Bachelor of Arts? Or Science? It's All a Matter of Degrees

Bachelor of Arts? Or Science? It's All a Matter of Degrees

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

What's the difference between a bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree?

Once the answer was Latin: If you didn't take it, you received the BS, said Slavic and Eastern Languages Department chairman Assoc. Prof. Michael Connolly, coordinator of the Faculty Microcomputer Resource Center.

The old distinctions have given way to a greater flexibility in today's granting of degrees.

The Biology Department recently announced the introduction of a bachelor of arts degree to complement its existing bachelor of science degree.

Meantime, Computer Science announced a bachelor of science degree option for its majors in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Connolly is secretary of the A&S Educational Policy Committee that earlier this year okayed the new degree offerings by Biology and Computer Science.

"It clearly opens up vocational opportunities in both areas, and gives more flexibility," he said.

He recalled the historic distinction between the two degrees.

"At some universities, the bachelor of science diploma was in English, and the bachelor of arts, in Latin," said Connolly, who himself holds the AB: When he graduated from BC in 1965, his degree in modern languages was still conferred under its traditional Latin name, Artium Baccalaureatus.
The bachelor of science degree, of more recent vintage, lacks the classical nomenclature: "You can say AB, but you can't say SB," Connolly observed.

The value placed on one degree or the other depends, he suggested, on whether you're an aspiring poet or an aspiring brain-surgeon. "For the humanist, the BS means little Latin and less Greek," Connolly said. "From a scientist's point of view, the BS is the tough degree."

The new BA degree program in Biology caters to students who desire a thorough grounding in biological science, but wish also to study widely in one or more other fields.

"Biological study can serve as excellent preparation for a wide variety of careers, including traditional biological vocations such as medicine or post-secondary teaching and research, as well as less traditional careers such as business, law, journalism, and government service," according to Senior Scientist John P. Roche, editor of the Biology Department's BC BioNews.

"The BA will allow students preparing for non-traditional career tracks to acquire a strong foundation in biology, while also developing skills in other areas such as business, law, political science and ethics.

"The goal of the BA degree is to better serve students with broad interests and non-traditional career tracks, and also to attract a wider range of students to biological study, a diversity that will benefit both the students themselves, and the Biology program as a whole."

One would think Computer Science naturally would offer the BS, so a bit of explanation is in order.

Computer Science is housed in the Carroll School of Management, which awards its graduates a bachelor of science in Management. But Computer Science has administered a bachelor of arts degree program within the College of Arts and Sciences for several years.

Now, A&S students who wish to major in Computer Science may opt to receive a bachelor of science degree, after a relatively more rigorous course of study weighted toward technology and the sciences.

An A&S student working toward a BS in Computer Science would be required to take 12 courses in computer science, rather than the 10 required for the BA, according to Assoc. Prof. Robert Muller, the Computer Science Department chairman.

The BS requires five math courses at an advanced level, instead of the two math courses required for the BA, and 12 credit hours of hard science, including two semesters in the lab, according to Muller.

"It's a more extensive program that will prepare students for careers in science and industry as well as graduate study," said Muller, who predicted at least half of the 50 or so current freshmen expected to choose computer-science majors would opt for the BS program.

A&S Dean Joseph Quinn said, "Both the BA and BS degrees in Biology and Computer Science are very rigorous programs. We realize that students with the same major can have very different career interests, some more narrowly focused than others. These degree options acknowledge these differences, and allow our students to choose the curriculum best suited for their plans after graduation."


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