Accrediting agency says generic degrees not necessary

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District believes removing concentrations is in students’ best interest when transferring.

By Bleah B. Patterson

According to correspondence between Chancellor Bruce Leslie and Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, removing concentrations from degrees isn’t necessary and the district should interpret the accrediting agency’s policies in the best interest of each of the Alamo Colleges.

On Sept. 26, Leslie sent a letter to Wheelan requesting clarification of several agency policies that seemed to inhibit the district’s right to continue offering concentrations on degrees.

The change drew negative feedback from faculty and students.

The change will remove concentrations from diplomas for associate of arts and science degrees for students who enrolled in the Alamo Colleges for the first time this semester.

In previous Ranger articles, Leslie, trustees and administrators insisted the change was necessary because the five colleges are not in compliance with SACSCOC’s policies.

The letter’s intent, Leslie said, was to clarify SACSCOC’s policies to see if the generic degrees were the best option or even necessary.

“Last year, three of the colleges … began discussions and plans for completing the required compliancy report for their SACSCOC reaffirmation cycle in 2016. In gathering information from the individual SACSCOC liaisons … there were discussions about the ‘majors’ in the A.A. and A.S. programs,” Leslie wrote.

The letter continued, “ … there is no major that would require full compliance with SACSOC requirements, we believe we must transcript the completion … without listing an Alamo Colleges’ major on the transcript or diploma.”

Leslie cited SACSCOC and Texas Higher Educating Coordinating Board guidelines.

According to THECB policy 2.7.1 a two-year degree cannot require more than 60 credit hours, and 42 of those hours must be core hours with “additional transfer hours” no more than 18.

And according to SACSCOC requirements, 18 of additional study hours are too few for a major.

Many Texas bachelor’s degrees require a concentration of 30-60 hours for a major.

“Therefore, the Alamo Colleges now perceives … degrees are pathways to the four-year degrees and not degrees with a declared major,” Leslie wrote.

Leslie ended the letter requesting feedback on the “efficiency” of the decision.

District officials have not released Wheelan’s response to the letter, but Dr. Jo-Carol Fabianke, vice chancellor for academic success, and student trustee Jacob Wong confirmed that a response was received.

“They basically told us it was up to us to make a decision about everything. What SACSCOC does is they offer guidelines, but they don’t give clear directions,” Fabianke said.

Wong said it seems the agency has left its policies up for interpretation, and instead has encouraged the district to do what’s best for the colleges.

This would mean generic degrees are not necessary and concentrations could remain on printed degrees and on transcripts.

Fabianke said the district still thinks it is in a student’s best interest not to classify majors so the transfer process is smoother.

“Our hope is to solve the issue,” she said.

The issue the chancellor and administrators have consistently stated is requiring classes that do not transfer to a four-year university as part of a degree plan.

“The new advising will be based on transferring, and all of the unrest that came with those extra 18 hours — whether or not they would transfer — and the assurance students have that their core will transfer, will be bridged,” Fabianke said.

The administration is working on integrating new advising models gradually over the next few semesters.

“Once we get over the initial angst of change, I know students will see that it’s beneficial,” she said.

Students who enrolled in the Alamo Colleges before fall 2014 will not be affected by the degree change, but unless changes are made in the future, all subsequent students will not see concentrations on their degrees if they are enrolled in associate of art or science degree plans.

“We want to be as diligent as we can about making sure courses transfer,” Fabianke said.

“The decision hasn’t been made yet, though,” Wong said. “They’ve been working on it for a long time, and they’re still in the process. Each of the board members is seeking more information independently to decide if this is what’s best for students.”

The Ranger is waiting on a list of courses from Fabianke’s office that transfer to five local universities.


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