Introduction: Why Can't We Get Out in Two Years?

Introduction: Why Can't We Get Out in Two Years?

By Laurie McFarlane

This year, nearly 400 GCC students are expected to receive Associate's degrees. Each May, about half of them choose to don caps and gowns and participate in Glendale Community College's annual Commencement Ceremony. It will be a celebration marking the end of their journey through this "two-year" college.

But the typical Glendale College student doesn't earn a degree in two years. In fact, for the vast majority of this year's graduates, it has been closer to half a decade since they began taking classes here.

Furthermore, the graduates will differ from most Glendale College students because they are leaving with a college degree, albeit a two-year one. Even among the select group of students who complete 60 or more semester units of classes here, many will simply, quietly bypass the Associate degree and transfer to a four-year school.

According to the experts consulted for this article, it has been some 20 years since anyone can remember two years as being the expected time to complete an A.A. or A.S. degree. GCC statistics for the 1993-94 academic year show the median entry to degree time is five years for both A.A. and A.S. students. Prior to that, the median entry to A.A. degree time was four years, and for A.S. degrees it fluctuated between four and five years. These statistics go back to the 1986-87 academic year, and support the idea that lengthy stays by students at Glendale College are nothing new.

There are many reasons why this trend is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon. One is the ever-increasing number of graduation requirements.

Prior to 1991, there were only three degrees offered at GCC: Applied Arts, Humanities and Sciences. Today, there are lengthy lists of Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degree majors to choose from. Dr. Jo Ray McCuen, Evening College Dean and Chair of the Graduation Requirements Committee, points out that as degrees get more specialized, it becomes even more difficult and time-consuming for students to meet the requirements.

This also helps to explain the growing tendency to bypass the Associate degree altogether. Scot Spicer of GCC's Research and Planning Unit also believes that the criteria for degrees enacted in 1991 made it more difficult to fulfill graduation requirements. He thinks this has caused many students to skip the A.A./A.S and concentrate on meeting the requirements for transfer instead.

In a telephone survey done during the Fall 1994 semester, Spicer's office called students who had requested that their transcripts be sent to four-year colleges. Students were asked whether they had obtained a degree from GCC.

"Most said no, it wasn't worth their time since there were too many requirements that didn't transfer," Spicer said. "The CSU and UC systems don't count some of the specialized classes as anything but General Ed."

Spicer said that the A.A.'s loss of importance in the workplace is another reason for the declining number of two-year degrees. He quoted Los Angeles district statistics which state there were 9,000 degrees given in 1978-79. The number steadily declined until1987-88 when it was 5,500. Since then, it has flattened out. The Associate's degree is no longer the career-starter it once was, according to Spicer.

In fact, the trend for non-transfer students is toward occupational certificates. "The explosion in certificates shows it's specialized skills that get you a job," he said.

The Graduation Requirements Committee will meet later this month to discuss (and perhaps change) the graduation requirements at GCC. McCuen said some members hope the Associate's degree requirements can be changed to match the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) and Cal State breadth requirements. That way, a student will be able to obtain an Associate degree and be ready to transfer at the same time.

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