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Alamo Colleges Changing Associate Degrees To Remove Major

A sign on the campus of St. Philip's College, one of the five community colleges in the Alamo Colleges District.
File Photo | Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
The Welcome Center at St. Philip's College, one of the five Alamo Colleges

The Alamo Colleges are removing major declarations from Associate of the Arts and Science degrees, and the move has some students upset. Administrators say it will make it easier for students to transfer to a four-year institution.

Students are calling the new degrees "generic." New enrollees to the Alamo Colleges for AA or AS degrees will no longer have their concentration (such as English or Biology) printed on the physical certificate. Instead, it will only say Associate of Arts or Associate of Sciences. The concentration will also be removed from transcripts. This has students concerned their degree will have less value. Karen Elliot, president of San Antonio College’s Student Government Association, says most students want to keep their majors on the diplomas.

“They want to make sure what they’re majoring in, what they’re focus is in, what they really care about studying in, is on their transcript and their diploma, so that they can either transfer, go into the workplace, or go somewhere to study and get more experience before they move on their bachelors,” Elliot says.

Jo-Carol Fabianke, Vice Chancellor for Academic Success at Alamo Colleges, explains these types of degrees will now be called a "pre-major."

“There’s a little misunderstanding that we’re saying that 'we’re doing away with majors.' What we want to do is have students that want to transfer. That’s their goal, to get a four degree. To determine what degree they’re going to be seeking at the four-year institution.”

Fabianke says some of this has to do with legislative decision over credit hours, among other external factors. It takes 60 hours to get an associate degree. Forty-two hours are basic classes, and the other 18 are specific to a major. Fabianke says those 18 specific hours didn’t always transfer.

“What we’re finding is each of the transfer institutions have different requirements for their four-year degrees," explains Fabianke. "What we want to focus on is the students taking the core and then the 18 hours that are going to count towards the degree that they’re seeking at the four-year institution.”

Fabianke says the idea is to better tailor degree paths for each student. The change won’t affect Applied Science degrees like automotive or workforce specific programs – those will still have concentrations listed. Another factor playing into this is a cultural shift in degree awards for schools under the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which awards accreditation.

“In Southern Association we know that there are more and more schools going toward what we are talking about, which is trying to ensure that we guiding students towards classes that are going to count,” says Fabianke.

She adds that Lone Star College in Houston and other schools have gone this route.

The pre-major concept is causing issues for students like Adam White. He’s new Palo Alto College student and wants three associate degrees in biology, chemistry, and geology. Under the new degree plans, he won’t be able to do that.

“It’s nice that they told me this six weeks after I paid my tuition and started my classes,” White says. “All summer while I was at the advising office picking my classes and registering, they kept asking me what my major was, helping me pick my classes for my major, not a word about this generic degree. I wouldn’t have wasted my time going there.”

The move wasn’t an Alamo Board of Trustees decision but instead what’s called PVC, or a decision among presidents and vice chancellors. It’s unknown if the board will weigh in.

Although it’s being implemented this semester, it may not be the final answer. The pre-major degrees are still being looked over. But Fabianke says she believes it will stay.

“Now anything is up for some change, but this is where I think community colleges are going,” she said. We don’t have every single piece of this defined and figured out, but we do believe that is probably what’s going to be best for our students.”

She adds it will take work with the faculty to determine which specified classes will be best for each concentration.