Policy - Low-Producing Academic Programs
This is a summary of the policy on Low-Producing Academic Programs. Click here to view the official policy in its entirety in the UW-Madison Policy Library.
Academic programs are generally expected to have robust enrollments and awards. Sufficient enrollment and award production are signs of program health and the engagement of both program faculty and students in the program. Low levels of enrollment and awards are signals that the program should be reviewed.
UW-Madison has had a long-standing low-producing policy that set a threshold of less than five degree/major awards in five years for programs at all levels. UW System also has had a threshold for undergraduate programs of 25 degrees in a five-year period for degree/majors that excluded programs with counterpart offerings at less than half of all UW institutions and world language programs. UW-Madison routinely exceeded the UW System threshold and was functionally consistent with UW System policy because of the exclusions.
In 2019, UW System revised the system-wide low-producing policy. The 2019 policy removed the exclusions for undergraduate programs offered at less than half of UW institutions and set a threshold for master’s level programs. The 2019 policy also added reporting requirements. These changes are driving changes to the UW-Madison low producing program policy to maintain alignment; the required changes are reflected in this revised low-producing policy.
Award Thresholds and Exclusions for Low-producing Academic Programs
Undergraduate Degree/Major Programs
- The threshold for low-producing status is fewer than twenty-five (25) degrees awarded in five (5) years.
- Degree/major programs are excluded from low-producing status if the program is within five years of first enrolling students or if admissions to the program is suspended.
Master’s-level Degree/Major Programs
- The threshold for low-producing status is fewer than fifteen (15) degrees awarded in five (5) years.
- Master’s level degree/major programs are excluded from low-producing status if the program is a non-admitting masters associated with a corresponding PhD program, if it is within five years of first enrolling students or if admissions to the program is suspended.
Doctoral/PhD Degree/Major Programs
- The threshold for low-producing status is fewer than five (5) degrees awarded in five (5) years.
- PhD degree/major programs are excluded from low-producing status if the program is within five years of first enrolling students or if admissions to the program is suspended.
- UW System policy does not set a threshold for PhD programs but sets a requirement to establish procedures for PhD programs. Under this requirement UW-Madison will continue with the long-standing five degrees in five years threshold.
Certificate Programs (Undergraduate, Graduate/Professional, Capstone)
- The threshold for low-producing status for a certificate is fewer than ten (10) certificates awarded in five (5) years. Certificates that have zero (0) awards over a five (5) year period will be automatically discontinued without review. This applies to all UW-Madison undergraduate, graduate/professional, and capstone certificates.
- Certificates are excluded from low-producing status if the program is within five years of first enrolling students or if admissions to the program is suspended.
- UW System does not set a threshold for certificate programs and this standard continues from the 2016 UW-Madison low-producing program policy.
Actions for Low-Producing Programs
Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR) will remind dean’s offices annually in the fall when the degree trends are updated that they have programs on the low-producing programs list.
Each January at the time of the mid-year request for updates on program review, APIR will ask dean’s offices for an update on the status of low-producing programs and any action being taken. Each year in May, at the time of the program review report, APIR will ask dean’s offices for a formal update on actions taken for low-producing programs.
In general, the expectation is that either a substantial reason or reasons will be offered for continuation, or the low-producing programs will be discontinued or reorganized. For some programs, they may award few degrees because they serve a specialized audience or fill a specialized role in the program array. For other programs, when few degrees are awarded it may be a signal that the commitment of program faculty has waned or that the program does not serve student or societal needs.
The following possibilities may be considered for low-producing programs that no longer serve students and faculty:
- Discontinue the program.
- Merge smaller programs into an appropriate larger program with a more inclusive scope.
- Merge several low-producing programs into one more inclusive title.
- Rejuvenate the program through substantial curricular revision, renewed recruiting, or other approaches.
For low-producing programs that have substantial reasons for continuation, a short written report will be prepared and submitted at the time of the annual program review reporting based on the following criteria and other criteria that may emerge:
- What is the demonstrated student need, even at a low level, for graduates with this specific credential?
- Does the program fill a specific academic niche unique to UW-Madison or in some way necessary for the University’s identity, or for the fulfillment of the mission of the program, school/college, or university? Why is it important to the University?
- What is the cost of the program? All programs incur costs in terms of keeping the program curriculum available and in record keeping and a range of monitoring activities for the school/college, the Registrar's Office, the Graduate School, the Office of the Provost, and others.
- Are faculty continuing to invest time and effort in the program? Time must be devoted to learning outcomes assessment, review of the program, recruitment of students, curriculum development, advising, Guide and website maintenance, course scheduling, and similar activities. Programs with few or no students still need to have a full curriculum available to a student who seeks to enroll in the program.
- Does the program have a stable academic home, usually a department?
The director of APIR and the Provost will review reports on the status of low producing programs. In keeping with UW System policy and requirements, updates will provided annually to UW System in the annual program array report submitted each summer. A summary of this information is also provided to the Board of Regents. Programs should use the Low-Producing Academic Programs Reporting Form to organize the report.
The annual program review report is also presented to the University Academic Planning Council (UAPC) for discussion and any formal actions associated with program change, merger, or discontinuation are considered for approval by governance groups including the University Academic Planning Council. Thus, this policy has regular faculty governance oversight.
Official Policy Document
Revised to align with updated UW System policy SYS 102 Section 6.3, December 2019; adopted by the University Academic Planning Council 16 April 2020
Revisions adopted by the University Academic Planning Council, 16 June 2016
Adopted by the University Academic Planning Council, 21 June 2010
Revised from May 1995 Program Review Guidelines