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Standards & Guidelines » CAA Guidelines


Approved by the CAA Board of Directors on October 23, 2011, and revised on February 17, 2019.


The primary objective of the associate of fine arts (AFA) degree, typically offered by two-year institutions, is to provide concentrated study in art and/or design at the preprofessional level. CAA considers the degree to be preprofessional if it requires approximately two-thirds of its coursework in art and/or design and if structured to facilitate a student’s transfer to a four-year school with a professional-degree program. AFA programs should produce graduates that have developed technical competence, aesthetic judgment, and a strong commitment to artistic quality. Likewise, holders of the AFA should have received sound instruction during their course of study in fundamental academic disciplines such as English, the humanities, and the social, natural, and physical sciences. Although CAA considers the AFA to be a stepping stone to the BFA, students may conclude their study after two years if they decide not to transfer to a four-year program.


Because credits are a unit of measure, reflecting amounts of work over certain periods of time, a precise definition can reconcile a variety of academic structures and record-keeping arrangements. CAA recognizes a standard for studio-based teaching and learning in which one semester credit represents three hours of work a week during a semester of at least fifteen weeks (one-quarter credit is the equivalent of two-thirds of a semester credit). Work toward credit can take place in formal classes, critiques, and technical workshops, or through independent studio activity. The distribution of time spent in and outside class must be determined by the faculty, who also decide specific educational patterns within a given institution and a particular discipline. That said, students should meet a ratio of three hours of work per week per credit hour.

To earn the AFA, students should complete a minimum of thirty-nine credits in studio courses, which include general foundation courses in two-dimensional design, color theory, three-dimensional design, and drawing. A minimum of six credits in art history courses should also be required. Students may also gain experience in technology-based courses such as digital photography and/or computer graphics.

The minimum number of total semester hour credits required for the AFA is sixty. The specific nature and sequence of classes in the various academic disciplines are, of course, subject to the discretion of each individual institution. However, schools should require some level of specialization in a particular discipline following introductory study. In addition, no fewer than one-third of the total credits for graduation should be dedicated to courses outside the art curriculum, in English, the humanities, and the social, natural, and physical sciences.


CAA does not intend to provide curricular outlines—doing so would undermine diversity and specialization in higher education curricula. Credit distribution must be left to individual institutions in the belief that they will capitalize on their strengths and resources in order to provide the soundest education possible. Every institution need not offer coursework in every conceivable art or design discipline. It is more important to teach fewer areas thoroughly than to cover a larger number of them superficially. Once an institution’s faculty and staff agree on the general curricular structure for the AFA, they should carefully consider the needs of individual students and provide conscientious direction when planning an appropriate course of study for them.


The opportunity for all students to have their work displayed in public significantly enhances their understanding of personal achievement and growth. Therefore, CAA strongly encourages institutions to regularly stage solo and group exhibitions of student work. The process of selecting, installing, and exhibiting work strengthens the ability to think critically, express ideas creatively, and work conceptually  with thematic consistency. Other student outcomes include professionalism and technical proficiency.

Though policies regarding exhibitions of student work vary from institution to institution, every effort should be made to provide satisfactory spaces for such shows. In AFA programs, graduation exhibitions for majors are highly desirable, though not mandatory. A final show serves as public evidence of the levels of competence each student has achieved and as a situation for fellow students and teachers to evaluate the work.

Institutions should make and retain images of works shown in all student exhibitions as an ongoing record. In addition, institutional resources may, if possible, be used to purchase outstanding examples of student work. In a resolution dated April 29, 1972, CAA declared the all-too-prevalent—and illegal—practice of demanding, without compensation, examples of work by students to be unacceptable.


In many institutions, admission to AFA programs is open to all enrolled students, who may declare their intention to specialize after completing a number of introductory-level courses. Some institutions use portfolio reviews or other screening practices to limit the number of majors and to ensure an acceptable level of quality in their students. Either arrangement is satisfactory. Admission to AFA programs, however, is often by portfolio review to gauge the student’s potential for success in the program and their level of preparation. Institutions may wish to develop protocols for Advanced Placement (AP) credit, which can be accepted for exceptional work at the high school level.


If students completing a two-year AFA program intend to transfer to a four-year institution, the two-year institution may find it helpful to develop a transfer agreement (also called an articulation agreement) with local and/or sister institutions and to provide information to students regarding course requirements and other expectations. CAA encourages transfer agreements so that students have the opportunity to transition seamlessly between the two- and four-year institutions.


After admitting the student to the AFA degree program, the institution is obliged to provide a careful advising system to determine each student’s strengths and weaknesses and to help devise logical programs of study. Furthermore, advising programs should provide students with a realistic assessment of job opportunities and professional requirements as appropriate to the nature of a student’s program, individual aptitude, professional interest, and academic progress.

Once enrolled, students should receive guidance, advising, and mentoring from faculty members in order to support the development of their creative work. Assessment of students should be consistently scheduled to ensure that satisfactory levels of progress toward professional competence are being achieved.


The core art and design faculty at an AFA-granting institution should consist of full-time, continuing members who are, by training and experience, qualified to teach at the postsecondary level, usually with an MFA degree. They should also be producing creative work of the highest quality. All faculty and staff members—including part-time instructors and graduate teaching assistants, as applicable—must demonstrate their qualifications to teach by earned degrees (the MFA or comparable degree), professional experience, and/or demonstrated instructional competence in the subjects and levels they are teaching.

In addition, all faculty and staff members must be able to communicate their knowledge and insight effectively to students. Teachers of any studio subject normally are, or have been deeply involved as, practicing artists or designers in the particular disciplines or specializations they are teaching.

For proper instruction to take place, the institution should hire enough faculty members to ensure that all students receive the full attention they deserve. Classes in creative work generally should not exceed twenty-five students. A class size of twenty or fewer students is educationally more effective. In some cases, safety considerations and limitations for specialized equipment will require classes of fewer than fifteen students.

Teaching loads should give faculty members the opportunity to produce and exhibit their own professional work. A full load for a single instructor should consist of no more than eighteen contact hours per week. Coursework in art history may be adequately covered by either a full-time art historian or a part-time faculty member with appropriate expertise.


An institution should offer AFA programs only in those areas that are fully and adequately equipped with a reasonable full range of available technology and only if it can provide safe, secure working spaces suitable for specialized or complex work by students and faculty.

Along with talented faculty, high-quality facilities and ample, appropriate equipment will best serve the needs of students. Institutions must allot sufficient space and equipment to accommodate the number of students enrolled. Specialized equipment and technology resources are absolutely necessary in some areas; students should become technically competent in their use and also be trained to understand fully and practice diligently all safe shop and studio procedures. An institution should establish a concrete plan to support health and safety practices that meet local, state, and federal requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It should also formulate a plan to improve, replace, and upgrade its facilities and equipment with appropriate budget provisions.

Institutions should thoroughly inform students about the many hazards to their health found in their studios and in the materials they work with—including solvents, toxic synthetic material, and inadequate ventilation—and provide a means of protection from such hazards, such as proper ventilation and safety equipment. If possible, institutions should offer private or semiprivate studio arrangements to advanced students, though studios should not be so private or segregated that they prevent healthy contact and exchange.

No strong AFA program in art can thrive without an adequate library, computer technology, a visual-resources collection, and exhibition spaces or opportunities to fit the scope of the department. If the institution does not have an art museum, it must provide opportunities for students to visit neighboring centers, where they can become familiar with historical works of art and have ongoing contact with the art of the present. Institutions, especially those that are remote from cultural centers, should consider establishing film and video collections and aggregating print and online resources about contemporary art and artists in order to broaden student contact with and awareness of major issues in the arts today. As with facilities and equipment, institutions should draft plans to replace and improve these resources with appropriate budget provisions.


Task Force on the Standards for the Associate of Fine Arts Degree in Studio Art (2009–11): Bertha Gutman, Delaware County Community College (chair); Carmina L. Cianciulli, Tyler School of Art, Temple University; Sandra Esslinger, Mt. San Antonio College; Martina Hesser, Mesa College; David Koffman, Georgia Perimeter College; and Christina McNearney, Pima Community College.