May 28, 2022  
University Catalog 2021-2022 
University Catalog 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

USMA-MFA Dual Degree Program

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MA in Urban Sustainability
AU Los Angeles
Credits for Degree: 32 semester credits
Standard Mode of Instruction: Low-residency
Standard time to completion: 30 months

MFA in Creative Writing
AU Los Angeles
Credits for Degree: 36 semester credits
Standard Mode of Instruction: Low-residency
Standard time to completion: 30 months

Program Overview

The Master of Arts in Urban Sustainability (USMA) program at AULA educates urban problem solvers to meet the world’s dual challenges of climate change and inequality. The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at AULA trains writers to be outstanding artists who are also engaged citizens pursuing social justice. The purpose of the dual degree is to produce excellent writers who will be a part of the next generation’s conversation about climate change and inequality.

Program Objective

The dual degree provides the opportunity for students to earn both an MA in Urban Sustainability and an MFA in Creative Writing within a 3-year period, reducing the time and cost of completing these degrees separately. Many USMA students have a strong interest in learning to effectively communicate both the problems they have encountered and the solutions they propose to address social, economic, and environmental inequities. Training engaged citizen-artists who understand and can communicate effectively about the problems at the intersection of climate change and inequality can only serve to better achieve the stated mission of the university.

Dual Degree Learning Outcomes

Dual degree students are held accountable to all of the USMA and MFA learning goals, as described here:


Upon leaving the program, USMA students will demonstrate the ability to:

  • Apply ecosystems thinking and a human rights framework to the analysis of urban environments.
  • Utilize natural and social science theory, concepts, and principles to address urban sustainability challenges.
  • Produce effective strategies, at multiple scales, for sustainability planning, policy, and regulation.
  • Use effective research, communication, and reflective practice skills in service to urban sustainability.
  • Engage in collaboration, advocacy, and leadership to effect transformational change.


Graduates of the MFA in Creative Writing Program will demonstrate:

  • Mastery of creative writing skills of at least one of the following genres: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and writing for young people.
  • Critical reading, writing, and thinking skills required of a literary artist.
  • Knowledge of ethical dilemmas and social values of the literary arts.
  • Commitment to a broad range of issues and activities associated with a literary writer engaged with the societies in which the writer lives and works.

Program Overview

The USMA-MFA dual degree allows students to complete two advanced degrees in as few as 3 years (6 semesters) at a cost greatly reduced from completing the two degrees independently. The simplest path begins with enrollment in the USMA program, although students can begin in the MFA program or transition from one degree to another and back again. In order for students to complete two degrees in a reduced time, some of the requirements for each degree are satisfied while the student is technically enrolled in the other program.

Curricular Format and Delivery

Both USMA and MFA programs follow hybrid models, with residencies at the beginning of each semester and the remainder consisting of online/remote work, and a concluding residency for graduating students to present their work.

Dual Degree Options

Students entering the dual USMA-MFA degree can reasonably proceed along two different paths.

Option 1: The dual degree is optimally structured as a six-semester endeavor with the first three semesters spent in the USMA program and the final three in the MFA program. Dual degree students who begin as USMA students enroll in the entire first-year USMA curriculum, taking the 18 required units with all other USMA students. By the end of their second semester in the USMA program, dual degree students need to apply to and be accepted into the MFA program. Dual degree students prepare a proposal for a writing project during the research and writing course in their USMA second semester. During their third semester, dual degree students take the USMA community planning class and the capstone course to start on their capstone projects.

At the beginning of Semester 4, dual degree students enter the MFA program. They design a project period proposal under the guidance of an MFA mentor and function as fully-enrolled MFA students working on a long critical paper, which in the dual degree program equates to the completion of the capstone project begun during the previous semester. Dual degree students come into the MFA program with advanced standing, and thus have the same three semester requirements as any MFA student who comes in with that status. The fieldwork done in USMA fulfills the MFA field study requirement and, as noted above, the capstone fulfills the critical paper requirement. All other MFA requirements remain for the dual degree students.

The dual degree students following the Option 1 degree path thus complete 27 USMA semester units, then register for 3 MFA semesters, each 12 units, for a total of 36 MFA semester units. For them, this makes up the entirety of the combined curriculum, a total of 63 semester units for the two degrees (in comparison with 80 units if completed independently).

Option 2: In this scenario, dual degree students begin in the MFA program. This student first applies to the MFA program and spends two semesters as an MFA student. By the end of the first year, that student then applies to the USMA program and, if accepted, shifts to being a USMA student in Semester 3. The student spends Semesters 3,4, and 5 in the USMA program, and then shifts back to the MFA program for the final semester, completing the USMA capstone as part of the final MFA manuscript.

The student in this situation may or may not be able to finish both degrees within six semesters. Exact timing to complete the degrees depends largely on what work completed during the MFA program satisfies the USMA degree requirements, and vice versa. For example, fieldwork semesters required for USMA might have been fulfilled by the previous year’s MFA field study placement. Students are advised on an individual basis, in collaborative conversations with both department chairs.

Degree Requirements

The dual degree takes advantage of the existing USMA and MFA curricula and holds students to the same requirements as single degree students. However, students can fulfill certain requirements for one degree while enrolled as students in the other program.

Unit Requirements

Overall units: 63 semester units

27 semester units from the required USMA curriculum completed as USMA students

  • Science for Urban Sustainability (4 units)
  • Ecosystems Thinking (3 units)
  • Urban Infrastructure (3 units)
  • Research & Writing for Practitioners (2 units)
  • Sustainable Urban Economies (3 units)
  • Democratizing Community Planning (3 units)
  • Fieldwork Planning (1 unit)
  • Fieldwork 1 (2 units)
  • Capstone (6 units)

36 semester units (3 project periods) completed as MFA students

Curricular Requirements

  • Attendance at all USMA residencies while enrolled as an USMA student
  • Completion of USMA capstone project, including presentation at USMA residency
  • Completion of MFA residency requirements for 3 semesters

(Students in the MFA in Creative Writing program are required to attend at least seven seminars and the genre writing workshops during each residency. Listed here are the specific seminars dual degree students would be required to attend.)

  • Arts, Culture, and Society I & II
  • Genre writing workshops
  • Graduating Student Reading
  • Specialized orientations
  • Completion of MFA Art of Translation Seminar
  • Completion of MFA annotated bibliography
  • Completion of MFA final manuscript

Program Assumptions

The dual degree has been designed so that within as few as six semesters, students are able to satisfy all of the requirements listed above. In order for this to happen successfully, the faculty have agreed to the following assumptions:

  • Dual degree students register as either USMA or MFA students during each semester of their enrollment, transitioning from one program to another at the time best determined with the department chairs.
  • Dual degree students who begin as USMA students enroll in regular USMA coursework through two semesters in the program, completing all core curriculum and fieldwork requirements of single degree students.
  • Dual degree students who begin as MFA students complete the work of MFA single degree students while enrolled in the MFA program.
  • Dual degree students who begin as USMA students begin their capstone projects while USMA students, but complete them while enrolled as MFA students.
  • Dual degree students who transition to become MFA students in the fourth semester enter the MFA program with advanced standing. During their first MFA semester, these students complete the USMA capstone project, which fulfills the Long Critical Paper requirement of the MFA degree.
  • Upon completion of the USMA capstone project, dual degree students present their work at the following six-day USMA residency.
  • USMA fieldwork satisfies the MFA field study requirement. MFA field study may satisfy any or all of the USMA fieldwork requirement, depending upon the nature of the field study.
  • Any semester in the MFA program can satisfy the elective requirement of the USMA degree.
  • Dual degree students earn the USMA degree once they have fulfilled all USMA requirements, including a capstone presentation.
  • Dual degree students earn the MFA once they have earned 36 MFA units and satisfied all MFA degree requirements.

Current Tuition and Fees

University Tuition and Fees  

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