Individualized Program Design: Associate Degrees Policy

Individualized Program Design: Associate Degrees Policy


Academic Affairs


Provost, Academic Affairs





Effective Date:


Implementation History:

Revised: May 2019; May 2003; March 2000; February 1996


Degree Design, Degree Program Planning, Individualized Degree Programs, Individu­alized Program Design

Background Information:


This policy describes Empire State University's educational objective for associate degrees. Procedural aspects of degree program design and evaluation are described in greater detail in Empire State University's policies and procedures governing degree programs and advanced standing. (from original policy)



Educational Objectives

Empire State University offers students the opportunity to earn the Associate in Arts or the Associate in Science degree by developing individualized degree programs which are responsive to student needs and interests and to the university's educational objectives. Empire State University associate degree programs can help students pursue broad, foundation learning upon which future studies may be developed, explore several areas of potential interest, develop learning in a particular field of study, or acquire those competencies which enhance their overall education.

Degree expectations for each student are formalized through the drafting, submission and approval of an individualized degree program. The university does not set subject matter distribution requirements in advance for its students. Rather, as each degree program emerges in the course of educational planning discussions with university faculty and other appropriate experts, distinct learning requirements based on the student's needs become clear. The requirements for each degree are different in the sense that they reflect each student's educational goals; they are similar in the sense that they address the university's overall degree expectations for the associate degree.

All students at Empire State University are expected to develop their skills in reading, speaking, and writing so that they may do these clearly, correctly, and effectively. The university also expects students to acquire mathematical, technical, language or other skills that may be essential to their particular programs of study. The university expects all students, whatever studies they undertake, to gain a basic knowledge of the facts, theories and methods appropriate to those studies.

Students are further expected to develop analytical skills and to make evaluations based on appropriate criteria. In addition, the university expects students to learn how to study independently, to improve their intellectual skills by pursuing studies in a number of areas, and to increase their ability to work creatively in the fields they enter.

Degree Designations

In order to earn an associate degree, students must complete a degree program consisting of 64 credits, including up to 40 credits of advanced standing. Individualized degree program planning takes place within the context of broad degree expectations established by the State University of New York and the New York State Board of Regents. These expectations differ depending upon the type of degree the student wishes to earn. Empire State University offers two associate degrees:

  • Associate in Arts
  • Associate in Science

Since Empire State University does not offer the A.A.S. (Associate in Applied Science) and A.O.S. (Associate in Occupational Studies), specialized vocational concentrations normally studied in such programs in the State University of New York may be inappropriate for the A.A. and A.S. degrees.

The main differences between the requirements for the Associate in Arts and the Associate in Science degrees are the minimum amount of liberal arts and sciences and the maximum amount of applied, professional-vocational learning contained in the degree program.

  • The Associate in Arts designation requires a degree program containing at least 75 percent liberal studies.
  • The Associate in Science designation requires a degree program containing at least 50 percent liberal studies.

The terms liberal studies and applied, professional-vocational learning are defined in the following manner:

  • Liberal studies enhance the abilities of men and women to understand, to judge, to communicate and to take action with each other about the nature, quality and conditions of their lives. Learning that meets this definition generally tends to have strong theoretical and conceptual content. Fields of study traditionally included within the liberal arts — humanities, mathematics, natural and physical sciences, social sciences, and the creative arts — fall within the present definition. Other subjects when studied with appropriate theoretical and conceptual content meet this definition.
  • Learning not considered liberal arts and sciences focuses primarily on specialized knowledge and skills within a professional-vocational framework rather than on the theoretical and conceptual learning from which the specialized knowledge and skills were derived. Such learning is often related to specific professional-vocational needs and practices.
  • Students have the responsibility for initially identifying the liberal arts and sciences and applied learning in their degree programs. Within the general requirements, the final determination of the proportion of liberal arts and sciences to applied learning rests with the faculty. The student's educational objectives and the stated objectives of learning contracts and other degree program components help to determine the degree classification.

Degree Program Titles

Students who wish to focus on a particular area may wish to supply a title for their chosen focus. Degree program titles are subject to faculty and administrative review based on whether the title accurately reflects the program's content. Students who do not wish to focus their associate degrees but who wish to explore several areas of study or to develop broad intellectual competencies may use the title "liberal arts and sciences" or "interdisciplinary studies" as appropriate. Whatever the degree program title, it must not reflect a professional licensure area not registered at Empire State University and it must fall within one of the areas of study in which the university is authorized to offer programs: The Arts; Business, Management, and Economics; Community and Human Services; Cultural Studies; Educational Studies; Historical Studies; Human Development; Labor Studies (the curriculum in labor studies is offered at Empire State University's Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies in New York City); Science, Mathematics and Technology; Social Science (formerly Social Theory, Social Structure, and Change); and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Degree Program Design

Associate degree programs should possess a coherent structure reflecting both the student's individual educational goals and general university expectations. Some students may design a degree program emphasizing the development of a broad range of intellectual skills and competencies in keeping with the university's educational objectives; other students may wish to explore several areas of interest to help them decide on a future bachelor's concentration. Some students may have a clear focus for their program of studies, and their degree programs will reflect that focus. Other students will develop degree programs in foundational studies to prepare for future work in that area.

In designing degree programs with a focus, students may choose to utilize one of the five organizing frameworks which the university offers:

  • Disciplinary.
  • Interdisciplinary.
  • Problem Oriented.
  • Professional-Vocational.
  • Thematic.

In the disciplinary mode the student should be guided by the existing framework of a discipline (sociology, biology, philosophy, etc.). Disciplinary programs at the associate degree level should focus on broad surveys of the discipline and explore its relationship to other disciplines, general societal issues, themes, professions, etc. An interdisciplinary program should combine learning from several disciplines and consider their interrelationship. Problem-oriented programs should be organized around a problem (the quest for justice or providing jobs for all people); they draw upon insights from several disciplines and may, of course, include research and field study. The thematic differs from the problem-oriented mode in the sense that the student is seeking an understanding of how and why a particular theme appears repeatedly in human experience rather than seeking a solution to a problem. Degree programs organized around a professional-vocational interest will include introductory studies in appropriate disciplines, appropriate professional-vocational studies, and broad studies such as the role of the professional in that career and the relationship between the profession and society at large.

Advanced Standing

University assessment policies and individualized degree programs permit students to combine in their programs learning from a variety of sources and settings. The maximum advanced standing that can be requested and awarded toward the A.A. and A.S. degrees is 40 credits. Advanced standing based on transcripts and advanced standing based on evaluated work and life learning may be combined in any proportion. The entire program, however, must meet the university's educational objectives for associate degrees and the liberal arts and sciences requirements for the degree designation the student seeks.

AA AS General Studies Program

An exemption to the university's residency requirements was passed by college senate in May 2019. The purpose of passing this exception to policy was to create a clear pathway to a first degree for students and increase retention rates at the bachelor's level. Students enrolled in the AA AS General Studies registered program can earn an associate's degree after having taken at least 12 credits in residence and having met the university's overall degree expectations. This exemption to policy, therefore, allows students in this program to have 52 credits of advanced standing.

Applicable Legislation and Regulations

Related References, Policies, Procedures, Forms and Appendices

Related Policies: Advanced Standing Credit: Transcript Credit; Policy and Procedures for Degree Program and Portfolio Review and Approval; Degree Program Rationale Policy on Educational Planning Studies; Individual Prior Learning Assessment Policy and Procedures; Breadth of Degree Programs and SUNY General Education Requirements