Looking at Equivalency Differently: Rethinking Equivalency to General Education

ASCCC Executive Committee
ASCCC Executive Committee

Whether one thinks that colleges use equivalency effectively or not, the reality is that Education Code requires colleges to have a process that allows for applicants to demonstrate equivalency to the minimum qualifications: “The process, as well as criteria, and standards by which the governing board reaches its determination regarding faculty members shall be developed and agreed upon jointly by representatives of the governing board and the academic senate, and approved by the governing board” (Education Code §87359 (b)). With this legal requirement, colleges should not be ignoring the need for equivalency processes, nor should they settle for a process or an attitude that does not give real consideration to applicants who apply using equivalency.

One reason that colleges may not use equivalency effectively is because of the difficulty of determining what discipline-specific coursework, knowledge, training, or experience is equivalent to the major preparation within a degree, and even more difficult is determining what combination of elements is equivalent to the general education coursework required within a degree. Another reason is that faculty may be unwilling to consider anything less than academic preparation based on their own experiences as students. As a result, equivalency as practiced is rarely much more than a debate about degree titles rather than an examination of the many ways in which an applicant may have prepared to teach community college students.

One may easily stand among faculty colleagues who, like most, arrived to academia via a sequence of demanding undergraduate and graduate academic experiences and argue that nothing can be equivalent to the expected degree except similar coursework or a degree with a different title. Much more difficult is to set aside bias learned from a position of privilege during the journey through academia and open minds to the idea that life and work-based experiences may also effectively prepare candidates to teach California’s 2.1 million community college students.

In response to the Strong Workforce Task Force recommendations, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office constituted a workgroup, the CTE MQ Workgroup, that includes faculty appointed by the ASCCC and representatives appointed by the chief executive officers, chief instructional officers, and human resource officer organizations. The charge of the workgroup is to examine ways to address two specific SWTF recommendations:

13.  Increase the pool of qualified CTE instructors by addressing CTE faculty recruitment and hiring practices.

14.  Consider options for meeting minimum qualifications to better integrate industry professionals who possess significant experience into CTE instructional programs.

Equivalency is seen as one strategy for addressing both of these recommendations. Improving hiring practices around equivalency has the potential to increase the number of faculty who qualify for hiring pools but who would not be included in the pool if only degree-based minimum qualifications are recognized. Many industry professionals do not have the degrees expected to meet minimum qualifications and currently are not considered qualified in many districts because equivalency is not given any merit despite proven expertise in a field. Increasing the use of equivalency could help these professionals qualify to teach at community colleges.

Faculty need to consider equivalency differently in order to expand hiring pools. First, faculty should be more willing to engage in conversations around equivalency. Even when colleges are having local conversations and utilizing equivalency, they are often hesitant to share practices with other colleges for fear others will not see equivalency in the same way. Second, faculty need to be more willing to consider life- and work-based training or experiences as equivalent to the discipline-specific preparation as well as the general education preparation expected in a degree.[1]

As demonstrated by past resolutions and Rostrum articles, most recently Resolution 10.05 Spring 2017[2], faculty across the state have asked the ASCCC to provide guidance around equivalency. While equivalency processes are locally determined, system-wide concerns exist about using equivalency without guidance. Faculty and districts may be hesitant to hire faculty whom they fear may later be viewed as not equivalent under external examination, such as in regard to ACCJC Accreditation Standards III.A.1 and III.A.2. Having a faculty member deemed not qualified potentially jeopardizes the standing of units earned by students and apportionment earned by the college. Faculty should engage in conversations around what is expected for equivalency in an effort to open minds to the idea that equivalency can be more than coursework documented on a transcript; it can be documented through supporting trainings one has participated in, delivery of instruction in other environments, or receipt of industry credentials or certifications. For more applicants than are currently considered, these experiences are at least equal, and often greater than, the minimum qualifications as met through coursework and degrees.

Faculty need to be more willing to consider life- and work-based training or experiences toward equivalency, both for discipline-specific preparation and for general education. To help colleges consider ways in which non-academic experiences may be considered for equivalency, the CTE MQ Work Group has developed General Education Equivalency Examples (GEEEs). The GEEEs offer Title 5 information about each general education area required in a local community college degree, general ideas about what kinds of experiences might be considered for equivalency to coursework in that area, and then discipline- and industry-specific ideas for equivalency for the general education area. The examples are intended as ideas to consider and use in building conversation locally, and they are still being developed.

ASCCC and Chancellor’s Office staff presented at the CCC Association of Occupational Educators (CCCAOE) conference in October, where they shared the work done with the GEEEs to date and collected feedback on additional ideas for existing disciplines as well as for disciplines for which examples have not yet been developed. The ASCCC and the Chancellor’s Office will again partner for a general session activity at the ASCCC Fall Plenary to solicit more ideas as well as collect feedback regarding the viability of the examples already collected. Meanwhile, the CTE MQ Workgroup will continue to refine the examples based on feedback.

By spring, the GEEEs will be further refined based on both career technical education faculty feedback and arts and sciences faculty feedback. The ASCCC and the Chancellor’s Office will then be coordinating small-scale regional visits to colleges to meet with faculty senate and minimum qualifications leaders, CTE faculty, human resource staff, and others involved in local equivalency review and decisions to discuss ways in which each college might update policies and practices around equivalency and to discuss ways in which the GEEEs could be used as a tool locally to better utilize equivalency processes and to increase consideration of candidates who do not meet minimum qualifications through traditional coursework.

These efforts are in no way an attempt to lower the minimum qualifications or standards for hire. In the paper Equivalency to the Minimum Qualifications from Spring 2016, the ASCCC notes that “[t]he Academic Senate has consistently supported the following basic principles for granting equivalency:

  • Equivalent to the minimum qualifications means equal to the minimum qualifications, not nearly equal. 

  • The applicant must provide evidence he or she has attained the breadth of coursework or experience equal to the general education component of an earned associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
  • The applicant must provide evidence he or she has attained the skills and knowledge provided by specialized coursework required for the degree listed in the Disciplines List. 

  • Faculty members exemplify to their students the value of an education that is both well-rounded and specialized and has consistently defined associate’s degree parameters. Faculty should act as models for students by demonstrating a breadth of general education knowledge and a depth of knowledge that is discipline specific.” (1)[3]

Rather than lowering standards, the current work of the ASCCC in collaboration with the Chancellor’s Office and the CTE MQ Workgroup is an effort to expand hiring pools by opening minds to the potential that a person can be well qualified to teach, especially in career technical education disciplines not requiring a master’s degree or for which a master’s degree is not available, without traditional academic preparation and that alternate experiences or training may contribute to the depth of discipline-specific knowledge and breadth of general education knowledge expected with an associate’s degree. This work is also an effort to ensure that CTE students have access to a broader pool of well-qualified experts in a given field or discipline.

The ASCCC encourages all faculty to have an open mind about equivalency. When given a chance, faculty should review the GEEE and provide feedback. Faculty should talk with local senates about local equivalency processes and attitudes toward equivalency. Faculty and others involved in evaluation of candidates as qualified should join the ASCCC and Chancellor’s Office for regional meetings to talk further with local and regional colleagues about ways in which life- and work-based experiences may be considered for equivalency. All faculty should be a part of opening minds and opening hiring pools by looking differently at equivalency.

[1] For a few specific examples of ways to apply equivalency more broadly, see the article “Understanding and Navigating the Equivalency Process:  A CTE Faculty Perspective” in the February 2017 Rostrum at https://asccc.org/content/understanding-and-navigating-equivalency-proc…

[2] https://www.asccc.org/resolutions/equivalency-resources-local-senates-0