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Standards for the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art

Adopted unanimously by the CAA Board of Directors on January 31, 1979; revised on October 23, 2011.

Requirements and options in undergraduate studio education vary greatly from institution to institution throughout the country. The differences in degrees, concentration, and emphases in both studio-art subjects and adjunct areas such as criticism, art history, and art education are immense. CAA does not intend to impose a uniform pattern on undergraduate institutions, since a healthy, varied curriculum enriches a field that would stultify if unduly restricted. Art institutions, schools, and departments must therefore assess their educational objectives carefully, making sure that their goals and expectations are realistic and feasible in their existing contexts or are possible in view of projected changes. An institution’s objectives, patterns of requirements, and options should be clearly formulated and published, so students planning to enroll will fully understand what the program they are considering expects from them. The standards set forth herein and the standards published in Handbook 2010–11 by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) represent a logical minimum for faculty to maintain quality and should be surpassed in order to foster continuing excellence.

Definitions and Purposes of the BA and BFA Degrees in the Visual Arts

Colleges and universities in North and South America offer two general types of undergraduate degrees in visual art and design that are characterized by a difference of purpose and intention, evidenced in both curricular focus and format. The bachelor of arts (BA) is a liberal-arts degree that focuses on the study of art, design, and art history in the context of a broader program of general study. The bachelor of fine arts (BFA) is a professional degree that focuses on intensive work in visual art and design supported by a program in general studies. The latter degree is normally intended to prepare students to pursue a professional practice on a global level. Both degrees are structured to be completed in four years.

Inherent in an individual studio practice or in the teaching of a studio discipline is a process of assessment. On a programmatic level, individual institutions are responsible for providing sufficient instruction, classes, and other experiences, such as exhibition opportunities, that develop a common body of knowledge and skills to ensure that students meet graduation requirements associated with their respective degrees. Programmatic evaluation accomplished through portfolio review is usually the mechanism for periodic analysis of the attainment of: (1) recognized student competencies or goals; and (2) the outcomes of the particular degree versus the degree’s intention at the institutional and collective national levels. An institution should define how it will assign the development of competencies and outcomes among curricular offerings and what procedures it will use to evaluate students. Both CAA and NASAD encourage institutions “to be creative in developing courses and other formal experiences that engage and integrate several or all of the requisite competencies.”1

Multidisciplinary Curricula

Institutions with appropriate resources may offer multidisciplinary curricula with artistic, intellectual, pragmatic, and professional objectives as long as all standards for the particular degree (BA or BFA) are met and all the competencies associated with the respective degree are achieved. While flexibility in structuring degree programs to reflect contemporary trends and the changing demands of the profession is commendable, CAA encourages standard usage over a proliferation of disparate degree titles. The curricular format should allow at least one of the following: (1) the time for elective study apart from the pursuit of a minor or second area of emphasis in the BFA; or (2) the pursuit of a minor or second area of emphasis that makes up 15 percent of the total degree program. For a BFA, the visual-art content should equal 45 percent of the total credits for graduation and 25 percent of the major requirements.

Bachelor of Arts

The BA in art certifies the completion of major study in the creation and study of visual art or design with normally 30–45 percent of the total credits required for the degree undertaken as an integral part, though not the majority, of the general liberal-arts degree program. The BA normally implies study in some depth in a number of studio and art-historical disciplines. Such study may or may not prepare students for careers as art professionals, as career preparation is not a primary objective in programs leading to the BA. A major part of a student’s education (generally 50 to 70 percent) occurs in areas outside art, with substantial coverage in English, the humanities, and the social sciences, natural, and physical sciences. Degrees that require 30 to 50 percent of study outside art courses include the BA or associate of arts (AA) with a major in art or design, and the bachelor of science (BS) or associate of science (AS) with a major in art or design.


Institutions chartered to offer only the BA or BS degree, and not the BFA, may offer baccalaureate degrees meeting professional-degree standards. Here the degree is called a BA or BS with a specific major to distinguish it from the liberal arts–oriented BA or BS with a major in art or design. The same is true for degrees with liberal-arts purposes that prepare students for state licensure or certification as specialist art and/or design teachers, such as the BA or BS in art education.

Graduates of liberal-arts programs are expected to develop all the competencies outlined by the institution as necessary to graduate with a liberal-arts degree (i.e., a BA in visual art). Institutions must make clear to students the levels of competency that demonstrate the acquisition of a common body of knowledge and skills, such as those defined in NASAD’s Handbook 2010–11 and endorsed by CAA.2

Bachelor of Fine Art

The BFA degree in visual art normally requires that at least 65 percent of the total course credit for the degree be taken in the creation and study of art and design, and that this majority focus be supported by general study in the liberal arts, including English the humanities, and the social, natural, and physical sciences. The primary objective of institutions offering the BFA is to provide professional education in visual art and design at the undergraduate level and to enable graduates to enter professional, studio-based careers in such fields as design, fine art, or craft after earning the degree. BFA graduates should have the opportunity to develop technical competence, informed aesthetic judgment, and an understanding of the context in which contemporary work is created; they should also receive sound instruction in other academic disciplines in order to have a full opportunity for success in the profession. Degrees in this category include the BFA and BS in design. The associate of fine arts (AFA) or the associate of applied science (AAS)—if requiring 65 percent of course credit in the creation and study of art and design, and if otherwise structured to transfer to a professional baccalaureate—is considered by CAA and NASAD to be a preprofessional degree.

CAA expects graduates of professional programs to develop all the necessary competencies articulated by the institution in order to graduate in each area of specialization. Institutions must make clear to students the levels of competency that demonstrate the acquisition of a common body of knowledge and skills, such as those defined in NASAD’s Handbook 2010–11, which CAA endorses.3

Definition of Credit

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 between in and outside class must be determined by the faculty, which also decides 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.

To earn the BA, students should complete a minimum of approximately 30–45 percent of their total work toward graduation from among courses offered by the art and/or design unit, including a minimum of eight to twelve credits in art history. The studio curriculum should be designed to provide breadth rather than specialization, ensuring that students take courses in a variety of media. The maximum electives in studio art and art history should normally not exceed one-half the total for graduation. The remainder (50–70 percent) should be in courses in the liberal arts offered by other departments in the institution.

To earn the BFA, students should complete a minimum of seventy credits in courses (or 60 percent) related to their intended areas of specialization, including from twelve to eighteen credits in art history. These professional studies should constitute no more than 75 percent of the total work toward graduation. No less than 25 percent of the total credits needed for graduation should be in courses outside the curriculum for art, design, and art history. The specific nature and sequence of classes in nonart disciplines are subject to the discretion and capacity of each institution. The nonart instruction usually follows introductory study in a variety of media, with some degree of specialization in a particular art discipline required.

CAA recognizes that institutions can best provide the definitions of specializations and the required courses to meet them. For example, courses in video art may contribute to additional specializations, including performance art, electronic media, and new media. Rather than prescribe definitions, CAA encourages institutions to make reasonable connections between curricula and their cumulative contributions to the outcomes of the specializations.

Studio Curriculum

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 area of art or design. 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 BA or BFA, they should carefully consider the needs of individual students and provide conscientious direction when planning an appropriate course of study for them.

Exhibitions of Student Work

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 and 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 BA programs, graduation exhibitions for majors are highly desirable, though not mandatory. The senior show serves as public evidence of the levels of competence each BFA student has achieved, and as a situation for fellow students and teachers to evaluate the work; therefore, CAA urges BFA-granting institutions to require graduation exhibitions as a prerequisite for the degree.

Institutions should make and retain images of works shown in all student exhibitions as an ongoing record. In addition, institutional resources should, 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 the major in art, leading to the BA, is open to all students enrolled in the institution, 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 BFA programs, however, is often by portfolio review to gauge the student’s potential for success in the program and his or her level of preparation.


After admitting the student to either the BFA or BA degree program, the institution is obliged to provide a careful advising system for all majors to determine each student’s strengths and weaknesses and to help devise logical programs of study. Further, 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.

Faculty and Staff

The core art and design faculty at BA- or BFA-granting institutions 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 should 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 sufficient 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.

Facilities and Resources

Institutions should offer BA and BFA 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. Thus, 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, especially in BFA programs, though studios should not be so private or segregated that they prevent healthy contact and exchange.

No strong BA or BFA 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. If possible, institutions should also provide students with opportunities to travel and study abroad. As with facilities and equipment, institutions should draft plans to replace and improve these resources with appropriate budget provisions.


1. See VIII.5.b. in “Standards and Guidelines for Accredited Membership,” National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Handbook 2010–11 (Reston, VA: National Association of Schools of Art and Design, 2010), 83.

2. See VII.D.1., in Handbook 2010–11, 89.

3. See XIII.C. in Handbook 2010–11, 84.

Authors and Contributors

Committee on Standards for the BA and BFA Degrees in Art (2011): Judith Thorpe, University of Connecticut (chair); Denise Mullen, Oregon College of Art and Crafts; Sergio Soave, Ohio State University; Frederick Cartwright, University of Saint Francis; Cora Lynn Deibler, University of Connecticut.

Committee on Standards for the BA and BFA Degrees in Art (1977–80): Paul Arnold, Oberlin College (cochair); George Sadek, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (cochair); Alma Eikerman, lndiana University; Ellen Lanyon, New York; Leonard Lehrer, University of Arizona, Tempe; Jerrold Maddox, Kansas State University; John Rogers, University of North Dakota; Helen Schiavo, Queens College; Jason Seley, Cornell University; and Wallace Tomasini, University of Iowa.