Procedures: Course Attributes

Policy on course attributes, including the rationale, scope of the policy, criteria, and process to propose a new course attribute.


Course Attributes

Policy Number


Responsible Office

Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


University Policy


The purpose of this policy is to set criteria for the development and use of course attributes at UW-Madison.


  1. General Criteria for Course Attributes

    Course attributes apply at the course level except for the Community-Based Learning attribute which is applied at the class section level by term. An attribute is attached to a course in the course catalog which signifies a commitment by the department(s) to consistently offer the course in alignment with the attribute.

    1. A course attribute must:
      1. Serve broad populations of students and programs across multiple schools/colleges; and/or
      2. Serve an academic or strategic purpose, meet an accountability requirement, or serve a compelling and enduring student interest; and
      3. Act as the single authoritative source for the concept the attribute embodies. An attribute must not duplicate or conflict with other authoritative sources of information such as the curricular requirements for a specific degree/major.
    2. A course attribute is not appropriate:
      1. To identify groups of courses that are already identified by course numbering schema, subject designations, or other existing identifiers.
      2. To identify groups of courses associated with a single degree/major, specific degree requirements, or a certificate program.
  2. Criteria for Community-Based Learning Course Attribute

    Community-based learning is a credit-bearing educational experience that integrates meaningful community engagement with guided reflection to enhance students’ understanding of course content as well as their sense of civic responsibility while strengthening communities. A course with the community-based learning course attribute must:

    1. Integrate service or other engagement activity with course content and support its academic focus, with a minimum of 25 hours of community contact if direct service, or a deliverable (product or project outcome) to the partner if project-based community engagement, for each student in the course; and
    2. Involve students in the engagement of value to the community, as designed in collaboration with the community itself; and
    3. Include preparation and training for students before they enter communities, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations; and
    4. Include structured opportunities for guided reflection (processing, debriefing of experience) e.g., writing assignments, discussions, presentations, or journaling which:
      1. Examine critical issues related to the student’s community-based learning project; and
      2. Connect the community-engaged experience to the coursework; and
      3. Enhance the development of civic and ethical skills and values; and
      4. Help students find personal relevance in the work.
  3. Criteria for Foreign Language Course Attribute

    The foreign language course attribute differentiates language courses where the primary focus of the course is teaching a method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way, from courses that focus on the culture, literature, history, and polity or other aspects of language learning. A course with the foreign language course attribute must:

    1. Include learning outcomes related to reading and writing a language other than English; and
    2. Include learning outcomes related to speaking and understanding a language other than English; and
    3. Promote the advancement of communication skills in a language other than English.
  4. Criteria for Graduate Level Course Attribute

    The graduate level course attribute is assigned to courses that meet graduate-level standards and contribute to the requirement that at least 50% of credits applied toward a graduate degree must be in courses designated for graduate work. A course with the graduate level course attribute must:

    1. Align with courses numbered 700 and above; and/or
    2. Align with courses numbered 300 – 699 that are specifically designed for graduate students enrolled in a graduate program; and/or
    3. Align with courses numbered 300 – 699 that hold graduate students to higher standards of learning than undergraduates in the same course.
  5. Criteria for Workplace Experience

    Workplace experience encompasses internships, clinical work, cooperatives, practica, student teaching, and other simultaneous credit-bearing experiences based on an immersive workplace experience that is linked to an academic program. A course with the workplace experience course attribute must:

    1. Align with credit-bearing courses at the undergraduate level numbered <699 in which the workplace experience is linked to learning in an academic program and include intentional learning objectives related to the experience; and
    2. Include reflection on the workplace experience in which a student demonstrates an ability to reflect on, evaluate, and improve their performance, and link their current and previous academic work with the activities in the workplace experience; and
    3. Identify both an on-site workplace supervisor and a faculty/instructional academic staff member who serves as the course instructor. The on-site supervisor is to assess the student’s workplace performance and provide feedback to the course instructor who, in turn, ensures that credit awarded is linked to instructional activity and to projects appropriate to the learning experience; and
    4. Establish format of instruction.

Related UW–Madison Documents, Web Pages, or Other Resources

Approval Authority

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Policy Manager

Vice Provost for Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


Associate Director, Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research -- Michelle Young, MEYOUNG@WISC.EDU, (608) 262-2143
Source: View policy UW-1062 in the UW-Madison Policy Library


The presence of a course attribute makes it practical to do reporting and analysis relating to students and faculty/instructors for a group of courses with a common course attribute.

Process for Approval of a New Course Attribute

The nature of the proposal to the University Curriculum Committee (UCC) is influenced somewhat by the nature of the plan for the course attribute. If the attribute is simple, well-justified, and does not establish a broad academic requirement, or incur substantial costs, the proposal process is straightforward. If the course attribute carries more complexity and/or requires a fiscal commitment, then broader planning and additional endorsements will need to accompany the proposal to the UCC. 

Criteria must be set for the course attribute. Ideally, the criteria are sufficiently straightforward that department-level and school/college curriculum committees and the UCC will be able to apply the course attribute criteria without substantial training or without the need for a standing committee of faculty/staff to conduct reviews for approvals. 

For course attribute criteria that require a standing committee for review or have other substantial resource implications, the faculty/staff originating the proposal will need to develop a plan and seek approval and a commitment of required resources before UCC approval of the course attribute criteria; specifics will depend on circumstances.

Proposal Requirements

A planning group with faculty representation should prepare a proposal that includes the following information.

  1. Composition and nature of the planning group and primary contact person.
  2. The name of the proposed course attribute.
  3. Rationale and need for establishing the course attribute.
    1. Does it address an institutional priority or need?
    2. Does it serve a reporting requirement?
    3. Why is it important?
    4. Does it meet a compelling and enduring interest?
  4. Address how the proposed attribute meets the criteria for a new course attribute.
    1. How is it relevant to a broad population of students across multiple programs and schools/colleges?
    2. How will it track student participation in activities that have a strategic importance to the university, or meet an accountability requirement?
    3. How will the attribute serve a compelling and enduring student interest?
    4. How is it distinctive from information that is tracked in any other manner and not in any way duplicative of existing ways to track courses?
    5. Once attached to any specific course, would the attribute be a durable feature that is rarely changed?
  5. Specify the criteria for the course attribute.
    1. These criteria must be specific and simple enough that they can be readily understood by individuals proposing courses across the subject areas across campus based on written materials embedded in the Lumen Course Proposal System and without substantial training.
    2. Criteria may be based on the use of specific learning outcomes for courses that carry the attribute. If opting to include specific course learning outcomes for the attribute, the proposer should work with the Student Learning Assessment Office to make sure that the learning outcomes are clear and can be assessed.
    3. Criteria may be based on the inclusion of a specific statement about learning or content in the course description.
    4. Criteria should specify any limits on what level or kind of course the attribute can be applied to (example: undergraduate only, group instruction only, etc.) and any resource considerations associated with these limits.
    5. Content in the syllabus is not sufficient to set criteria because the syllabus that accompanies a course proposal is an example and not a durable part of the course information.
  6. Will the implementation of the course attribute require resources beyond basic resources? 
    1. If so, the proposal must be accompanied by documentation that resources or funding has been committed. Examples of course attributes that will need extra resources are those that appear on the transcript (official or unofficial); attributes that are used in a degree audit (such as DARS or Academic Advisement); attributes that need review by a dedicated or formally established committee; attributes that require the addition of a workflow step in the Lumen Course Proposal System; or other new administrative overhead. Consult Data, Academic Planning and Institutional Research (DAPIR) staff to develop details on a case-by-case basis.
  7. Planning and implementation timeline.
    1. The implementation plan should include information about how existing courses will be considered for the attribute and if a time-period for one-time provisional attachment of the course attribute to courses will be considered.
    2. The proposal should be submitted to the director of DAPIR for consideration and for circulation to the campus community for comment, if appropriate. DAPIR staff will work with the planning group to develop a full proposal and will consult with the Office of the Registrar about implications of the implementation.
  8. Proposals need approval of the University Curriculum Committee and when appropriate the University Academic Planning Council. 

Adding/Removing Attributes from Courses

  1. Attributes are added or removed from courses individually through the course approval process (supported by the Lumen Course proposal).
  2. Courses proposals must be approved by the subject, cross-listed subject(s) (if applicable), schools/colleges, attribute/designation review groups (if applicable), and the University Curriculum Committee.
  3. Once approved and implemented in the Student Information System (SIS), the course attribute will show up in Guide, Course Search and Enroll, and the Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS).
    1. While separate table in SIS determines what courses are used in awarding retro-credits, a business practice that the retro-credit table will be updated concert with foreign language attributes in the course catalog have been agreed upon, and auditing to assure that the two data sources remain in sync will be done.

Procedures for Specific Course Attributes

Community-Based Learning

How it works
Recommended best practices:
  1. Include assessment criteria for student learning as well as assessment of community impact.
  2. Make year-long or multi-year commitments to partnerships, folding in new students either each semester or, if possible, students make a year-long commitment to the same partner.
  3. Provide a course syllabus to community partners in advance of the semester, and invite partners to make class presentations when possible.
  4. Evidence of community-based learning agreements or memoranda of understanding outlining expectations agreed upon by the student, instructor, and community partner.
  5. Agree on method of ongoing communication that works best for all partners.
  6. Faculty, staff, students and partners review course content to assure that planned activities are safe for students and community members with special attention to unintended harms and cultural sensitivities.
Historical Information

Foreign Language

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a national leader in foreign language instruction and offers instruction in more than 40 languages. Given the expansive offerings it is not always easy for students to understand what languages are offered, or which courses are at the introductory and sequentially higher levels. This attribute provides a transparent means to identify language courses where the primary focus of the course is teaching students a method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way and to differentiate them from courses that focus on the culture, literature, history and polity or other aspects of language learning.

These courses, excluding level 1, are eligible to award retroactive credits (“retro-credits”) that grant credit for previous language study when students complete an appropriate course at the University with a grade of B or higher.

  • Level 1: First-semester language course. Course in a language other than English for students with no prior experience in the language. These courses are not retro-credit eligible.
  • Level 2: Second-semester language course. Course in a language other than English that requires a Level 1 course a requisite. These courses are retro-credit eligible.
  • Level 3: Third-semester language course. Course in a language other than English that requires a Level 2 course a requisite. These courses are retro-credit eligible.
  • Level 4: Fourth-semester language course. Course in a language other than English that requires a Level 3 course a requisite. These courses are retro-credit eligible.
  • Level 5+: Fifth-semester and above language course. Course in a language other than English that requires a Level 4 or Level 5 course a requisite. These courses are retro-credit eligible. Courses with a 5+ designation could be sequenced or non-sequenced language courses beyond the fourth semester, or literature or culture courses taught in the language that require a Level 4 or Level 5 course requisite. Because these are language courses, they are retro-credit eligible.
SIS Attribute Values (Course Attribute = FLNG)
  • FL 1 = first semester language (1st)
  • FL 2 = second semester language (2nd)
  • FL 3 = third semester language (3rd)
  • FL 4 = fourth semester language (4th)
  • FL 5 = fifth semester language or above (5th+)

Graduate Level

This attribute is used to provide programs and students alike a way to identify the courses eligible to meet this requirement (not only with courses in one’s unit, but with any course on campus) and to facilitate the advising of enrolled students as well as degree audits at the time of graduation.

Standards for Graduate Course Work

To develop and safeguard standards of graduate course work, below is a checklist of criteria for designation of a graduate course work attribute. The checklist is minimal and not intended to be exhaustive. The diversity of programs and courses may necessitate judgments outside of listed criteria due to the unique standards of a specific discipline. However, course proposers are encouraged to offer explanations where their courses deviate from general criteria.

Graduate Course Work Rigor

Graduate course work content should be intellectually challenging to graduate students. Course work which establishes a high standard of learning may be evidenced by:

  • requiring students to demonstrate advanced methodology/application of new skills and information to significant tasks or issues in the discipline;
  • requiring students to demonstrate an increased depth of knowledge beyond that normally attained by a typical bachelor degree holder in the discipline; 
  • requiring students to demonstrate higher-order synthesis and analysis in the discipline; 
  • a strong emphasis on the literature of the discipline and/or active engagement with the latest research and scholarly activity of the discipline.

Graduate course work content should generally build on knowledge or experience previously gained and is mindful of program admission prerequisites. The higher standards set for graduate students are generally reflective of the advanced level of instruction in a graduate course.

Graduate Course Work Requirements and Assessment

Graduate course work numbered 300-699:

  • must show evidence of meeting the above criteria by assessing graduate students through examinations, assignments, and the use of grading rubrics and the like which clearly establish a higher standard of performance for graduate students versus undergraduates for the same grade. The additional graduate student work will generally occur outside the common class time. These courses must also have at least one graduate learning outcome that is linked to this higher standard.
  • grading graduate students using a narrower scale and/or requiring graduate students to produce lengthier assignments without requiring advanced synthesis or demonstration of knowledge, would not be considered adequate for assignment of the graduate attribute.

A course that has the graduate attribute must have requisites that would allow a graduate student to enroll without special permission. For example, the requisite can not require undergraduate courses without adding a provision such as "or graduate/professional standing" as a graduate student's undergraduate work is not part of their UW-Madison student record.

Workplace Experience

Workplace experience can be a valuable way to help undergraduate students take the theories and concepts learned in the classroom and apply them in professional settings. The “Workplace Experience” attribute for undergraduate courses makes it easier for students to identify courses that structure meaningful workplace experiences to enhance their education. It provides a consistent messaging by faculty, advisors, deans’ offices, and other academic administrators about the value of and expectations for workplace experiences. It also allows the University to better meet demands for evaluating, tracking, and reporting on these kinds of experiences. 

The National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) definition of internships (or, more broadly, workplace experiences) was used in the development of this proposal:

  • A form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional [workplace] setting. Internships [and other immersive workplace experiences] give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.

Evidence of the criteria listed above must be included and explained in any proposal for a course requesting or having this attribute. 

Impact and Benefits

  • The attribute is used in the Guide and other systems that may be used for the purpose of searching for and identifying specific courses. 
  • A common identifier for workplace experience courses aids in the efficient and consistent reporting of workplace experiences.
  • While addressing the criteria above does not necessarily mean that a proposed workplace experience meets all of the conditions required to be an approved course, it does provide a framework that can be used to design a quality workplace experience course that will be useful when designing and proposing courses.
  • By creating an easy, defined way of identifying workplace experience courses, a course attribute specifically designed for workplace experience will replace the use of directed/independent study courses for this type of activity.

Other Attributes

Course Attribute for Practical Experience

The purpose of this document is to explain the creation and implementation of the Practical Experience Course Attribute. The intended audience is Academic Planning and Institutional Research. The Practical Experience (PRAC) administrative course attribute allows for comprehensive labeling of courses that represent for-credit activity in a workplace including practica and clinical placements. This attribute is not public facing and is used exclusively for reporting needs, including the Wisconsin Experience report, the legislated Act 32 accountability reporting, and mandated national State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) reporting, all of which require information about a similar type of course.

Course Attribute Details

Course Attribute (4 characters): PRAC

Description (30 char): Practical experience

Attribute Value (10 char): OPTIONAL

Description (30 char): Practical work

Definition: Any course where a student earns credit by completing practical work. This generally includes (but is not limited to) internships, practicums, clinicals, and other placements within a work environment. This is a general attribute assigned to any course that could include a practicum-like element. This will not be added to courses that meet a specific defined program requirement, which would be flagged with the REQUIRED value. 

Attribute Value (10 char): REQUIRED

Description (30 char): Req Curricular Placement

Definition: Any course that meets the “OPTIONAL” criteria and requires an additional flag for reporting purposes and is part of a defined required element within the curriculum. In part, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) requires UW-Madison to identify non-duplicated headcounts “where a student completes a defined program requirement, in which the student opts to participate at a place outside of the state of Wisconsin but within the boundaries of the United States of America, and which state or province the placement took place.” This value will be used in a limited fashion to indicate only courses that are specifically required, excluding courses that could be used to fulfill a requirement (covered under OPTIONAL). Any course assigned the REQUIRED value, is required in one or more programs.

Implementation Identification

The identification of courses to assign the PRAC attribute was a multiple step process:

    1. Courses utilizing the existing for-credit workplace experiences course attribute (attribute: WORK; value: EXPR) provided a foundational selection of courses that already met the qualifying description for the PRAC attribute. All courses with the WORK attribute were included in the initial PRAC list.
    2.  Identified academic programs (plans or subplans), which required an element of hands-on specialized training outside the classroom for completion of the program. This could include (but is not limited to) clinicals, internships, externships, practicum, rotations, outpatient or clerkship appointments, apprenticeships and preceptorships. If unclear, APIR consulted with the departments to determine whether a specific course was a required placement.
    3. Identified courses that would be excluded (independent study courses; There is no description on what is happening in the course so we cannot determine whether it would fall into this bucket).
    4. Reviewed the course catalog for courses that, either through the course title or course description, indicated a significant hands-on experience outside of the classroom supervised by a professional in the field.

Once APIR identified the list of courses that would be assigned the PRAC attribute, they determined the value based on how the courses were utilized in the program curriculum (see below for the guidelines). They produced a list of courses and their corresponding PRAC attributes and submitted to the Office of the Registrar for implementation in SIS. APIR submitted changes to the vendor to allow for the new attribute to display on the Lumen Course proposal form to allow for seamless assignment in the future.

Post-Implementation Identification
  1. Course proposals through the Lumen Course Proposal system.
    1. a. Most courses assigned with the PRAC attribute will be identified through the course proposal process. As courses progress through workflow, APIR will review the course title, description, component, course rationale, and sample syllabus to determine whether the course is a candidate for the PRAC. If a course clearly indicates an out-of-class learning experience, it will be flagged as a PRAC course.
      1. Is the experience of the course providing a student supervised practical knowledge of a specialized field of study? If so, the course should be assigned the PRAC attribute.
      2. Is there a substantial amount of time spent in the classroom? If so, the course should not be assigned the PRAC attribute.
      3. Laboratories that are primarily a class-room styled course (structured curriculum) are not candidates for the PRAC attribute.
  2. Academic program curriculum (specifically required courses that are placements) through the Lumen Program Proposal system.
    1. As programs are being reviewed, APIR will review to see if PRAC courses are used within the curriculum. If the curriculum utilizes courses that qualify for the PRAC attribute, the required-ability of the course determines the value of the attribute. If a program has a required placement, it will be flagged as such on the NC-SARA field in the administrative section of Lumen Programs as being a SARA program. These programs are reviewed annually to ensure that the curriculum has not changed.
Determining the Attribute Value associate with the PRAC Attribute

To determine the assigned attribute value (OPTIONAL or REQUIRED) of an identified practical experience course requires review of academic program curriculum. When courses and programs being created simultaneously, it can be difficult to determine the value of the practical experience course. If there is uncertainty which value should be assigned, APIR will consult with the department to determine whether a course is a required element of the curriculum or if it is a course that is one of a variety of course options that will fulfill requirements.

General Guidelines:
    1. A course being listed as an option within curriculum (“Select one of the following courses…”) but is not a required element of completing the program will be flagged as an OPTIONAL value.
    2. Courses that are listed as electives will be flagged as an OPTIONAL value.
    3. Curriculum indicating that a placement must be completed at least once will be flagged as REQUIRED.
    4. Many of the REQUIRED courses are determined by the context of how the curriculum has been entered in Guide. Typically, these are easy to identify.
    5. For many of the professional programs, their curriculum is not listed in Guide. This requires APIR to review the curriculum listed on departmental websites and consulting with the program to determine which value to assign a course.
Resource Documents

Course Attribute for Sustainability

The University Curriculum Committee approved a discontinuation proposal from the Office of Sustainability for the public, academic attribute and policy related to Sustainability at the 23 September 2022 meeting. An administrative attribute replaced the academic course attribute for sustainability, to be managed by the Office of Sustainability for STARS tracking.

Keywordscourse attributes, course proposal, community-based course attribute, foreign language, graduate level, workplace, sustainability attribute, practical experience, PRAC attribute, language attribute, FL 1, FL 2, FL 3, FL 4, FL 5, Grad 50%   Doc ID116440
OwnerMelissa S.GroupAcademic Planning
Created2022-02-02 11:30:03Updated2024-06-26 09:02:41
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