Skip to main content
Jump to Footer

Academic Programs Implementation Guidelines

BOG Policy 1985-01

At the request of the Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) Sub-Council, the System Office of Academic and Student Affairs offers the following interpretations, suggestions, and guidelines for use in proposing new and revised academic programs.

The purpose of this policy is fundamental: for the governing board to establish the procedures by which it will assess the need for and quality of proposed significant curricula changes. A governing board has responsibility for overseeing the use of resources and for responding to public needs. Faculty and their academic officers are expected to initiate new directions and to make continuous minor changes; they bear the burden of proof to the Board for significant curricular changes. The Board's staff is the liaison and expects to be informed and helpful at all stages.

When in doubt about what requires approval or about how to proceed, consult the vice chancellor. Often, by mutual understanding, cumbersome procedures can be simplified.

In addition to the definitions in the policy, several other definitions may provide some clarity and consistency:

Degree Programs

A higher education is usually expected to include "studies in depth" and "studies in breadth." Though neither is limited to the major field of study or to a general or liberal studies component, "studies in depth" usually refer to the major, or to concentrations or specializations of various kinds. While definitions of program terms such as major, minor, track, option, concentration, specialization, etc., may differ among universities and fields of study, the following guidelines are suggested for our comprehensive universities as relatively common in American higher education.

  •  MAJOR – a major is a program of study, usually within a discipline or group of related disciplines, consisting of a specified number of courses, credits, or achievements of increasing sophistication, subject to requirements of the degree under which it is authorized. The major typically consists of one-third to one-half of the baccalaureate degree requirement—e.g., 40 to 60 of 120 semester credits. An interdisciplinary major may reach the outer limits; a disciplinary major with cognate "sub-majors," certifications, electives, or opportunities for other majors is necessarily shorter. A major may specify requirements of a complementary sub-major. Examples of majors are biology, English, mathematics, business, nursing, and music.
    • Minor—a minor shares definition with the major, but is essentially a "half major", which may or may not complement the student's major field; its requirements typically include most of the required core of a major, but fewer electives, and include at least 18 and up to 30 credits. Like the major, it is expected to have coherence and increasing sophistication and not be just a collection of courses with a common theme.
    • Concentration—a concentration is a sub-specialization or emphasis within a major field, usually taken by a student majoring in that discipline. For designation, it should consist of at least one-third of the major requirements and should be within, not in addition to, the major requirements. For example, the biology major may concentrate in botany, the physics major in astronomy, or the business major in finance. In some cases, a concentration may be elected by a student with a different but related major—e.g., a drama major might elect to complete a concentration in Greek and Roman tragedy offered in a literature program or in dance offered within physical education.
    • Track—a track is one of two paths through a major program—e.g., a liberal-arts track, a three-year track, a teacher-certification track, or an executive track. Students in various tracks usually share a common core but have variations and options peculiar to their particular needs.
    • Option—an option usually refers to the comprehensiveness of a major—e.g., a 60-credit comprehensive major in business which includes two concentrations or a 60-credit speech-theatre option which meets teacher-certification requirements in two fields.
    • Other—terms such as emphasis, specialization, focus, and sub-major are variously used in place of concentration, track, minor, and option and are not recommended.

At the time a program is proposed for approval—if it is to include minors, concentrations, tracks, options—they should be delineated in the proposal. Subsequent addition of such sub-specialties may trigger a review of the program's approval if it appears to alter significantly the way the program meets any of the criteria for program approval, i.e., exceeds resource expectations, exceeds defined curricular boundaries. The additions may be submitted for approval by the Chancellor as an addition to an approved program.

Certificate—Certificates are of two kinds: (1) a sanctioned certification by an agency with statutory authority—e.g., an Elementary Education Certificate or Superintendent's Letter of Eligibility and (2) a certificate of recognition, given for completion of a short sequence of courses or studies not related to a degree program—e.g., a certificate in gerontology available to elder-care workers upon completion of a series of seminars.

Under this policy, there should be no surprises—no full-blown proposals filed with a vice chancellor who has not been kept apprised of university deliberations and no proposal rejection without ample warning.

The system staff is small and lacks all-encompassing curricular expertise; thus, consulting expertise may be sought. It is often possible, given appropriate consultation, for the university and System staff to make use of the same consulting expertise. This situation may occur when the university proposes three names and the System reviewer selects one or two based on their resumes and reputations as curricular experts.

Before a proposal is presented to the Board of Governors, the chief academic officer must verify that it has cleared all campus approvals—faculty, president and trustees; the chain of approvals may differ with local governance structures, but certification of the three basic approvals, usually by letter from the president, is required.

The distinction between Board approval and approvals delegated to the Chancellor is simple but important. The Chancellor's approval of other than major and professional certification programs is a hedge against slow "program creep"—i.e., creation of programs under lesser rubrics. The approval of degree designations assures public accountability for standards and use of academic-degree terminology. Approval of academic units encourages System-wide communication and cooperation among like units and discourages excessive layering.

The only programs requiring approval beyond the Board of Governors are (1) the teacher and specialist certifications (by the Department of Education), and (2) branch campuses (requiring approval of the State Board of Education). In both cases, the PDE or PSBE approval should be sought by the System for the University; hence, the proposal is to be sent to the System Office of Academic and Student Affairs. If acceptable, it will be forwarded to PDE or the PSBE; upon approval there, it will be submitted to the Board of Governors. Deans of Education should be kept apprised of this protocol.

The criteria for approval were developed in 1984, and their interpretations bear elaboration for succeeding CAO's, deans, and faculty.

  1. Appropriateness to Mission—This does not require quotation and linkage to every possible historical document. The question to which this section responds is "Given the primary clientele, the program mix, and the various claims on university resources, is this a natural, appropriate, and high priority claim on university resources?" Not "Can we justify this?" But "Is this the #1 next step in our evolution?
    "Your "mission" is both historical and official, but the focus here is less on documents than on regional needs, history, clientele, program mix, resources, etc.
  2. Need—The necessity and method of addressing this criterion vary by program; it may be more philosophical than demonstrable, more judgmental than quantitative.
    Because a publicly supported institution has a particular responsibility to address both workforce needs and needs of students, this is usually an important criterion. However, "demand" does not necessarily equal need. For example, the fact that students or employers may want a program to train tax accountants does not necessarily mean that (a) University X should do it; (b) tax accounting is major field; (c) this need is greater than the need for acute-care nurses; or (d) this is more important to offer than literature or history. One can make a demand case for almost anything; need is a subtler point, requiring academic judgment.
    If the need is manpower driven, projections about duration of the need are appropriate. Surveys showing that, if available, the program would enroll X students are seldom borne out by subsequent enrollment patterns. Employer surveys are better evidence of demand than are student surveys.
    Often, the need is academic more than job related—i.e., the society needs people who think in this way, understand these principles, or care about these issues.
  3. Academic Integrity is a measure of compatible quality between the students, faculty, and curriculum. One asks, "Does this group of students and faculty combined with this curriculum appear likely to yield the desired product? If not, what more or different is needed?" 'Integrity' refers to the integration and wholeness and substantiality of the program—not to the ethics of the persons.
    The proposers should offer (1) a profile of the prospective student and of his/her prior experiences and preparation and likely pursuits on completion of the program (graduate study, entry-level employment, etc.); (2) a careful analysis of faculty knowledge, pedagogical breadth, and success with other programs; (3) a careful explanation of the proposed curriculum—focusing on breadth and depth, sequencing, intellectual perspective, and faculty teaching strengths; and (4) recognition of the need for or value of cognate courses from other disciplines either to prepare students to complement or to enrich the curriculum in the primary discipline or field.
  4. Coordination with Other Programs—there are usually numerous possibilities for sharing resources and expertise, accessing valuable external resources, and avoiding unnecessary duplication—if the academic officers can help faculty to look beyond their spheres.
    These include use of courses offered by other departments, team teaching, access to bibliographic databases, internships, regional experts for guest lectures, field experiences and expertise available at sister universities. The proposal should not only exploit opportunities for coordination but also account for resources tied to them—internship-site availability and supervision, thesis-committee expertise, etc.
  5. Periodic Assessment. In addition to acknowledging a cycle of program review, a proposal for a new program should include interim assessments—measuring what is expected at the end of the first year in terms of enrollment, competencies, understandings gained, faculty development, curriculum refinement, etc. After the second year? (Why would anyone wait five years for the first assessment of a new venture?)
    The time a program is developed is also the logical time to develop the methodology for both ongoing and periodic assessment. What data will be regularly collected? How will these data be used? How will student outcomes be measured?
    (Note: Avoid citing Middle States evaluations, which are not programmatic, and avoid wholesale acceptance of disciplinary evaluation standards; this is the time to set appropriate evaluation standards for your program.)
  6. Resource Sufficiency. The Board of Governors requires that, in addition to an explanation of resource needs, the proposal include a one-page five-year balance sheet of anticipated revenues and expenses. The two primary revenue sources are tuition and appropriations. Costs will include personnel (salary, benefits, professional development, travel, sabbatical replacements, etc.); equipment (office and instructional); clerical support; materials and supplies; library resources; evaluation; cooperating/supervision personnel; facilities; etc.
    The biggest error in proposals is failure to identify and acknowledge all costs, not just incremental costs. Having laid out all costs, the proposal should then focus on new costs. Will there be new students or new faculty, or will each be shifted from somewhere else? When will equipment have to be replaced? Each university should have a standard method of assessing program cost.
  7. Impact on Educational Opportunity. In a rapidly changing society, a major function of public institutions is to prepare new population for equal roles in the society. Therefore, each new program poses special opportunities to serve new student populations, reach out to different employers, influence hiring patterns of historical employers, recruit faculty who offer new role models, utilize advisors with broader perspectives, and de-mystify fields which may have prior gender, racial, or ethnic biases. To say that a new program is expected to have "no impact on educational opportunity" is to overlook a critical educational responsibility of a public university.
Contact The University Curriculum Committee Shippensburg University 1871 Old Main Drive Shippensburg, PA 17257