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Policy - Course Proposal Elements

All policies that relate to course proposals, approved by the University Curriculum Committee (UCC).

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­This is a summary of the policy on Course Proposal Elements. Click here to view the official policy in its entirety in the UW-Madison Policy Library. 


For courses that will be cross-listed:

  • The course number, title, credits, requisites and, if applicable, attributes (breadth, level, grad attribute etc.) will be the same in all cross-listed subjects.
  • Before submitting the proposal, check with all cross-listed subjects to determine that the course number is available in all subjects. Lumen Courses will not allow a course that does not meet the course number use policy to be utilized.

If a cross-listed subject is being removed:

  • If one subject wishes to de-crosslist a course, a "short form" proposal is available. Utilizing the short form, the proposal allows a subject to remove themselves without requiring the regular elements of a full course proposal (sample syllabus, updated catalog elements, learning outcomes, etc.). No other changes may happen through this process. For more information on this, see How to De-cross-list your Subject from a Course.
  • If none of the subject owners will retain the course, discontinue the course. Any partner in the cross-listing can initiate the course discontinuation proposal.

The maintenance of cross-listed courses can be time-consuming, complex, and error-prone: cross-listing is not “resource-neutral.” Ideally, the use of cross-listing is reserved for courses that are taught within an inter- or multi-disciplinary framework and that appropriately belong in multiple subject listings. There may be occasions when cross-listing courses serves the broader goals of departments and programs, and since the responsibility for managing their subject listings rests on these units, they bear responsibility for determining the proper use of cross-listing.

There is no requirement that a course be cross-listed, even when it meets the criteria for cross-listing. The following guidelines are suggested:

  1. Department and program faculty are responsible for determining whether it is appropriate to approve requests to cross-list courses with other subject listings. Adding and removing cross-listed subjects is a function of the regular course proposal and governance process.
  2. Approval of a cross-listing signifies that all participating units will work together to ensure accuracy of all information as it appears in each subject listing.
  3. The following conditions are presumed in cross-listing:
    1. First and foremost, that important and necessary information is provided to students for enrollment in courses by virtue of the cross-listing;
    2. That the course is taught by a member of the faculty or an instructor who has a recognized, dual allegiance to both programs (e.g, via a joint appointment, formal admission as joint-governance faculty, or as a recognized affiliate); or that the course is team-taught by members of departments participating in the cross-list, and that students from all departments benefit from the joint offering; or that any of the departments participating in the cross-listing has the potential to offer the course (or that the course might rotate among participating departments); or that a substantial proportion of the course subject matter is (and will be) appropriate and relevant to all of the fields represented by participating departments. In short, tangential or insubstantial connections between programs and interests should not be sufficient for cross-listing courses across subject listings.

The cross-listing of courses increases the complexity of scheduling classes and will add to staff workload. This should be taken into consideration when proposals for cross-listing are considered. 

Course Titles

Each course has two governed versions of the title*:

  1. Course Title (also known as the long title): utilized in Course Search and Enroll, Guide, Canvas and other campus systems and publications where space is not an issue. The limitation in the Student Information System (SIS) is 100 characters Lumen Courses enforces that limit.
  2. Transcript Title: the version that appears on the student transcript and systems where space is limited. The best practice is to utilize as many characters as possible. This field is limited to 30 characters. Lumen Courses enforces that limit.

Course titles may only be changed with the approval of governance via a course change proposal. Titles should reflect the overall theme of the course description. The expectation is that course titles will be unique except in a limited number exceptions would include independent/directed study and other similar courses where the title simply describes the basic activity of the course.

Table - Course Numbers


Cooperative Education


Senior Honors Thesis


Senior Honors Thesis


Senior Honors Thesis


Senior Thesis


Senior Thesis


Senior Thesis


Master's Research and Thesis


Research or Research and Thesis

x99 or x98

Directed or Independent Study

*Topics courses have an additional title called “Topic Title.” The Course and Transcript Titles are relatively generic, allowing the Topic Title to indicate the specific topic taught in any given term. Topic Titles are limited to 30 characters and are entered through SIS. See Topics Courses below for more information.


The course description provides a brief summary of the course content. The text of a course description is used in the search features of Guide, Course Search and Enroll etc. so highlighting  key words or phrases are vital.

When crafting the description, keep these in mind:

  • Keep descriptions concise but fluid enough to allow ability to adapt the course in future years.
  • Descriptions have a 1000-character limit on the length of the description. This is enforced in Lumen Courses. 
    1. There may be descriptions currently longer than 1000 characters. With the implementation of Lumen Courses, the implementation team determined that course descriptions should be able to summarize the course descriptions in that amount of space. Descriptions longer than 1000 characters will need to be shortened with their first Lumen Course proposal.
  • Descriptions should not include elements already populated through other aspects of the course or course proposal (ie: title, credits, how it fulfills requirements, planned offering, requisites, or how the course will be taught).
  • To conserve space, do not use phrases like: "This course", "The goal is", "students will" or similar phrases. The description is about a course, and the intended audience are students, thus these phrases are implied.  
  • Complete sentences are not necessary.
  • When referring to other courses (if, in a sequence), list the correct subject short description in all capital letters and the catalog number(ie: MATH 202). If formatted correctly, Lumen will connect the sequenced course information to be displayed in a course bubble. 
  • Courses are, by default, taught in English. If a course is taught in any language other than English and does not have the Foreign Language Attribute (FL1-5) may include "Taught in [Jurassic Studies]."

Note: In limited situations, such as “Consent of Instructor,” information related to the enrollment of students in the course may be included as the last sentence in the course description. This is in anticipation of the discontinuation of Enroll Info after the completion of the Requisite Amnesty Program. For more information, see Enroll Info.





Enroll Info

The University Curriculum Committee approved an amnesty process to revise requisites by subject in an effort to provide clear, standardized information about enforced requisites (May 22, 2015). Through the amnesty process, Enroll Info was created to store the old requisite data (Prereq>) during the requisite amnesty project and additionally serves as a place to store enroll information when the requisite is “Consent of Instructor.”

In circumstances when the requisite for the course is “Consent of Instructor”, a concise explanation of the circumstances when a student will be given permission to enroll may be included. This can be used to inform the student of the additional criteria to enroll in the course, such as age limits, verifying valid passports, applications/auditions, etc. 

Enroll Info cannot include information such as recommended (but not enforced) preparation, how the course fulfills requirements for specific programs, etc. If there is additional information that needs to be provided to students, this can be done in Instructor Notes when building the schedule of classes.

Examples of allowable Enroll Info:

At the completion of the requisite amnesty project, Enroll Info will be retired. See more about requisite amnesty project (RAP) here. 


A catalog requisite is the academic preparation required of all students to be successful in a course. Requisites can take the form of a prerequisite (completed prior to the start of the course) or co-requisite (taken concurrently with the course). Requisites are set at the catalog level and are true for all sections of a course. 

Requisites are relatively consistent, in that they remain the same every term until they are revised by course proposal, reviewed, and approved through governance. Requisites are public facing and should be transparent and inclusive of all ways a student could demonstrate preparation. This helps students, advisors, and individuals determining transfer credit understand course sequences and make appropriate plans for completing requirements. The department(s) proposing/offering the course determine the academic preparedness and are the experts expected to articulate that preparedness in the requisite. Requisites must comply with the rules for building requisites. 

Requisites are an element reviewed and approved at the subject level (department chair, FP&P 5.31), as the content experts are expected to know and articulate the appropriate level of preparation for a course. See the policy on Course Proposal Review Process, Standards and Responsibilities for more information on subject/department responsibilities.

Requisites are not a means of managing enrollment. This is done through the application of section-level requirement groups and is not a part of the course catalog entry. Section level requirements can be turned on and off. These requirement groups may be set while building the schedule of classes and may only be stricter than the catalog level requisite (aka one cannot make section-level requisites less strict than catalog requisites, bypassing the catalog requisite).

Why requisites are important to enforce:

Institutional research has shown that students who enroll in courses without the necessary preparation have higher rates of D, F and drop than students who are appropriately prepared. Enforcing requisites is a way to ensure that students are only enrolling in courses that they are prepared for. For students to make smart decisions about their education, they need clear, consistent information.

  • D/F/DR rates are higher for students who don't have the course prerequisite; targeted minority students and first generation in college students are more likely to enroll in a course without having the necessary requisites.
  • Overall, 8% of undergraduate course outcomes are D/F/Drop, this represents a large number of seats that do not result in students making progress toward degree.

Requisites are limited to 254 characters (maximum characters allowed in SIS); Lumen Courses enforces that limitation.

Rules when building requisites:

  1. Include all UW-Madison courses that may provide the academic preparation needed for the course. Include all equivalents and all cross-listings. Courses must be formatted utilizing the appropriate subject short description + catalog number (ex: MATH 221).
    1. If a specific GPA/grade is required in a course, include significant data to support that students need that grade to succeed.
  2. Include Advanced Placement, departmental placement, or any other testing scores (Advanced Placement and other third-party test scores are automatically configured if the course they equate to is used in the requisite).
  3. Include completion of general education.
  4. Include any limitations on enrollment, such as significant overlap with another course.
  5. Consider the audience for the course (ie: class standing- junior, graduate/professional, etc. Students declared in a plan or subplan. Student groups).
  6. If requisites are unenforceable in SIS, utilize ‘Consent of Instructor’.

See more on how to build requisites.

Grading Basis

Policies for grading are found in the policy library: 

Additional information can also be found in Guide:

Explanation of Grading Basis Options:

  • A-F grading is the most frequently used and includes the Pass/Fail (S/U) grading option where appropriate (A-F scale, Pass/Fail student option).
  • Credit/No credit: CR/N grading is applicable only if the entire course is to be graded on this basis; individual sections within a course may not have CR/N grading if other sections are to be graded on a letter basis. This is not the same grading as Pass/Fail.
  • Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory: Available for certain graduate-level courses only.
  • School of Veterinary Medicine graded option: Available only for School of Veterinary Medicine courses
  • First in 2 course sequence (Administrative only). Utilized for courses such as 681/682 or 691/692 where both courses are tied together. Limited use.

Additional notes:

  • Courses with a number ending in 98 (e.g., 198 or 698) are offered on a Credit/No Credit basis.
  • Courses ending in 99 are graded A-F.

Credits (Variable Credit)

Variable credit courses may take several forms:

  • different credits across terms (e.g. 3 credits in fall, 4 credits in spring)
  • different credits across sections (e.g. topics courses where each section is a different topic with a set number of credits)
  • different credits across students (for group instruction each student selects number of credits or for individual instruction where student and instructor determine credit number based on workload)
  • providing students with the opportunity to enroll in an additional, optional credit.

Consistent Course Information

  • All aspects (title, number, description, designations, attributes, etc.) of the course proposal apply to all offerings of the course regardless of how many credits are associated with a specific offering.
  • All offerings of the course must comply with course numbering policy and have activities and learning outcomes that are appropriate to the course. (i.e. course number must correspond to the level of the course).

Course Learning Outcomes Requirements

  • The course learning outcomes entered on the course proposal form are the ones that apply to all offerings of the course and additional outcomes may be included in the syllabus for the higher credit offerings.

Syllabus Requirements

  • The sample syllabus provided must reflect the maximum credit offering. For clarity it is fine to include all credit offerings. 
  • For variable credit courses, academic units must ensure that the additional credit(s) will not have an adverse effect on pedagogy and evaluation for students enrolled for the lower number of credits. For example, moving all discussion and enrichment to the additional credit(s) is not acceptable; every effort should be made to grade the work of students taking the lower number of credits in the context of their requirements, not those of the students taking the additional credit(s).

See Also: Policy on the Credit Hour

Topics Courses

A topics course is a classification used for courses with content that varies with each offering. Topics courses should not be used to circumvent the course proposal and approval process. A new course does not need to be taught as a topics course prior to being proposed and approved with a permanent course number. If a topic title will be a regular offering in the curriculum, it must be created as a new course.

A topics course will:

  • fall under a disciplinary area of closely related course content,
  • align with the approved catalog-level components for the course, including learning outcomes, component type(s) (lecture, discussions, seminar etc.), and course designations
  • have at least one learning outcome that applies to all offerings of the course, each topic will have additional, section-level outcomes
  • appear on students' transcripts with the specific title of the topic,
  • typically be repeatable with a different topic,
  • follow the same requirements for credit hour, instructor qualifications, syllabus information etc. that all courses must follow.
  • be a single component. Multi-component topics courses are unable to be supported in the Student Information System, thus any new course proposals can only be a single component.

Typical Uses of a Topics Course:

  • Pilot and refine an idea for a new course
  • Offered on an experimental or trial basis
  • Address a timely issue of special interest
  • For courses that will be taught infrequently or a limited number of times such as those offered by visiting professors
  • Topics courses should not be cross-listed unless there is a specific programmatic and scholarly reason. The expectation is that there will be shared scholarly oversight among all cross-listed subjects for each offering of the course.

Guidelines for Reviewing Topics Courses 

The decision to offer particular topics should be part of the regular process for establishing the department/program schedule of courses and should involve conversation with, and planning by, the department faculty members.

On an annual basis, each school or college will be provided with a list of topics courses that were offered through subject listings in their departments showing the number of times each topic has been offered. It is the responsibility of the school or college and their departments to review this list and determine whether there are courses being offered as a topic that should be proposed as a stand-alone course with a permanent number. It is recommended that a limit of being offered three (3) times within a 5-year period should be considered the standard.

Topics Courses Section-Level Titles

  • Courses have been approved to be offered as topics courses may have an additional title called the topic title.
  • This title has a 30 character limit. 

Course Designations and Attributes

All attributes and designations (with the exception the Community based Learning attribute) are set at the catalog level and apply to all sections of a course.

See the policy for each attribute/designation:

Learning Outcomes

UW-Madison Course Learning Outcomes Policy 

In the Criteria for Accreditation, the Higher Learning Commission requires "clearly stated goals for student learning and effective processes for assessment of student learning and achievement of learning goals." For course learning outcomes, the syllabus is the place where the goals and assessment are explained.

According to the UW-Madison 2015 Assessment Plan, “All courses offered at UW-Madison must have course syllabi with course objectives and student learning goals clearly articulated.” 

See the 2015 Assessment Plan for more information.

Writing Course Learning Outcomes 

Course learning outcomes are common to each offering of a course regardless of instructor, mode of instruction, etc. These learning outcomes are included in the proposal for a new course and may subsequently be updated through the course change proposal process. An instructor may have additional learning outcomes for a specific offering of a course, but these may not be in place of the established course learning outcomes. If a course is part of the requirements for a particular degree/major or certificate one or more of the learning outcomes could relate to the program learning outcomes. Guidance about writing high quality learning outcomes is available as a video or on this website.

Each time a course is offered the established course learning outcomes must be included on the syllabus.

Course learning outcomes state what students are expected to know or be able to do upon completion of a course. Course learning outcomes may contribute, or map to, program learning outcomes, and are required in group instruction course syllabi.  Courses typically should have 3-5 course learning outcomes.
The course learning outcomes included in a course proposal are an integral part of the course and all outcomes must be a part of all offerings of the course (regardless of modality, term, instructor, section, credits, etc.). In the syllabus for a particular term, the instructor may add section level learning outcomes in addition to the governance-approved course learning outcomes.

Course Learning Outcomes:

  • are clear, observable, and measurable
  • reflect how students will be assessed through activities such as participation, assignments, exams, etc.
  • typically relate to one or more program learning outcomes
  • meet the campus format requirements 
    1. 400 characters or less per learning outcome 
    2. Must be in English
    3. No special characters (accents, umlauts, ampersands, etc.) It is fine to use special characters etc. in the syllabus document.
    4. No formatting (bullets, dashes, paragraphs, etc.)
    5. Don’t include “Students will …” this assumed/implied.

Guidelines, Roles, and Responsibilities  

After the initial implementation of Lumen Programs, Student Learning Assessment (SLA) and Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR) offices received feedback that the learning outcomes process was confusing. SLA and APIR created a roles and responsibilities document for Lumen Programs and determined it would be helpful for one in Lumen Courses as well. 

Directed/Independent Study or Thesis Courses

Individual study courses are different from group instruction courses in that they do not have a pre-defined curriculum. Proposals to create or change an individual study course must still go through the regular course proposal process.

There are a number of areas where this type of course must follow the same requirements as all other for-credit courses: 

  • They must have learning outcomes.
  • Students must be provided with information about how they will be graded.
  • Information must be provided about the amount of work and assignments/deliverables that are required.
  • Information that outlines the frequency and nature of the student-instructor contact is needed.
  • The course must follow the credit hour policy.
  • If the course number is less than 700, the course must adhere to the Policy on Directed/Independent Study for Undergraduates.

The sample syllabus may be replaced with a directed/independent study or thesis agreement form.

See also: Policy on Directed/Independent Study for Undergraduates

See Also:

Keywords:cross-listing, crosslist, crosslisting, cross-list, title, transcript title, description, course, grading basis, policy, requisite, prerequisite, corequisite, credits, variable credits, topics, topic courses, designations, attributes, graduate, L&S level, general education, ethnic studies, comm a, comm b, communication a, communication b, course learning outcomes, clo, independent study, directed study, thesis course   Doc ID:108469
Owner:Melissa S.Group:Academic Planning and Institutional Research
Created:2021-01-20 11:23 CSTUpdated:2022-10-04 12:00 CST
Sites:Academic Planning and Institutional Research
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