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.

Definitions

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). 

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. 

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.

Background

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. Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR), 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:

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. APIR 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.