Topics Map > Degrees/Majors
Topics Map > Named Options

Features of an Academic Degree-Major Program

Summarizes the features of an academic degree-major program, which are set at the time of authorization/approval by the UW System Board of Regents, and include such things as title, mode of delivery, academic home, program learning outcomes, curriculum, and credits.


An academic degree-major program is a prescribed program of study that will conclude with the conferral of a degree-major award at the bachelor’s level or above. The degree-major is represented by a distinct academic plan code and is formally authorized by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.

The degree is a set of defined curricular requirements that can be associated with one or more majors, and may be within one area of study (e.g., Master of Public Health) or cross several areas of study (e.g., Bachelor of Science, Doctor of Philosophy). 

A major is a cohesive combination of courses that designate a primary area of study within one or more degree programs. 

The academic plan code is a 10-character code that is used to uniquely identify each academic degree-major program offered by the university. 

A subplan distinguishes a strand of activity within a degree-major/plan and comes in two varieties: 1) named options, and 2) honors in the major. 

Named options are a convenience for UW-Madison faculty and staff to identify subplans that feature, for example, different funding models or a subset of a major’s curriculum. Named options are not recognized by nor reported to any entity outside of the university.


Degree-major programs (i.e., plan codes) at UW–Madison have a set of attributes that ensure the coherence, quality, and distinctiveness of the program of study. These program attributes, which range from the curriculum to program learning outcomes to the mode of delivery, are established at the time of program approval/authorization by the UW Board of Regents. 

This authorization by the Board defines how the degree-major program is approved to operate and establishes all attributes, which can only be changed by the formal program change process (see Program Change Approval Process below). Usually the Board authorization specifies a single degree-major combination. In some instances a single Board authorization specifies more than one degree-major combination (e.g., Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in History, Master’s and PhD in Economics). 

When the Board of Regents approves an academic degree-major program, the program is assigned an academic plan code at UW-Madison. Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research (DAPIR), on behalf of the Office of the Provost, administers plan codes and ensures academic programs are offered and credentials are awarded consistent with the Board authorization. 

In addition to degree-majors/plans, UW-Madison offers academic subplans. While the university has created named options/subplans for convenience, the authorization to offer a program of study is at the degree-major/plan level. Therefore, any named options/subplans carry the same key attributes as their associated degree-major/plan programs. This is why a student cannot enroll in and/or earn more than one named option/subplan within the same degree-major/plan. 

A subplan distinguishes a strand of activity within a degree-major/plan and comes in two varieties: 1) a named option, and 2) honors in a major. Named options are a convenience for UW-Madison faculty and staff to identify subplans of a degree-major/plan that feature, for example, different funding models or a subset of the major’s curriculum. Named options are not recognized by nor reported to any entity outside of the university. Stated differently, all relevant outside entities (e.g., UW System, the UW System Board of Regents, the Higher Learning Commission, etc.) understand only that UW-Madison is approved to offer particular degree-majors/plan codes. 

Attributes of a Degree/Major Program at UW–Madison

Degree-major programs carry certain features/attributes that must be maintained consistently within that degree-major program (i.e., plan) and any subplans (i.e., named options) that may be associated with the degree-major. That is, they cannot be split across the degree-major/plan. These include:

  • Title of Academic Degree-major Program: This is the official name of the program, which will print on the transcript. This title/name must be used exactly as authorized in all materials (print and electronic) and must be made transparent to students. 
  • Degree Designation: This sets the degree that will be awarded in combination with the major.  The specific degree-major combinations are approved at authorization and governed (e.g., Bachelor of Science). 
  • Mode of Delivery: UW System options to define mode of delivery at the degree-major level are: a) face-to-face delivery, b) 50% or more distance delivery, or c) both 50% or more distance delivery and face-to-face delivery. Mode of delivery also has federal reporting requirements. 
  • Department and School/College: This is the program’s academic/administrative home, defining which department (or functional equivalent) and unit (school/college or equivalent) will house the program and fulfil academic administrative oversight for students and the program.
  • Program Learning Outcomes: The program’s student learning outcomes are set with the authorization and are carried at the degree-major level. If subplans (i.e., named options) are offered, the subplan(s) carry the same program learning outcomes as the degree-major (i.e., plan). 
  • Program Requirements and Curriculum: For authorization, the program’s coursework is specified, including general education requirements (if relevant), degree, and major requirements (if applicable). 
  • Total Credits: This is the number of program credits, including general education credits, required from year one to graduation. Bachelor’s degrees require 120 credits, master’s degrees require at least 30 credits after the bachelor’s degree, and PhD programs require  at least 52 credits after the bachelor’s degree. Because credits are set at the degree-major (i.e., plan) level, all subplans (i.e., named options) must carry that same total credit value. Credit changes require federal reporting. 
  • Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Code: CIP codes are administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The academic program’s CIP is the taxonomic coding scheme used for instructional programs in higher education in the United States. Its purpose is to facilitate the organization, collection, and reporting of fields of study and program completions. The CIP code is a six-digit number (xx.xxxx) that identifies the instructional program. Academic Planning and Institutional Research assigns a  CIP code at the time of authorization and is set at the degree-major (i.e., plan) level based on the program learning outcomes and curriculum. If subplans (i.e., named options) are offered, the subplan(s) carry the same CIP code as the degree-major (i.e., plan code).
  • Central Data Request (CDR) Major Code: UW System Administration assigns each authorized degree-major a CDR Major Code, which is linked to UW-Madison’s plan code. These codes are also the basis for federal reporting under Title IV.  

Program Change Approval Process

As noted earlier, the above list of program attributes is set with authorization (i.e., initial program approval by the Board of Regents) and can only be changed by formal governance approval. Changes to the program attributes are made via a Lumen Program change proposal. That proposal moves through the defined campus administrative/governance process, which can include Academic Planning and Institutional Research (on behalf of the Office of the Provost), the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee (GFEC), and the University Academic Planning Council (UAPC). 

Depending on the change being made, subsequent reporting/approval may be necessary by the UW System Administration and/or the Higher Learning Commission (to meet U.S. Department of Education substantive change reporting requirements). For example, changes involving credit hours, method of delivery, and program content (e.g., learning outcomes, >25% changes in curriculum, etc.) must be reported to the HLC per Chapter VI, Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically 34 CFR 602.22 Substantive Changes. DAPIR manages these reporting requirements on behalf of the program after the changes are approved by campus governing bodies.   

Related Policy

UW–Madison’s ongoing management of the academic degree program array, as well as approvals of new programs, review of program suspensions and eliminations, changes to programs, and program reviews, is guided by UW System Administrative Policy 102 (SYS 102, Policy on University of Wisconsin System Array Management: Program Planning, Delivery, Review, and Reporting. The Higher Learning Commission, the university’s accrediting body, also provides guidance on the program array, primarily through the Criteria for Accreditation (CRRT.B.10.010) and the Assumed Practices (CRRT.B.10.020) policies. 

Keywordsnamed option, plan, subplan, HLC, CIP, CDR, Board, authorization, degree, program learning outcomes, credits, mode of delivery, curriculum, change   Doc ID114353
OwnerKaren M.GroupAcademic Planning
Created2021-10-18 10:59:26Updated2024-06-25 13:10:59
SitesAcademic Planning
Feedback  0   0