Got Associate Degree Equivalency Guidelines?

April
2013
Joseph Bielanski, Standards, Equity, Access, and Practices Committee
Michelle Grimes-Hillman, Standards, Equity, Access, and Practices Committee

At the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges’ 2011 Spring Plenary Session, Resolution 10.11 “Associate Degree Equivalency Guidelines” for hiring faculty to teach was passed. This resolution reminded us that many local districts and colleges struggle in some disciplines with determining equivalency to the minimum qualifications for an associate degree and that eminence and equivalence to general education and general education coursework is a real and challenging issue for California community college faculty across the state.

In addressing this dilemma, Resolution 10.11 directed the Academic Senate to “produce a process of consultation similar to the biannual disciplines proposal process leading to guidelines for locally establishing standards with suitable criteria for determining equivalencies to the associate degree” and to “present proposed guidelines for locally establishing standards with suitable criteria for determining equivalencies, including model practices … by the Fall 2013 Plenary Session.” In responding to this directive, the Senate’s Standards, Equity, Access, and Practices (SEAP) committee prepared and distributed a survey in Spring 2012 regarding colleges’ policies and guidelines for determining equivalency for the associate degree. Due to a very low response rate to the initial survey, in Fall 2012 districts were asked to submit any established policies and guidelines for determining equivalency for the associate degree to the Academic Senate office. Out of 72 districts, only five districts responded.

In an attempt to address the second part of resolution 10.11, this article will present the locally determined guidelines of the five districts for establishing equivalencies to the associate degree. These examples may provide some possible options for colleges struggling to establish local guidelines and procedures. In some cases the examples highlighted set the bar higher than the minimum required in Title 5 §53410(d)1. The examples featured in this article only focus on guidelines for establishing equivalence for disciplines in which a Master’s or other specific degrees are not generally expected or available. This category generally contains career technical educational (CTE) disciplines where the minimum qualifications are any bachelor’s or associate’s degree, and unless otherwise noted, the professional experience required (two years and bachelor’s or six years and associate’s) must be directly related to the faculty member's teaching assignment. Additionally, the examples provided from the five districts were not closely scrutinized to determine whether they contradict any positions held by the Academic Senate nor were any evaluative judgments made concerning the examples themselves. The presentation of these examples is intended for discussion and consideration purposes only and the examples highlighted should not be taken as endorsed practices by the Academic Senate. Individual districts or colleges must determine their own local policies and procedures for establishing equivalencies to the associate degree that are compliant with Educational Code and Title 5.

District One

District One requires 24-semester units of general education coursework, with no requirement that each general education area be completed. It requires no verification that mathematics, reading, and composition standards are reached. Furthermore, District One requires that six years of work experience be comprised of actual employment in the discipline, not teaching experience. District One chooses to consider “some related experience required to balance course work” specific to the discipline, and “equivalencies for faculty teaching in disciplines that do not require the master’s degree may utilize some combination of units, licensure or certification, and related occupational experience.”

 

District One does not use eminence, “as it is impossible to adequately define how eminent is eminent enough.”

District Two

District Two requires that each applicant requesting equivalency must be in “possession of the equivalent in level of achievement and breadth, depth of understanding, and rigor” for general education required for the associate degree and coursework required for the major.

 

The standard that District Two lists for an associate degree’s equivalency is “sixty semester units, including a core of General Education courses that would be recognized by an accredited associate degree granting institution, PLUS six years of full time or equivalent work experience in the discipline of assignment, or Recognized licensure or certification in the discipline of assignment PLUS six years of full time or equivalent work experience in the discipline of assignment.” The materials District Two submitted did not state whether “work experience” includes teaching experience.

District Two also provides criteria for the equivalent of required professional experience as “Mastery of the skills of the vocation thorough enough for the proposed specific assignment and broad enough to serve as a basis for teaching the other courses in the discipline” and “Extensive and diverse knowledge of the working environment of the vocation.”

Lastly, District Two does recognize eminence, which is “verifiable eminence in the discipline of assignment, defined as superior knowledge and skill in a discipline in which this district offers instruction. The superior knowledge and skill is determined in comparison with the generally accepted standard of achievement, measured by recognized authorities, as identified by faculty in the discipline.” District Two’s determination of eminence is also for the entire discipline. “When someone is granted equivalency, it is within an entire discipline, as opposed to a single course; therefore someone who is granted equivalency through eminence should demonstrate that eminence in the discipline as a whole.”

District Three

District Three’s guidelines are similar to those of District Two insomuch as District Three requires that all candidates possess “the equivalent in level of achievement and in breadth, depth of understanding, and rigor [with] a broad cultural education, usually met by the General Education requirement for any bachelor’s or associate’s degree, [and] a detailed study of the discipline in breadth, depth, and rigor, usually met by course work required for the degree major.”

For District Three, in order to ensure that candidates have a “Formal Education Equivalent to the Associate’s Degree,” candidates must have “at least 60 semester units, including 18 semester units representing a diversity of courses generally accepted as general education.”

District Three further requires that candidates possess “mastery of the skills of the vocation thorough enough to teach the courses assigned to the discipline and extensive and diverse knowledge of the working environment of the vocation” when determining equivalence to work experience. District Three’s procedures do not address eminence.

District Four

District Four’s equivalency process states that “a combination of course work and work experience in the field may be combined in order to meet the minimum qualifications” in vocational areas.

District Four is very specific in how it combines coursework and work experience:

  • 45 semester units and 8 years of experience
  • 30 semester units and 10 years of experience
  • 15 semester units and 12 years of experience
  • 0-14 semester units and 15 years of experience

Candidates are required to provide a statement and evidence showing mastery of the skills of the vocation with the minimum number of years of experience required and transcripts documenting the minimum number of semester units required. General education course work does not appear to be part of District Four’s criteria.

As for eminence, District Four requires that the “candidate must provide verifiable eminence in the field, plus conclusive evidence of the ability to teach effectively at the community college level. The candidate must provide clear and preponderant evidence of understanding the principles of teaching and he/she possesses the skills necessary to teach effectively at the community college level.” Furthermore, the criteria used to demonstrate eminence includes evidence of “prominence and celebrity … established by the specific industry and/or community at large. This shall include appropriate state, national, and/or international associations, trade unions, guilds, or communities comprised of experts who are themselves renowned in the specific field and who can attest in writing to the equivalency, but must be accompanied by adequate evidence of the applicant’s knowledge and ability to teach effectively at the community college level.”

District Five

District Five is similar to District Two’s and District Three’s requirements for semester units and work experience for faculty teaching in vocational disciplines that do not require the master's degree:

  • 120 semester units and two years of occupational experience in the discipline, or
  • 60 semester units and six years of occupational experience in the discipline, or
  • 30 semester units or industrial certification and eight years of occupational experience in the discipline.

District Five requires that candidates applying for employment in CTE disciplines must “include how both general education and specialization are met. The applicant must provide evidence of attaining coursework or experience equal to the general education component of a regular associate or bachelor’s degree.”

District Five allows for teaching experience in the discipline or related discipline on a year-for-year basis to be a substitute for work experience. Additionally, District Five requires vocational discipline candidates to “demonstrate a competency in the current technology of that discipline.”

District Five notes that in rare cases, the district will consider equivalencies based upon eminence. District Five’s procedure states that requests for equivalency based upon eminence are considered on a case-by-case basis and each candidate is responsible for providing evidence to support the claim that each of the following criteria has been met.

  • The discipline’s full-time faculty must reach consensus with regards to the recommendation for this equivalency.
  • The candidate must be nationally recognized for her or his contribution to the subject matter of the discipline.
  • The candidate’s contribution to the subject matter of the discipline must span a sufficient range of the diversity of topics within the discipline to constitute a full equivalence to the minimum qualifications for the discipline and not merely a constitutive portion of the subject matter covered by the discipline.
  • The candidate must demonstrate a breath of knowledge equivalent to the General Education requirements established by the requisite degrees required by the Minimum Qualifications set by the Board of Governors.

Conclusion

Given the variety and diversity of guidelines for determining equivalency to the minimum qualifications for an associate degree, as demonstrated by these five districts, developing a single set of universal guidelines that could be used by every California community college district and college may be impractical. However, the equivalency procedures provided by the five districts do remind us that equivalency criteria should be established in advance of hiring procedures. Equivalency procedures and criteria should be well documented and standardized by each institution so that fair, consistent, and equitable practices are followed and that each candidate is well aware of the equivalency requirements. Furthermore, districts and colleges should maintain compelling documentation and recordkeeping to prevent difficulties that could occur from long standing employment based solely on equivalency.

In summary, the following recommendations should be considered when establishing policies, guidelines, or standards for determining equivalency to the minimum qualifications for an associate degree:

  • Recognize that general education courses and specialized course work in the major are two distinct components and each should be addressed separately in equivalency procedures;
  • Consider requiring general education coursework or experience that mirrors coursework in general education areas such that specific competencies outlined in the associate degree are met or at the very least represent a diversity of general education;
  • Consider how your institution can balance and justify the number of “units” to meet general education and course work for the major that are equivalent to an associate’s degree requirement of at least 60 units, including at least 18 units required for the major and at least 18 units required for general education;
  • Consider criteria requiring that documentation of skills in the CTE discipline are thorough enough for candidates to teach all courses assigned to the discipline and that these skills are equal to those found in the degree major;
  • Determine the appropriateness of additional work experience that might account for specialized course work in lieu of a degree or the appropriateness of additional work experience that might meet general education;
  • Use eminence only in rare cases and never as the sole criterion for hiring. The Academic Senate holds the position that eminence may no longer be used as the sole criterion to qualify faculty when evaluating minimum qualifications during the faculty hiring process (Resolution 10.01 S09 “Eliminate Eminence as the Sole Criterion for Meeting Minimum Qualifications”); and
  • Consider the appropriateness in using teaching experience as a form of professional occupational experience when considering equivalency (see Title 5 §53404).2

Finally, all faculty are encouraged to review the Academic Senate paper Equivalence to the Minimum Qualifications. (http://www.asccc.org/Publications/Papers/Equivalence_2006.html). This paper provides recommendations that are still relevant and useful for establishing local policy and procedures.


1. §53410(d) “For faculty assigned to teach courses in disciplines where the master’s degree is not generally expected or available, and where a related bachelor's or associate degree is not generally expected or available, possession of either: (1) any bachelor's degree or equivalent foreign degree plus two years of professional experience directly related to the faculty member's teaching assignment; or (2) any associate degree or equivalent foreign degree plus six years of professional experience directly related to the faculty member's teaching assignment.”

2. §53404. Definition of Experience. Where years of professional or occupational experience are referred to in this Subchapter, the requirement is for the stated number of years of full-time experience or the equivalent in part-time experience. Unpaid experience may be counted if it entailed responsibilities substantially similar to those of relevant paid positions in the field. Applicants bear the responsibility for verifying all experience by documentation satisfactory to the districts. As used in this Subchapter, “professional experience” includes teaching experience. “Occupational experience” does not include teaching experience.

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