Fall 2009 Referred Resolutions – Revising the 50% Law and Response to AB 440: “Transfer Degree”

Academic Senate Vice President

Resolutions are referred for many reasons – much of the time resolutions are referred because the delegates believe the Academic Senate needs to have a position, yet the resolution being considered requires more work or more time is needed before an informed vote can be made. Most of the time such delays are warranted and allow for resolutions to be both perfected and appropriately considered. There were some noteworthy referrals made during our Fall Plenary. In one instance, the referral option was clearly the best solution. In the other, referral may have been the option selected due to general confusion – as opposed to a desire for an improved resolution or more time to consider. There are times when action is needed – not delay. And this may have been one of them.

The award for the most-warranted referral goes to our numerous resolutions on the 50% law (6.02, 6.03, 6.04, 6.05, and 6.05.01). It is easy to lose sight of what happened during the choreographed chaos of Saturday – always lively and with unpredictable moments of levity. Looking back now it is interesting to note that there were nine referrals– and that all pertain to just two topics. The numerous resolutions on the 50% law (in simplest terms, requiring that 50% of general fund dollars be spent on classroom instruction) were introduced to ensure a healthy discussion of the topic. No longer was the 50% law merely something that troubled those who are excluded from the 50% calculations. The resolution suggesting that we abolish the 50% law as “Life without the 50% Law would allow for honest discussions about planning and budget to better foster student success” (referred resolution 6.02) ensured that ALL faculty would exhibit the appropriate concern about the 50% law – and sparked vigorous discussions about finding a means of improving it. While developing a modified version of the 50% law that maintains current funding levels for instruction, removes disincentives for funding student services activities, ensures some minimal level of funding for faculty who support student learning in a non-classroom environment, and removes the current artificial divide between faculty engaging in different functions is not simple, it is worth our efforts. And even before Saturday morning a majority of delegates were probably aware that the numerous resolutions (four resolutions and one amendment) were likely to be referred as a group and without discussion – and there was a clear consensus that this was the right thing to do. Our positions on the 50% law are numerous and clear – we have our well-established positions – and there is time to explore alternatives. The resolutions on this topic were “Referred to the Executive Committee to research the data, craft a new resolution that considers the ideas included in all of the referred resolutions and our previous position in resolution 8.04 S01 and bring back to the Spring 2010 Plenary Session.”

The discussion that preceded the referral of resolution 4.03, “Response to AB 440: ‘Transfer Degree’”, suggested that the referral may have been a consequence of a lack of understanding or, perhaps, a desire for more local discussion. This resolution proposed that the Academic Senate support a change in Title 5 that would permit colleges to award an associate degree in a major or area of emphasis designated “for transfer” (e.g., “Psychology for Transfer”) to students who complete a degree based on a locally defined major or area of emphasis that meets the requirements of transfer institutions and a transfer general education pattern. And, if a college opts to offer such a degree (i.e., a degree entitled “X for Transfer”), then additional local graduation requirements must be waived. This was a strategic proposition that would not mandate any local changes (unless, by chance, a college had degrees entitled “X for transfer”), but would explicitly permit colleges to do something that they already may do. In other words, the proposed permissive language would permit what is already permitted. So why was it written? The resolution was a strategic move intended to aid in preventing legislation of our degree requirements – as almost happened last summer. What was evident in the discussion was that there was concern about and opposition to putting the content of our degrees in the hands of legislators instead of faculty – as would be expected. The discussion also suggested that the purpose of the resolution and its impact were not well-understood. The goal was to move forward with implementing Title 5 language, working with our Chancellor’s Office, that would introduce permissive language regarding degrees – the language that was in AB 440 in July and was supported by our Chancellor’s Office. Moving forward with such Title 5 changes would increase the likelihood that we would have our Chancellor’s support should there be further attempts to place our degree requirements into law.

AB 440 is not dead (although the bill number and author may change) and legislative interest in its intent reportedly persists. If we are lucky, it will either not be re-introduced or will be resurrected without changes – unfortunately calling for the placement of a degree in Education Code, but remaining permissive in nature and recognizing our basic degree structure. If we are not lucky, it could revert back to its earlier form and mandate some new form of degree. In addition to the threat to local control, one critical concern with legislated degrees is this: how do we meet accreditation standards with respect to learning outcomes if we are not designing our own degrees? When AB 440 was first introduced it intended to permit degrees to be offered when a student had completed 60 semester units and met “the minimum requirements for transfer to the California State University or the University of California”. In other words, permitting colleges to offer degrees based on the completion of requirements that were not locally defined. The language of the resolution was quite different – and was consistent with what AB 440 proposed after countless hours working with the sponsor and author. Resolution 4.03 and its clarifying amendment 4.03.01 (below) were permissive – explicitly introducing an option to colleges that they already have (emphasis added):

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges work with the Chancellor’s Office to change Title 5 regulations such that colleges would be permitted to award an associate degree in a major or area of emphasis designated “for transfer” (e.g., “Psychology for Transfer”) to students who complete at least 60 transferable semester units including a minimum of 18 semester units in a major or area of emphasis that meet the requirements of transfer institutions and a transfer general education pattern, and require the colleges that choose to offer such a degree do not impose any additional local graduation requirements.

Why would we seek language in Title 5 that states something that we can already do? This idea was proposed as a means to prevent the same language – or more intrusive language – from being placed into Education Code (law) by legislation. While we objected to degrees going into law, AB 440, as voted on in July 2009, respected local authority over degrees and their requirements as it was permissive and acknowledged our basic degree structure. Our Chancellor’s Office supported the bill and, with the proposed Title 5 language moving forward, would have been more likely to join us in opposing other legislated interference. Earlier versions of AB 440 did not recognize local authority over degrees - or our basic degree structure - and moved quickly through the legislative process with minimal opposition – even though the language said little. Here is what AB 440 proposed as of February 24, 2009:

66745. A community college district may grant an associate in arts degree in transfer studies to a student meeting both of the following requirements:
(a) Completes a minimum of 60 semester units.
(b) Meets the minimum requirements for transfer to the California State University or the University of California.
66746. (a) A degree granted pursuant to this article shall recognize the completion of lower division general education requirements.
(b) A degree granted pursuant to this article does not guarantee admission to any institution.

The bill and its history can be obtained at http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/Bills/AB_440/. The language of the bill when it was voted on in July (and narrowly failed due to reasons too complex for this brief overview) differed greatly from this earlier version – and while far less problematic, it did place language regarding the components of our degrees into Education Code. Given the often stated need for California to have more citizens with degrees, this is a most troubling proposal. How can we ensure the integrity and quality of our degrees if we are not determining what they consist of? If explicitly placing a degree option in Title 5 prevents legislated degree options or mandates, aren’t we better served? The Title 5 language alluded to in resolutions 4.03 and 4.03.01 was intended to prevent legislated changes in our degrees, to ensure that what you do at your college can remain as it is, and to explicitly permit degrees containing the words “for transfer” in the title if you are willing to require that such degrees require a transfer general education pattern and local graduation requirements are not imposed.

Hopefully this second group of referred resolutions will prompt local discussions about degrees and their requirements. Has your college developed a variety of degrees that will really “work” for students? While colleges have introduced many new degrees (see “Transfer Degree Déjà Vu” in this Rostrum), have colleges considered whether or not they are creating undue barriers to degree completion for students who are preparing for transfer? While we wait and see how others might legislate changes in our degrees, why not take the time to consider what we are currently doing? Should there be a relationship between local degree requirements and the coursework needed for transfer? Of course – that should be obvious. Degrees should be designed with the needs of students in mind, as well as informed by the expertise of local discipline faculty.

While new legislation may emerge that is intended to increase degree completion, we should be considering this ourselves. How do we increase degree completion? We, as faculty, should consider what we can do to help our students reach all of their goals and ensure that we are not creating obstacles to degree completion. This should entail in-depth conversations about the components of the degree – with a focus on any local requirements and their justification. If requirements exist for the sole purpose of filling classes, are we serving our students and spending the State’s dollars wisely? As this is a time when we are being forced to cut classes and re-think our offerings, why not take a look at your degrees? Are student easily able to understand what is needed to transfer AND earn a degree? Does a student need a higher degree to even identify what it takes to get a degree? These are local questions with local answers – questions that need to be asked and answered in as many as 110 different ways.