of courses that are being packaged together for an academic reason-not to merely provide a means for a student to inadvertently earn a degree without even trying. Just as there are goals associated with a major and a description, there should be the same for areas of emphasis. Just as you would develop program level Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) for a major, you should have such SLOs for an area of emphasis. Keeping this in mind may help as you structure your degrees. Here are Stephanie's words on the topic:

The courses in an area of emphasis must have a clear relationship that represents a pattern of learning (pursuant to Title 5 55061). In order to convey this relationship, there needs to be a description for each area of emphasis. The description should identify the main focus of this area of emphasis. Example:

ARTS & HUMANITIES: These courses emphasize the study of cultural, literary, humanistic activities and artistic expression of human beings. Students will evaluate and interpret the ways in which people through the ages in different cultures have responded to themselves and the world around them in artistic and cultural creation.

Avoid Amnesia
While this should be very old news now, a reminder is called for-general education transfer patterns do not satisfy the requirement for a major or area of emphasis. A degree is GE PLUS a major or area of emphasis, and whatever other requirements have been established locally (and other state mandates). While the student can now get a Certificate of Achievement for completing IGETC or the CSU GE, that does not mean that this Certificate can be combined with your local GE to earn a degree.

Major vs Area of Emphasis
While you may be hard-pressed to see the difference, it is there. I think there is a general understanding as to what a "major" is, as these are not new. The idea is that an area of emphasis may be broader than a major. It might allow the undecided student more options than a traditional major-providing the student with a tailored learning experience, but with more choices than would normally be available in a major. Here are Stephanie's words on the subject:

An area of emphasis is considered to be a broader group of courses and may be defined as 18 units in related fields intended to prepare a student for a particular major at the four-year institution or to prepare a student for a particular field as defined by the community college. An area of emphasis is similar to patterns of learning that a student in the first two years of attendance at a four-year institution might follow in order to explore an area of interest as a possible major. However, the composition of the associate degree cannot be so broad that it lacks focus. Title 5 55061 discusses the philosophy of the associate degree and needs to be considered while developing an area of emphasis. Please note that this section specifically states that the associate degree must "represent more than an accumulation of units." It goes on to describe certain capabilities and insights that students are expected to develop while completing the degree requirements.

We are also looking for titles and descriptions for these areas of emphasis that represent the capabilities and insights that students will gain.

The proposed area of emphasis must list courses from which the student chooses to complete a minimum of 18 semester units (27 quarter units). This should not include any units that are described as "general education" courses or as "recommended" electives.

Keep it Simple
An added complexity that some are introducing to the process of getting new degrees approved is seeking approval for both AA and AS degrees. While there is nothing wrong with this, be sure your submission is clear. Provide documentation explaining what an AA and an AS are at your college-as we all know these vary widely.

The Days of our Lives
Hopefully developing new degrees has resulted in some beneficial conversations on your campus. While the timeline imposed on us for modifying our degrees is a challenge, colleges seem to be rising to it-and the result will be new opportunities for our students.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.