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Postbaccalaureate Credit Certificate Programs

Background

The educational needs of society are changing. The traditional higher education paradigm in which an individual progresses through a baccalaureate, master's degree, and a doctorate is no longer sufficient to meet lifelong educational needs. The development of Postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs apart from the traditional degree programs is in keeping with the University's educational mission and outreach effort.

Postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs enable Penn State to be more responsive to varied and emerging educational needs, to extend/enhance access to Penn State throughout the Commonwealth, the nation, and internationally, and to respond to instructional opportunities with greater speed and flexibility than is possible with developing rigorous graduate degree programs.

Postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs reflect emerging academic areas, and may be supplements or enhancements to existing degree programs. Postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs are designed to foster development of an area of specialty or competency within a discipline. Flexibility is essential to accommodate the parameters of the discipline as well as the educational needs of the students. Wide variation and innovation among postbaccalaureate credit programs is expected and encouraged.

Academic level/quality is expected to be commensurate with that in traditional Penn State degree programs. Credits earned in postbaccalaureate certificate programs (up to a maximum of 15 credits) may be applied to graduate degree programs, but any decision to do so resides with the faculty in the respective programs. All program advertising must convey the nature of the credit transferability to the degree program. Further, completion of a certificate program neither guarantees nor implies subsequent admission to a degree program.

Definition

A postbaccalaureate credit certificate program is a sequence, pattern, or group of courses or contact hours that focuses upon an area of specialized knowledge or information and is developed, supervised, and evaluated by the faculty members of the academic unit (i.e., department, program, etc.) offering the program.

Guidelines for Development of Postbaccalaureate Credit Certificate Programs

  1. The University Faculty Senate delegates authority to the Graduate Council on all graduate curricular matters, such as approval of new and revised programs and courses. Postbaccalaureate credit certificates fall within that delegated authority.
  2. Credit certificates may be either undergraduate or postbaccalaureate certificates; graduate certificates are a subset of postbaccalaureate certificates.
  3. Graduate Council policy stipulates the following regarding postbaccalaureate credit certificates:
    • Postbaccalaureate certificates require a baccalaureate degree for admission into the certificate program (see point 5 below for additional information about the baccalaureate degree requirement).
    • Postbaccalaureate credit certificates may contain all undergraduate-level courses (below the 500 level), all graduate-level courses at the 500 or 800 level, or a mix of undergraduate-level courses and graduate-level courses at the 500 or 800 level. (Note that while 600-level courses are graduate-level courses, graduate research and thesis-related courses may not be part of a certificate program.)
    • A credit certificate composed entirely of 400-level courses may be designated by the proposing unit as either an undergraduate certificate or a postbaccalaureate certificate; however, the same program of courses cannot be designated and offered as both an undergraduate and a postbaccalaureate certificate.
    • If a proposing unit wishes to designate a certificate as postbaccalaureate, all course credits required must be at the 400 level or higher; however, the certificate need not include any graduate level courses.
    • If a certificate program includes at least one graduate-level course at the 500 or 800 level, the certificate must be a postbaccalaureate certificate (i.e., it cannot be an undergraduate certificate), and as indicated above in second bullet, all course credits must be at the 400 level or higher.
    • If a certificate program includes at least one course below the 400 level, the certificate must be an undergraduate certificate (for more information about undergraduate certificates, see Academic Administrative Policies and Procedures M-12: Guidelines for Undergraduate Certificates).
    • A postbaccalaureate certificate may be designated as a graduate certificate if at least half of the course credits required are at the graduate level (500 or 800 level).
  4. All postbaccalaureate credit certificates should be referred to in promotional/informational material as a Penn State College/School of "X" Postbaccalaureate [or Graduate] Credit Certificate in [Program Area]; the certificate title used in eCert should be simply "[Program Area]."
  5. Applicants to a postbaccalaureate (including graduate) credit certificate program must have received from a regionally accredited institution a baccalaureate degree earned under residence and credit conditions substantially equivalent to those required by Penn State prior to enrolling in the courses in the program.
  6. All individuals wishing to pursue a postbaccalaureate (including graduate) certificate program, even those already enrolled as a graduate degree student, must apply and be admitted using the Graduate School's Online Certificate Application.
  7. Courses in postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs must adhere to existing University policies and procedures for course approval as outlined by the academic unit and the appropriate Senate and/or Graduate Council committees.
  8. The individuals involved in development of the academic content of the postbaccalaureate certificate will include faculty designated by the responsible academic unit.
  9. Academic units will determine the minimum and maximum number of courses or credits to meet the requirements of certificates. Graduate courses carry numbers from 500-699 and 800-899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some postbaccalaureate/graduate certificate requirements; courses below the 400 level may not.
  10. It is strongly recommended that postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs not exceed 15 credits, which is the maximum number of credits that may be transferred to a graduate program from nondegree status. It also is recommended that there be a minimum of 9 credits, with a typical certificate in the 12- to 15-credit range.
  11. Whether a course in a postbaccalaureate credit certificate program will be accepted as applicable toward a Penn State graduate degree (if the student ultimately is accepted into a graduate degree program) will depend on the criteria for the graduate program as defined by the graduate degree program and Graduate Council. The academic unit proposing the postbaccalaureate credit certificate program must clearly specify the relationship between the coursework in the postbaccalaureate credit certificate program and any relevant graduate degree program, including in all marketing materials. The latter must be explicit in conveying that up to a maximum of 15 credits of coursework taken in nondegree status can count towards a graduate degree, but that admission into a graduate program, and credit towards a graduate degree for specific courses taken in nondegree status, is up to the graduate program and is not guaranteed based on acceptance into or completion of the certificate program.
  12. All instructors teaching courses in the certificate program will be approved by the academic unit. Instructors for 500- and 800-level courses must be members of the Graduate Faculty or, if not, must be approved to teach at this level by the Dean of the Graduate School.
  13. The quality of a postbaccalaureate credit certificate program resides with the college or school, which appoints the instructors, select the courses, and supervises the program.
  14. Colleges/Schools can offer postbaccalaureate certificate programs through any appropriate Penn State delivery system, but as noted above, the academic unit, not the delivery unit, is responsible for the certificate program.
  15. Monitoring and assessing the financial viability of the postbaccalaureate credit certificate program will be a joint responsibility of the delivery system and the academic unit.
  16. Each College/School in the University will have a systematic proposal development review and approval process for postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs. This process is entirely within the purview of the college/school and should include consultation regarding the proposed certificate offering with other relevant units.*
  17. Approval of postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs includes a maximum 5-year sunset clause, with expiration of the certificate offering taking effect automatically at the end of the preplanned semester, unless the college/school approver extends the end date for another period of up to 5 years. The certificate program head should work directly with the college/school approver to request extension of the certificate. There is no limit to the number of successive extensions that can be granted per certificate program.
  18. Records of postbaccalaureate (including graduate) credit certificate programs will be maintained by the University Faculty Senate, and a master list of all approved, active programs will be posted online in a special section of the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin.
  19. Submitted postbaccalaureate credit certificate programs will be listed in the Senate Curriculum Report ("blue sheets") as informational items, but this listing will not delay addition of the certificate to the Graduate Bulletin. Conflicts regarding possible duplication of titles, content, or other issues related to a certificate offering will be referred to the Graduate Council Joint Curricular Committee for review and resolution.

Guidelines for Seeking Academic and Administrative Approval of Postbaccalaureate Credit Certificate Programs

Each academic unit seeking approval for a postbaccalaureate credit certificate program should develop and implement its own internal procedures for reviewing such proposals. At a minimum, the postbaccalaureate or graduate credit certificate must be submitted by the program in the Curriculum Review & Consultation System (CRCS). Using the template found at the link below, the program also must develop the Bulletin listing for the certificate. In CRCS, at Step 5 Request Consultation, use the File Upload tool to attach the proposed Bulletin listing for the certificate. The certificate will be routed to the college/school administrator for graduate education (e.g., the college associate dean for graduate education) for approval, after which it will be forwarded to the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School for final release.

Template for Bulletin listing postbaccalaureate and graduate credit certificates (DOC)

A Graduate Certificate Assessment Plan must also be uploaded with all certificate proposals. A template for the Graduate Certificate Assessment Plan can be obtained through your College Dean's office, or by contacting the Director of Graduate Education Administration. The certificate learning objectives, curriculum map, and annual assessment plan should be in compliance with University guidelines. Please contact the Learning Outcomes Assessment Office for questions or assistance in completing the Graduate Certificate Assessment Plan at Loa@psu.edu or 814-863-8721.

Postbaccalaureate and graduate credit certificate program descriptions must adhere to the following standard format for inclusion in the Graduate Bulletin:

  • Name of the postbaccalaureate or graduate credit certificate program (note that the name of the certificate program should not include the words "certificate" or "postbaccalaureate/graduate") and number of credits.
  • Unit and college/school offering the certificate.
  • Person in charge of the postbaccalaureate or credit certificate program and contact information (mailing address, telephone and fax number, email address).
  • Brief description of the certificate program including purpose and objectives (maximum of 1000 characters, including spaces).
  • Specific requirements (must include completion of an appropriate baccalaureate degree as described above) for admission into the postbaccalaureate or graduate credit certificate program, as applicable.
  • List of existing, permanent courses included in the certificate program, including course designation (abbreviation and number), title, and number of credits. Courses not previously approved through the appropriate University Faculty Senate or Graduate Council curricular review process and temporary courses [e.g., special topics courses] cannot be listed in a certificate offering. Courses will be linked to the online master course listing for a complete description of each course in the Graduate Bulletin.
  • Effective semester and expiration semester (note the 5-year sunset clause) of the postbaccalaureate or graduate credit certificate program.

*Consultation with Appropriate Units/Programs (Cognate Review) - The unit/program originating the proposal should consult with all units/programs with a known interest in the subject field, not simply those in the same college. The purpose of cognate review goes beyond assuring that other units or programs that may be impacted by a proposal are notified and given the opportunity to evaluate the proposal, delineate potential problems, and/or inform of possible duplication of effort. There are many potential benefits to alerting units where appropriate faculty expertise may provide useful, constructive feedback on content, identify areas for collaboration, and even broaden the scope of prospective students who would enroll in the program.

Approved, January 2009
Editorial and administrative procedural revisions, November 2011
Editorial and administrative procedural revisions, June 2013
Editorial revisions, December 2014
Editorial and administrative procedural revisions, July 2016 Editorial revisions, January 2017

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