As part of an occasional series, the Florida College Access Network blog will help explain some of the complicated terms that can be found in the world of postsecondary access. This week’s word is meta-major, a term referring to the establishment of new pathways for students seeking an associate’s degree in Florida.

During the 2013 Florida Legislature, several changes were made to help more students who enter the Florida College System earn their associate’s degree in a timely way.  Based on analysis of student outcomes, just under 37% of full-time, first-time in college students completed their 2-year degree in three years.  There have been many explanations for the low completion rates, including performance in introductory coursework and students deciding to change their major or program, just to name a few.

The concept of meta-majors aims to change this trend.  First conceived by a group of national higher education reformers, meta-majors are a collection of academic programs that have common or related content that students will be advised upon as they enter college.  As approved by the Florida Board of Education, Florida College System students will have eight meta-majors or pathways to choose from that are aligned with potential academic and career goals.  When the change goes into effect, students will have the following meta-majors to pick from:

  1. Arts, humanities, communication and design
  2. Business
  3. Education
  4. Health sciences
  5. Industry/manufacturing and construction
  6. Public Safety
  7. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
  8. Social and behavioral sciences and human services

The addition of meta-majors for associate’s degree seekers will place an increased emphasis on academic advising, which based on a number of circumstances, can be challenging at 2-year institutions.  Together with advisors, students at Florida College System institutions will be required to devise a plan based on their performance on placement exams to ensure they are ready for math and English gateway courses that correspond with their chosen meta-major.

By engaging in the meta-major selection process, the hope is that students will start college more knowledgeable about the academic programs, career options and opportunities for continuing education available to them to maximize their prospects of earning a degree.  The Florida College System has a database with detailed student success and workforce outcome data, which combined with meta-majors and more intentional advising should help students know better what to expect after graduating when making college decisions.

Will Florida employers look kindly on students graduating with a particular meta-major?  It’s certainly a question worth asking.  We don’t know how or if the meta-major will appear on a student’s transcript (each college will decide this for themselves), but varying associate’s degrees have been shown to result in different economic outcomes, as well as majors for bachelor’s degree earners, so why not meta-majors?  It’s conceivable that if a student were to display their meta-major alongside their degree on their resume it might grab the attention of a potential employer or possibly help them gain experience in their field while still in college.  While the intention of meta-majors is related more towards providing additional structure and improving academic advising for students, the change might also have an impact on student outcomes.  Included in the changes put forth by the Florida Legislature are plans to share lessons learned starting in 2015, so we will know more when that time comes.

To see how various academic programs will align with meta-majors at Florida colleges, click here to view a draft reference sheet.

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