Future Directions for the Associate Degree


The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has been discussing the meaning and role of the associate degree for many years. The discussion resulted in the adoption in Fall 2005 of the Senate paper, What is the Meaning of a Community College Degree? The paper presented several recommendations to guide further discussions of the associate degree, and it is at this point that the Academic Senate seeks additional input from the field as to what directions to take.

This fall, the Associate Degree Task Force of the Academic Senate will be surveying colleges and districts regarding two issues: general education compilation degrees and the use of the terms Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS).

Local senate presidents will be receiving this survey in early october, and the results will be used to inform discussion and voting on related resolutions at the Fall Plenary session. A local senate president cannot, however, complete the survey on her/his own. Conversation with curriculum chairs, articulation officers, faculty and Chief Instructional Officers (VPs of Instruction, Academic Affairs, etc.) is also needed. This article seeks to present the background needed to hold these conversations.

The first issue is the need for clarification concerning general education compilation degrees. Title 5 stipulates that an associate degree "must include a major of at least 18 semester units or 27 quarter units of study in a single discipline or related disciplines" (55806). A general education compilation degree uses a general education pattern, whether the intersegmental General education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC), CSU GE Breadth, or a locally determined GE pattern, as the "study in a single discipline or related disciplines," courses bound together by their common applicability to general education requirements. Some have argued that general education requirements do not fit the requirements of Title 5, but the guidelines from the curriculum Handbook argue that such degrees are permissible as long as they follow university-established GE patterns such as IGETC or CSU GE Breadth; the handbook is equally clear that locally determined Ge patterns cannot be used for the basis of such degrees.

Associate degree majors are required to be at least 18 semester units or 27 quarter units of coursework in a single discipline or related disciplines, as listed in the taxonomy of Programs. However, for degrees intended to provide transfer students with lower-division general education, a distribution of general education coursework according to university requirements may be considered to satisfy this requirement.

Earnest discussion of general education compilation degrees have revolved around several issues: the value of general education compilation degrees to students as benchmarks of achievement; the value of such degrees in guiding students in preparation for transfer; and the value of offering such degrees given the demand for accountability.

Many have made the strong argument that general education degrees provide a benchmark of achievement especially significant to students who are the first in their families to attend college. Others have argued that such degrees have little significance beyond indicating completion of units. While some promote such degrees, often offered under titles such as "University Studies," "Liberal Arts," or "Transfer Studies," as a roadmap for students to completing general education requirements prior to transfer, others argue that such degrees are misleading since completion of the degree does not fulfill the requirements for transfer, contrary to what some of the titles might suggest.

The system office offered a legal advisory on the issue in 2005:

This requirement disallows "majors" with no discernible focus or majors constructed of loosely structured items of interest selected individually by students. Districts should ensure that this requirement is observed and that a clear major is described in connection with each associate degree offered. (Legal Advisory 05-05)

Regrettably, the use of the term "discernable focus" for a major has propagated rather than laid to rest discussion of the permissibility of general education compilation degrees.

Those who support the use of IGETC or CSU GE Breadth as the basis for a degree consider these general education patterns a "discernible focus" and thus in compliance with Title 5.

The Academic Senate seeks, therefore, to know what direction to take on this issue. Do faculty and CIOs want a revision to Title 5 regulation that clarifies the permissibility of general education compilation degrees? Do faculty and cios want to be able to offer general education compilation degrees or not?

The second issue concerns the use of the terms Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of science (As). The use of these terms is inconsistent across the system, as has already been described in the Senate paper What is the Meaning of a Community College Degree? This variability in usage makes it difficult to clearly convey the meaning, let alone the value, of an AA or an As across the state to students and legislators. The survey will ask local senates to describe how they use these terms and whether they see value in standardizing usage on a statewide basis. The survey will also ask whether or not local requirements for the AA and As differ.

We encourage you to begin the conversation concerning these questions related to the associate degree now. Look for the survey at the beginning of October.