Redefining the Associate Degree

December
2006
Mark Wade Lieu, Associate Degree Task Force Chair

Following on the work of the Associate Degree Task Force and responses to the Fall 2006 associate degree survey, six resolutions concerning the associate degree were presented for consideration at the Fall 2006 Plenary Session. Resolutions that would have further defined the associate degree failed. While survey responses and general debate seemed to support clarifying the difference between the associate of arts and associate of science degrees, delegates wanted examples of clarifying language before voting to ask for Title 5 changes. The Task Force plans to work on such language for presentation in the spring for further discussion.

Two of the resolutions put before the delegates concerned associate degrees where IGETC or CSU GE Breadth comprised the area of emphasis for the degree, one in support of and one opposed to such degrees. In the end, the plenary body voted to oppose such degrees:

"Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges oppose the use of IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth as the sole basis for the area of emphasis for the associate degree; and "Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges support interpretation of Title 5 that prohibits the use of IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth as the sole basis for the area of emphasis for the associate degree."

The question that senate presidents, curriculum committees, and counselors have now is what happens to the large number of approved degrees that colleges are currently offering which are based on IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth.

The System Office has already put in place a moratorium on new degrees based solely on IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth, awaiting further direction from the Academic Senate. Now that the Senate has taken a position, it is likely that new degrees based solely on IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth will no longer be permitted. Existing degrees based solely on IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth will not be abolished overnight. However, such degrees will probably be disapproved when they come up for periodic review by the System Office.

One point that needs to be emphasized is that the Academic Senate is not opposed to using IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth to fulfill the general education component of an associate degree. What the passage of this resolution affirms is that the Academic Senate believes that an associate degree must have an area of emphasis in addition to a general education pattern.

With this in mind, the Academic Senate Associate Degree Task Force will now work to provide guidance to colleges in reviewing their degrees based on IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth with the purpose of bringing them into compliance with Title 5 55806, which specifies that a degree program must include at least 18 semester or 27 quarter units in a single discipline or related disciplines. Given the complexity of this issue, some colleges that have degrees based on IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth may find they are already in compliance; IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth is central to their degree, but beyond the requirements of these general education patterns, the colleges already require units in a focused pattern that provides an area of emphasis.

An area of emphasis is commonly thought of as a focus in a single discipline, but as Title 5 states, an area of emphasis can be more broadly interpreted to encompass a group of related disciplines under a single heading such as the humanities or the social sciences.

What is important here is that the degree includes an area of emphasis beyond the general education pattern and not just a loose collection of electives to make up the total units required for a degree.

Two other resolutions were also approved which have application here. First, the body supported the discontinuance of the term "transfer" in degree titles as potentially misleading to students. Many degrees using IGETC and/or CSU GE Breadth are targeted to the needs of potential transfer students and have used the word "transfer" in their titles. However, this term has caused great confusion for students, leading many to believe that such degrees guaranteed transfer when in fact they did not. Second, the body supported a change to Title 5 such that students must achieve at a minimum a grade of C in courses in the area of emphasis for a degree, rather than the current interpretation of satisfactory completion (Title 5 55806) as an average grade of C (Title 5 55801).

These are significant changes in how colleges will need to look at their degrees. The Academic Senate believes that its resolutions and continuing work are consistent with support for the philosophy of the associate degree described in Title 5 55805(a), a philosophy which is central to the meaning and the value of the degrees that we offer as community colleges.

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