Understanding and Navigating the Equivalency Process: A CTE Faculty Perspective

Lassen College Automotive Instructor, ASCCC CTE Leadership Committee Member

“Equivalence to the minimum qualifications” sounds very simple. However, the meaning of equivalence to the minimum qualifications for a faculty position in the California community colleges can be complex. Speaking as someone who came from industry, I was blissfully ignorant of what equivalence to the minimum qualifications meant until as a full-time faculty member I needed to hire a part-time faculty member for my career technical education department.

I was an automotive technician for sixteen years before I transitioned to teaching. As I started my job search, I read advertisements for many kinds of teachers. In particular, I looked at the educational requirements for college instructors. Most faculty positions required a master’s degree, but CTE faculty required a bachelor’s degree and two years of work experience or any associate’s degree or and 6 years of work experience. I had plenty of experience but only a diploma in Diesel Technology. I did not even consider the “or equivalent” that followed all of the degree requirements, and I did not think “or equivalent” would apply to me.  Instead, I went back to school and earned an associate’s degree before I applied for a faculty position. However, had I looked more into the term “or equivalent,” I would have found it in the Disciplines List, which is a list of minimum qualifications for hiring faculty adopted by the Board of Governors. “Or equivalent” refers to any qualifications that are at least equal to the state adopted minimum qualifications for a particular.[1]

Again, none of this information applied to me because when I finally applied I met the minimum qualifications as required. It did, however, apply to the part-time faculty I was trying to get hired at my college. I learned many things during this process. First, I learned that human resources has a limited role in determining equivalency. California Education Code §87359 (and Title 5 §53430) states this fact very clearly:

The process, as well as criteria and standards by which the governing board reaches its determinations 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. The agreed upon process shall include reasonable procedures to ensure that the governing board relies primarily upon the advice and judgment of the academic senate to determine that each individual faculty member employed under the authority granted by the regulations possesses qualifications that are at least equivalent to the applicable minimum qualifications specified in regulations adopted by the board of governors. The process shall further require that the governing board provide the academic senate with an opportunity to present its views to the governing board before the board makes a determination, and that the written record of the decision, including the views of the academic senate, shall be available for review pursuant to Section 87358.

The district governing board ultimately grants equivalency. Human resources may act as the representative of the local board in determining the equivalency criteria, but human resources does not have authority to set such criteria on its own, and the board’s decision as to whether any individual applicant meets that criteria is to be based on the recommendation of the faculty through the academic senate.

Many times the academic senate appoints representatives to an equivalency committee to ensure the process is consistent and fair. This committee can be a senate subcommittee or a college committee, and it may be comprised of faculty both within and outside of the discipline to ensure the equivalency process is applied consistently and fairly.  College administration may also be represented on some equivalency committees, but the majority voice on any such group should come from faculty.  The equivalency committee normally sends its recommendations on equivalency decisions to the academic senate, which then makes the recommendation to the local board.

The applicant for equivalency must prove he or she has coursework or experience at least equal to the minimum qualifications for the degree on the Disciplines List. Equivalency can never mean less than these qualifications. An applicant must prove both breadth and depth of knowledge. Breadth of knowledge means knowledge equivalent to the general education requirements of the minimum degree required. Therefore, the applicant must to prove that he or she has the knowledge and skills equivalent to the general education requirements in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and language and rationality as if he or she had taken courses in these areas. Depth of knowledge refers to discipline subject knowledge.

An applicant may prove equivalency in various ways, including previous coursework, work experience, and eminence in districts that allow this qualification. No provisional equivalency is allowed; in other words, the applicant must meet minimum qualifications when hired, not through a promise of a degree or coursework to be completed after the hire.

The part-time applicant that I was attempting to hire through equivalency was enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program, so his transcripts demonstrated that he had completed the coursework sufficient to meet minimum qualifications for the general education requirements. Furthermore, this applicant had also been self-employed for fifteen years, so he could have also used his work experience to help prove his equivalency in some areas on general education. He could demonstrate his English skills by submitting examples of written work he had created for his business, such as work contracts, employee handbooks, and other legal matters that may have involved research and critical thinking skills. He could demonstrate his math skills by producing his own bookkeeping records and other documents from the automotive field, such as computational analyses and records involving electrical work. Any such application for equivalency should be based on documented success in using the skills in question, not simply on the assumption that because one has worked in a field one has such knowledge.  My applicant was thus able to prove his qualifications were equivalent to the minimum qualifications.

I learned along the way that the same process for equivalency is used for part-time or full-time faculty, whether as part of a regular hiring cycle or in emergency hire situations. No shortcuts are allowed. All community college faculty must exemplify the qualities of a college educated person. General education preparation is therefore critical.  In addition, a faculty member cannot be deemed equivalent to teach a single course; if an applicant is approved to teach in a discipline, he or she is approved to teach all courses in that discipline. This mandate is dictated by Education Code §87359.

The local use of equivalencies is an especially important tool for ensuring sufficient numbers of qualified applicants for faculty positions in the CTE disciplines.  Therefore, districts must make every effort to make the equivalency process accessible and understandable for applicants.  This clarity can be achieved by posting the local equivalency policy process on websites in easily accessible ways and by providing clear explanations to applicants regarding what equivalency is and why they may or may not need to apply for equivalency.  The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges also provides a number of helpful resources that provide guidance about minimum qualifications and equivalency. At the end of the day, any applicant who attempts to pursue equivalency, or any department chair looking to hire someone through this process, should become familiar with the district’s policy and should work with the local academic senate and equivalency committee to ensure that the applicant meets Education Code and Title 5 requirements and has the proper material required to prove equivalency.

[1] Equivalence to the Minimum Qualifications, adopted Spring 2016 by the ASCCC and available at http://asccc.org/publications/academic-senate-papers.  The current Disciplines List can be found in the Chancellor’s Office publication Minimum Qualifications for Faculty and Administrators in California Community Colleges and can also be accessed through the ASCCC Disciplines List website at http://asccc.org/disciplines-list.