Equivalency processes and policies throughout the California community colleges vary widely, as they are locally determined. However, because a variety of methods of equivalency evaluation practices exist, potential candidates for faculty positions sometimes encounter barriers in navigating the system.
Evaluating local equivalency processes through an equity-minded lens addresses the why and the what colleges could do and how they could take action to ensure a diverse faculty. Establishing and communicating a clear equivalency process that is posted on the college’s website and other front-facing candidate informational pages is an opportunity to build a representative pool of applicants from diverse backgrounds. Equivalency processes should not be a barrier or an obstacle for any candidate seeking a faculty position.
What is equivalency and are colleges required to do it?
Policies regarding faculty hiring are encompassed within academic and professional matters, and academic senates have the purview of contributing to the development of the policies and standards determining qualifications for faculty applicants. California Education Code §87359 (b) requires that “[t]he 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.” The same Education Code section states that every district must have an equivalency process to meet the minimum qualifications for hiring in a discipline. Colleges should have a clear and available equivalency process that identifies a way an applicant for faculty employment is at least equivalent to the stated discipline requirements noted in the Minimum Qualifications for Faculty and Administrators in California Community Colleges, also known as the “Disciplines List. (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2020).
Equivalency to the minimum qualifications for a discipline can be difficult to determine, as neither Education Code nor Title 5 regulations provide additional guidelines regarding what Education Code §87359 calls “at least equivalent.” However, each district’s governing board, acting on the advice of its academic senate, must establish its own standard for equivalency, ensuring that the standard is not less than the qualifications specified in the Disciplines List (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2020, p.1).
Establishing equivalency through coursework may seem relatively simple, but faculty must use concrete evidence such as transcripts that can be compared to concrete criteria for a degree (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2020, p.1-2). Ensuring that the coursework of a faculty applicant is equal to the coursework required for a master’s degree in a given discipline is vital for those disciplines that require a master’s degree, so the documentation submitted by an applicant should be examined with fidelity to the discipline. Academic senates should be thoughtful about inclusion of discipline faculty in the equivalency determination process. When developing a new area or program, colleges might ask neighboring institutions with discipline experts to assist in reviewing documentation for equivalency.
Equity-minded processes begin with a thoughtful pre-hiring process that ensures the creation of a clear job announcement providing information on the local equivalency process. Such a practice has the potential to welcome a broad range of highly qualified candidates.
However, challenges and often myths or misinformation exist regarding equivalency. For this reason, some clarification and demystification may be helpful:
In recent years, the California community colleges have made some movement in diversifying the faculty; however, significant and transformative change still must happen. The system has traditionally perpetuated sameness and the status quo in the professoriate. As written in the ASCCC position paper Equivalence to the Minimum Qualifications, “Equivalency is a means of broadening applicant pools, which in turn, can promote diversity by providing the opportunity for additional qualified applicants to be considered for faculty positions. Equivalency is an important aspect of equity-minded practices relating to faculty diversification, and as such, it is an important component of the hiring process” (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2020, p.1). Since colleges hire tenure-track faculty who may be serving students for two or three decades, ensuring a diverse pool is valuable, even if doing so means reading a few more applications.
Myth 2: Degrees should have the same exact names to meet equivalency.
The Disciplines List states, "Under each of the disciplines . . . the phrase ‘OR the equivalent’ refers to the possibility of hiring faculty who do not possess the exact [emphasis added] degrees listed, under a local process developed and agreed upon by representatives of the governing board and the Academic Senate." (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2020, p. 21) This passage refers to Education Code §87359, which calls for a local process to provide an opportunity for an applicant to show equivalency to a degree. Applicants should have the opportunity to document and show evidence of degrees aligning with minimum qualifications listed in the Disciplines List.
In addition, the system of meeting minimum qualifications with exact degree names can be cumbersome and is a tremendous challenge for applicants who have earned foreign degrees. For qualified applicants with foreign degrees, the process involves submitting detailed documentation from a professional evaluation agency that shows the U.S. equivalence of the degree. The process of getting an evaluation often takes several months, especially since California Education Code calls for a U.S. accredited institution.
Myth 3: Getting equivalency at one district means you get it at another.
The processes for making equivalency determinations may differ for each district. No single standard process exists that every district must follow; however, the ASCCC paper Equivalence to the Minimum Qualifications (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2020) notes model processes that may help districts and colleges design with equity mindedness. For multi-college districts, decisions may be based on district-wide accepted procedures and standards of evidence but could also vary by individual college.
Myth 4: Equivalency can be granted to teach one course in the discipline.
Some disciplines at colleges faced with a scarcity of faculty have attempted the single course equivalency solution. Although reasons for desiring to circumvent the regulations may stem from understandable difficulties, such problems are no excuse for hiring someone who is not qualified to teach in the discipline. Individuals hired as faculty members, both full-time and part-time, are expected to have the expertise to teach the range of courses in the disciplines for which they were hired.
Education Code §87359 (a) states, “No one may be hired to serve as a community college faculty . . . unless the governing board determines that he or she possesses qualifications that are at least equivalent to the minimum qualifications specified.” Minimum qualifications are determined for disciplines, not for courses or subject areas within disciplines. Legal Opinion L 03- 28 (R. Black, 2004) supports the position that “a district is not authorized to establish a single course equivalency as a substitute for meeting minimum qualifications in a discipline” (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2020, p.3).
Myth 5: Deans and human resource officers have purview over the equivalency process.
Local processes differ by college, but the faculty have purview over the creation of the equivalency process. Administration and human resource office personnel may assist in the process and maintain records of the outcomes and documentation of equivalency requests but do not have the final determination of granting equivalency. An effective practice could be creating an equivalency committee that is a subcommittee or standing committee of the academic senate to ensure that the process is consistent, fair, and determined with input from discipline faculty.
An equitable equivalency process is needed to maintain high standards of teaching at California community colleges, and equity-minded practices need to include providing equitable opportunities for highly qualified diverse faculty. Local academic senates can make the process clearer and more transparent in order to broaden pools of applicants. Such practice is more needed today than ever when professionals wear many hats and are often cross trained in different fields.
Dispelling myths around the equivalency process will encourage applicants from a range of diverse backgrounds to apply for jobs at community colleges, increasing representation of faculty from diverse groups. Multiple research studies state that when students see themselves represented in the faculty who teach them, they are motivated and encouraged to achieve their educational goals. Therefore, equivalency needs to be viewed as an opportunity rather than a gatekeeper in hiring faculty.
Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. (2020). Equivalence to the Minimum Qualifications. https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/EquivalencyF20.pdf.
California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (2020). Minimum Qualifications for Faculty and Administrators in California Community Colleges. https://www.cccco.edu/-/media/CCCCO-Website/About-Us/Divisions/Educational-Services-and-Support/Academic-Affairs/What-we-do/Curriculum-and-Instruction-Unit/Minimum-Qualifications/cccco-2021-report-min-qualifications-a11y.pdf?la=en&hash=AB424D9D2AEDEEBE2A54757BF58ABFC2B852A2F9.
“’Accredited institution’ shall mean a postsecondary institution accredited by an accreditation agency recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation. It shall not mean an institution ‘approved’ by the California Department of Education or by the California Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education” (California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 2020, p. 76).