Untangling the Knots —Minimum Qualifications, Faculty Service Areas, Placing Courses within Disciplines and Other Fun Stuff

Treasurer, ASCCC Standards and Practices Committee Chair

Minimum qualifications are often at the center of diverse and sometimes contentious topics at local colleges, such as assigning faculty service areas (FSAs), the placement of courses within disciplines, assigning TOP codes, and even the taboo practice of granting single-course equivalencies. Ideally, the understanding and application of minimum qualifications at local colleges should be an independent and consistent process, but the reality is that minimum qualifications are too often conflated with other local issues. This article explains the distinctions between faculty minimum qualifications and these other matters.


The determination of faculty minimum qualifications are independent of local processes. To be qualified for service as faculty at a California community college, one must meet the minimum qualifications as established by Title 5 and as listed in the Disciplines List[1]. Faculty must either earn the appropriate degrees and/or complete the required professional service, or they must be granted equivalency by the governing board, prior to being employed in a discipline(s) at a community college. For example, to be considered to teach Spanish courses within the Foreign Languages discipline, applicants must have earned a master’s degree in Spanish, or the equivalent. As another example, to be considered to teach in dental technology, applicants must possess an associate’s degree in any subject and six years of full-time professional experience in dental technology, or the equivalent. If a potential faculty member does not meet the minimum qualifications as stated in Title 5 and the Disciplines List, then the local equivalency process can be used to establish equivalence to the stated minimum qualifications, but that process must occur prior to the hiring of the faculty member. Once a faculty member is deemed qualified and is hired to teach or provide service in a discipline or disciplines, local processes are used to determine to which faculty service area(s) the faculty member is assigned, and what courses that faculty member may teach.


In a word, no. Faculty Service Areas (FSAs) are established solely for reductions in force (RIF) should they occur (Education Code §§87743 through 87743.5), and their determination and application is subject to collective bargaining and are likely located in the local faculty collective bargaining agreement. For example, there are some districts that have only a single FSA, restricting any RIF to strict, senioritybased determination. Where FSAs can be confused with discipline minimum qualifications is when district-assigned FSAs align with the disciplines in the Disciplines List. Here, it is important to note that the FSA itself does not determine one’s minimum qualifications to serve as faculty in a discipline. Too, while Education Code allows faculty to be assigned to multiple FSAs, local unions should consult with local senates about FSAs prior to contract negotiations.


Yes, they can. The placement of courses within disciplines is an academic and professional matter identified under curriculum per Title 5 §53200. Every course must be placed within at least one discipline listed in the Disciplines List. The placement of a course in a discipline is what establishes the minimum qualifications required to teach the course. It is common for curriculum committees to recommend the discipline placements of courses, and it is considered an effective practice to note discipline placements for courses on the course outlines of record (CORs). Furthermore, it is permissible to place courses within multiple disciplines if the curriculum committee determines the content and objectives will serve students taught by faculty trained in those disciplines. For example, English and Reading are identified separately in the Disciplines List; however, placement of English courses in the English discipline and Reading courses in the Reading discipline, or the placement of the courses in both English and Reading remains a local curricular matter. Moreover, should the designation on the course outline of record read “English OR Reading,” then faculty meeting English or Reading minimum qualifications may be assigned to that course.


No, it is not. Sometimes, there is confusion about whether or not placing a specific course in additional disciplines is the same as granting singlecourse equivalency. The Chancellor’s Office issued Legal Opinion L03-28 [2] in 20032 to explain that single-course equivalencies are not legally permitted because faculty are hired to teach all courses placed within a given discipline. The point of the 2003 legal opinion was to state that faculty are hired based on meeting minimum qualifications for a discipline that is listed in the Disciplines List, not based on qualifications to teach specific courses. In a sense, then, the term “singlecourse equivalency” is a misnomer as teaching faculty must meet minimum qualifications for the discipline, as well as the equivalent to teach a single-course. Therefore, all faculty members hired to teach courses in a given discipline are deemed qualified to teach all courses assigned to a given discipline, not just a single course assigned to the discipline. For example, a faculty member hired to teach in the Earth Science discipline, which includes courses in geology, oceanography, and mineralogy courses, is deemed qualified to teach all courses within the discipline. The same principle applies to a course assigned to multiple disciplines. Consider a hypothetical English course that is assigned to both English and Reading. All faculty who explicitly meet the minimum qualifications for either the English or Reading disciplines are qualified to teach the course. Therefore, it is not “single-course equivalency” because it is about a course that is placed within two different disciplines, not about whether or not a specific individual is qualified to teach a course. Equivalency is about the qualifications of a specific individual and whether or not those qualifications are equivalent to the minimum qualifications of the discipline(s) to which a course is assigned, and is treated on a case by case basis.


The Taxonomy of Program (TOP) codes do not dictate the placement o courses within disciplines. The local assignment of TOP codes to courses is a completely separate, unrelated issue as far as the state is concerned. The placement of courses within disciplines and the assignment of courses to TOP codes are locally determined and are only related if a local decision is made to make them related. However, the local assignment of courses to disciplines has no bearing on the reporting of course data to the Chancellor’s Office.


In closing, faculty must meet minimum qualifications in a discipline on the Disciplines List, or must be granted equivalency to the minimum qualifications for a discipline, prior to being hired, after which local processes determine the faculty service area assignment and course assignments. While it is not unusual for minimum qualifications to become entangled with various other local issues, some important points to remember are:

  • Assignments to FSAs are collectively bargained and can vary from district to district, but districts are allowed to assign faculty to multiple FSAs;
  • Assignments to teach courses are a function of the placement of courses within disciplines by the local curriculum committee, and courses may be assigned to a single discipline or multiple disciplines;
  • If a course is assigned to multiple disciplines, then faculty who meet the minimum qualifications for any of the disciplines to which a course is assigned may be assigned to teach that course;
  • Placing a single course within multiple disciplines is not the same as granting single-course equivalency to an individual faculty member;
  • TOP codes do not affect placement of courses within disciplines unless it is locally decided to link course placement within disciplines to TOP codes.

A lack of clarity regarding minimum qualifications can prevent faculty from teaching courses that they would otherwise be qualified to teach, which may not serve our faculty or our students well. Understanding the distinctions between minimum qualifications and the various local issues discussed in this article can help local senate leaders untangle the knots that are often formed at the local level to ensure that well-qualified faculty are teaching courses and that students are well-served.

[1] The Disciplines List is formally called Minimum Qualifications for Faculty and Administrators in the California Community Colleges and is published by the Chancellor’s Office. The 2017 edition is available at http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/Portals/0/Reports/2017-Min…. All of the relevant Title 5 sections on minimum qualifications are included in the Disciplines List publication.
[2] Legal Opinion L03-28 is available at http://extranet.cccco.edu/Portals/1/Legal/Ops/OpsArchive/03-28.pdf.