L&S Policy on Review of Certificate Programs

Since 2005, L&S has required that all certificate programs engage in modest program review. This review exists for purposes of program evaluation, as well as to provide information essential to effective administration of these (usually) interdisciplinary programs.


"A certificate program is a designated set of for‐credit courses focused upon a specific topic or theme. Certificates give students the opportunity to pursue a subject of interest in a formalized way and to have completion of the course of study recognized by the awarding of the certificate. After approval, the for‐credit certificate is documented on the student’s UW‐Madison transcript and becomes part of the official student record. Certificates add opportunities for flexibility not available in majors and degrees."  University Academic Planning Council Guidelines for For-Credit Certificate Programs (http://apir.wisc.edu/certificates.htm)

In the College of Letters and Science, certificate programs play various roles in our students’ academic experiences.  For example, certificate programs allow our faculty to organize coherent programs of study around topics to enhance existing majors, as when students pursuing the International Studies major earn any of several certificates focusing on regions around the world.  Certificates provide recognition that students have pursued studies in interdisciplinary areas that span departments (as with the ethnic studies programs, Folklore, Medieval Studies, and Archaeology).  Certificates can be used to organize disparate undergraduate breadth requirements into a meaningful and useful program (Integrated Liberal Studies) or provide additional certification of expertise at the graduate level (Women’s Studies, Material Cultures).  These programs provide access to areas where scholarship and resources at UW-Madison have recently coalesced (Celtic Studies) or are still emerging (Middle East Studies).  Less frequently, a certificate program might serve as a “proving ground” for an area of study, providing a foundation on which a degree program may later be established—the undergraduate majors in Jewish, Religious, and Women’s Studies all began as certificate programs.  

Certificate programs generally call for fewer credits than majors (15-21 vs. 30-40) and are usually very flexible.  The approval process is relatively brief, a condition that affords the faculty an opportunity to explore new areas for academic programming.  (Please see http://wiscinfo.doit.wisc.edu/obpa/uapccertificates.htm for more information on the process for seeking approval of a certificate.)  Campus oversight of certificate programs is limited, and the faculty has a large degree of local control over these programs.  Certificates, unlike majors, are not subject to UW System rules related to Academic Program Review, nor do they rise to the attention of the annual “low-enrollment program” reporting requirement. Yet those very advantages pose challenges.  If a small program driven by the energies of a few people loses the interest of those members, the program may falter.  If departments cooperating in an interdisciplinary program don’t communicate or plan course offerings, students may lack access to courses offered with sufficient frequency, or at appropriate levels, to complete the program.  If the program loses a long-term director or administrator, it may lose the institutional memory that ensured that the Registrar’s Office was informed of declarations, drops, and completions.  A certificate program may long suffer from limited course offerings, flagging faculty interest, falling enrollments, structural problems, and other issues that call into question whether the program is meeting its original academic purpose—or if that purpose is still necessary and relevant.  The L&S Academic Planning Council has therefore recommended that a process be implemented to perform a brief evaluation of certificate programs.

Reporting Cycle
  • Certificate programs managed by academic departments and programs subject to the regular review of degree programs should be included in the review of those departments, according to the schedule established by the Provost and Dean.
  • Interdisciplinary centers, institutes, and programs that manage certificate programs should include information about those programs in their regular documentation about the center or institute. “Regular documentation” might include the annual report to the dean or oversight committee, grant renewal applications (if appropriate), budget/funding requests, etc.  Annual reports are not necessary; however, a report should be submitted at least once every five years.
  • New certificate programs are required to be reviewed five years after the program is established, except in cases where an earlier report is submitted under the conditions provided above.  After submission of the first report, subsequent reports will follow the above cycle.
Report Contents

In light of the limited level of resources usually dedicated to certificate program administration, the information required by the APC is also limited.  Reports on certificate programs include the following information:

Note: these content guidelines have been updated to conform to UAPC Guidelines on Certificate Program Review (April 2012)
  1. Recommendation regarding program continuation
  2. Program description and context, including mission, requirements, learning goals, relationship to other units
  3. Demonstrated need for the program, recruitment/outreach to populations served by the program
  4. Program administration and resources, including administrative and advising processes.  Where appropriate, this also includes evaluation of fiscal models that support the program.
  5. List of participating faculty and staff, with department affiliation noted
  6. Total number of students enrolled/declared in the program, average time for program completion
  7. Courses actually offered or for which students received program credit, by semester, including enrollment data for “core” (introductory) and/or “capstone” courses
  8. Program completion - number of certificates awarded annually.  "Professionally oriented" programs should include placement data.
  9. Assessment of student learning - assessment plan and summary of annual assessment activities (especially those leading to requests for curricular changes)
Report Submission

Materials should be addressed to the Dean, who will bring them forward for review and consultation by the L&S Academic Planning Council.  Since the process of review provides an opportunity to correct errors and/or update program requirements, the L&S Curriculum Committee may also be invited to participate in the process.  Information on certificates offered in collaboration with other units (e.g., the Graduate School, the Institute for Regional and International Studies, the Division of Continuing Studies) will be shared with those units, too.  A review committee will be convened for all graduate certificate program reviews; those committees submit reports that are discussed by the L&S APC and by the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee. 

When the review is complete, the final memorandum from the dean is shared with the Office of Academic Planning & Institutional Research. APIR will affirm the completion of the review and verify that approved program requirements recorded on the Certificate Implementation Form and published in the Guide are consistent with information provided in the review process. 

Review Related to Low-Award Producing Certificate Programs

In June 2016, the University Academic Planning Council approved new policy concerning low-award producing certificate programs. This policy applies to all UW-Madison undergraduate, graduate/professional, and capstone certificates. Programs that award fewer than 10 certificates in a five-year period will be considered "low award producing" and will be required to undertake review. The organizational unit (faculty committee and sponsoring department, program, or center) responsible for the certificate will be expected to make a compelling case for continuation (likely with suggestions for reorganization to increase award production); otherwise, discontinuation should be planned. In making the case for continuation, questions that should be addressed include the following:
  • 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?
  • What is the cost of the program? No program is without cost, so a clear recognition of all costs is important. All programs incur costs in terms of 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.
  • Is faculty time and effort best invested in such a program? Time must be devoted to learning outcomes assessment, review of the program, recruitment of students, curriculum development, advising, catalog and website maintenance, course scheduling, and similar activities. Programs with few or no students that are formally offered still need to have a full curriculum available to a student who seeks to enroll in the program.
  • What are the compelling reasons why none of the options outlined above (discontinuing the program or merging this major into a larger major) are viable alternatives?
  • Does the program have a stable academic home, usually a department?  Is that academic home actively engaged in supporting and managing the program?
Additional questions may be asked, the better to consider the opportunity costs of fielding low-enrollment and low-award programs. These reviews will be convened by the Dean, who will present the reports for discussion with the L&S Academic Planning Council, and share Graduate Program reports with the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee for discussion there. 

Finally, per UAPC policy that has been endorsed by the L&S APC, certificate programs that have zero (0) awards in a five year period will be automatically discontinued without review.

Useful information:

Approved by L&S APC, November 16, 2005
Last updated: January 2, 2018
Prepared by Elaine M. Klein, Associate Dean

Keywords:APC Program Review Accreditation Assessment   Doc ID:24813
Owner:Elaine K.Group:L&S Administrative Gateway
Created:2012-06-21 17:02 CDTUpdated:2019-12-10 15:14 CDT
Sites:L&S Administrative Gateway
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