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Graduate Program Proposal Procedures

The Overview of the Graduate Council Curricular Review Process provides information about the process, as well as meeting and agenda submission closing dates.

Submit 1 original, signed proposal form and 2 copies of the complete graduate program proposal document, with a copy of the signed proposal form attached to each proposal copy, to the Dean's office, 211 Kern.

Prepare the proposal document in the outline format as shown below. The proposer is reminded that the members of the Graduate Council Joint Curricular Committee may not have knowledge of the field and is encouraged to provide as much documentation as possible for the reviewers.

All program proposals must be consecutively paginated from start to finish, including the evidence of consultation. In addition, a table of contents must be included in the proposal document.

New programs*, options **, and minors ***

  1. A justification for the program*. The proposal should include a statement regarding the necessity for the program, i.e., why the program should be offered; and information on the ability of the department to offer a quality program. Included in the section should be the projected size of the program and its impact on current course offerings and faculty load as well as additional faculty advising duties.
  2. The objectives of the program: an explanation of how the proposal meets the new educational objectives and/or strengthens existing programs of the college(s) and the University; what students may expect to accomplish through the new program; and a statement of how the new offering does not duplicate other degree programs within the department/college/University.
  3. A list of new courses to be established as a part of the new offering.
  4. A complete program statement. This should be an arrangement of courses in accordance with degree requirements, as well as non-course degree requirements for each degree proposed to be offered, and with identification of the pattern of scheduling. A list of the required courses, typical electives, etc., that will logically be taken by a student enrolling in the new program should be included. Courses being newly proposed should be distinguished from existing courses. The proposal must include a copy of the Bulletin description in a format suitable for inclusion in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin.
  5. A statement of admission requirements must be included, i.e., required test scores, minimum jr./sr. GPA, as deemed appropriate by the proposer.
  6. A justification for the degree title used*. The academic degree titles (M.S., M.A., Ph.D.) are to be used only for degree programs that are research-oriented. A professional degree title will be more appropriate for programs that, for example, emphasize practical application of knowledge; programs that emphasize professional development for advancement in specific careers but with a more practitioner orientation; programs that prepare students for licensure in a given field; and master's programs that are not intended to prepare students for doctoral study. If a professional master’s degree is being proposed, the degree title Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) should be used, unless a different degree title is well established nationally. If a professional degree title other than M.P.S. is proposed, evidence must be provided that the degree title is nationally established. This evidence could include existence of an accrediting body or a list of existing programs already using the degree title.
  7. Accreditation: The proposal document must include information regarding any accrediting body for the proposed program area, i.e., is there an accrediting body or board (if so, please identify); or, if appropriate to the field, whether the program will prepare students for licensure in the field. Programs for which accreditation exists must pursue and achieve full accreditation.
  8. Original written responses from departments affected, either by potential overlapping content or audience or by potential opportunities for collaboration (received during consultation phase).
  9. Written evidence of consultation with the Office for Research Protections regarding SARI requirements.

Changes in programs*, options**, and minors*** (including program name changes)

  1. A justification for proposed changes, such as updating instruction, together with an indication of expected enrollments and any effects on existing programs.
  2. A revised version of the affected area showing both the old program requirements and the new program requirements (so that the reviewers can determine what specifically is being changed). The proposal should include a side-by-side comparison of admission requirements, number of credits required, specific courses to be taken, etc. A copy of the existing Graduate Bulletin description, with all changes marked (with track changes, for example), also must be included.
  3. Original written responses from departments affected, either by potential overlapping content or audience or by potential opportunities for collaboration (received during consultation phase).
  4. Written evidence of consultation with the Office for Research Protections regarding SARI requirements, as necessary, depending on the nature of the proposed change(s). For example, addition of a new degree would require such consultation, but changes to existing degree requirements may not, unless the changes affect previously approved SARI requirements for the program.

Dropping of programs*, options**, and minors***

  1. A justification for the requested drop.
  2. A copy of the existing Graduate Bulletin description, with all changes marked (with track changes, for example), as applicable. If the entire graduate program or minor is being dropped, it is not necessary to include a revised Bulletin description, but if an option is being dropped, the revised Bulletin description is required.
  3. Original written responses from departments affected by the proposed drop.

Guidelines for Research Master’s Degree Proposals

Traditionally, the Master of Arts (M.A.) and the Master of Science (M.S.) degrees have been strongly oriented towards research and the creation of new knowledge. In the past, these degrees often served as the first step towards the research doctorate. As employers look to hire more individuals with advanced research training beyond the baccalaureate, and as new delivery methods expand the potential for students to successfully enroll in and complete Penn State graduate degrees, it is essential to ensure that M.A. and M.S. degree programs maintain Penn State’s reputation as a world-class research university and reflect its research mission, while enabling the University to meet the expanding needs of the workforce and be competitive with other institutions.

The following guidelines for the M.A. and M.S. degrees are meant to ensure these programs meet essential standards of quality. All new program and program change proposals submitted must include a description of how the program will meet these requirements. All proposals for M.A. and M.S. degree programs must include evidence of:

  1. the active participation of tenure-line and/or research-active faculty in overseeing and teaching in the program;
  2. a low student/adviser ratio, with a high degree of one-on-one interaction;
  3. course work on research methodology and analysis;
  4. the same standards for the M.A. and M.S. degrees regardless of delivery method; and
  5. a culminating experience for the M.A. and M.S. degrees that demonstrates students have the capacity to conduct research, scholarly analysis, or creative scholarly investigations, and effectively communicate their scholarship.

*Degree Titles. While no single criterion can consistently distinguish between academic and professional programs, there are several dimensions that each inform the decision whether a program should be offered as an M.A., M.S., or Ph.D. or as a professional degree. While exceptions exist for each, the following statements tend to be true:

  • Academic degrees train students to conduct research and emphasize the generation of new knowledge, whereas professional degrees train students to apply existing knowledge to practical problems.
  • Academic degrees include a research requirement (scholarly paper, thesis, dissertation) while professional degrees may not include any research component, but this is not exclusive.
  • Professional degrees are often interdisciplinary in emerging fields and emphasize cross-training (e.g., law and environmental science; journalism and medicine). Academic degree programs may be interdisciplinary within broad fields (e.g., life sciences), but have a traditional disciplinary core (e.g., biology).
  • Academic master's degrees are traditionally intended to prepare students for doctoral work in the field, while professional master's degrees are typically considered “terminal” degrees, though in some fields students may qualify for admission to doctoral study based upon the professional master's in that field.
  • Professional degrees emphasize professional development for advancement in specific careers (practitioners).
  • Students entering professional degree programs often need not have undergraduate training in the field, and the curriculum provides foundation material assuming a diversity of backgrounds. Students entering academic degree programs typically must have undergraduate training in the field and graduate work begins with advanced study in that field.

The proposed degree title should communicate more broadly the nature of the training (not in terms of discipline, but in terms of types of competencies, etc. that cut across fields) and it is a huge problem if it is not well recognized and established because it would not convey known expectations to the marketplace. On the professional master's side, there are also some very well-established degrees such as the M.B.A., M.Eng., M.F.A., and M.Ed., and because the attributes of these degrees are well established and have market value, they are applied to many disciplinary fields; e.g., there are large number of programs in Engineering that offer the M.Eng., a large number of programs in Education that offer the M.Ed., etc.), just as the M.S. is the well-established degree across a broad range of sciences, technology fields, etc.

The intent of the Graduate Council policy is, absent a well established degree title already nationally recognized (e.g., M.B.A., M.Eng, etc.), to build a well established degree for new professional master's programs (much as the M.S. and M.A. are used across many disciplinary fields) by uniformly using the M.P.S. (Master of Professional Studies). The M.P.S. degree is nationally recognized (and in some places where higher education is regulated at the state level, e.g., New York State, including public and private institutions such as Cornell, used as the title for all professional master's degrees), as well as in many other countries.

**Options. An option is a distinct curricular specialization within (but not exclusive to) a graduate major; it is the only formal curricular specialization within a graduate major that is recognized on the transcript and diploma for students in the major. Options are defined by certain minimum requirements related to the distinctiveness and commonality of the coursework in the major. (NOTE: All portions of the requirements below must be met.)

  1. Each option in a graduate major requires at least a certain minimum number of specific course credits that are distinct to the option. The minimum number of these option-specific credits is the lesser of 18 credits or one-third (1/3) of the total number of course credits required for the major (rounding down to the nearest whole number), exclusive of credits associated with the culminating experience (e.g., 600 thesis credits, capstone course credits, internship credits, etc. as appropriate to the degree program). For example, in the case of a 30-credit master’s degree program with 24 total course credits required (e.g., excluding 6 thesis credits or 6 capstone course credits from the total of 30) and two approved options, each identified option must require a minimum of 8 course credits, none of which are required by any other option in the major (i.e., at least 8 course credits required of students in Option A must be different from any course credits required of students in Option B, etc.). Once options have met the minimum requirements indicated above for course credits unique to the respective options (i.e., not shared with any other option or with the “base program”), additional course credits may be designated for options that either are unique to the respective option or may be common across two or more options and/or the base program.
  2. In addition, at least one-fourth (1/4) of the total number of course credits required for a major with options (rounding down to the nearest whole number) must be common to all students in the major; this constitutes a “core,” regardless of the option selected. Thus, if 24 total course credits are required in a 30-credit master’s degree program as described in a. above, at least 6 credits must be in common (core) for all students in the program.
  3. Any graduate major that offers one or more options also must define the “base program” for the major. The base program specifies the training in the field absent any specializations (i.e., for students who elect not to take an option) and should comprise the knowledge that a “generalist” in the field should have obtained after successful completion of the degree program.

A student can be enrolled in an option only within his/her major. However, any major may adopt any approved option through the Graduate Council curricular review process. Graduate programs that wish to adopt a previously approved option should submit a joint proposal with the academic unit that originated and offers that option. Any given option must have the same curricular (course) requirements in all majors in which it is offered. All programs should use the term "option" in lieu of the terms "emphasis" or "track" when preparing program changes or proposing new program specializations.

***Minors. A minor must be in one of the approved graduate degree programs offered at Penn State or a formal graduate minor program that has been approved by the Graduate Council and should provide valuable intellectual and/or professional breadth and depth to a student's program. A minor must consist of a minimum of 15 credits for doctoral programs and 6 credits for master's programs.

Prepared by the Committee on Programs and Courses 1996
Revised by the Committee on Programs and Courses 2003
Revised by the Committee on Programs and Courses 2008
Revised by the Committee on Programs and Courses 2014
Revised by the Committee on Programs and Courses 2018

Links Related to Curricular Review

For additional information or to request consultation on a proposal, contact the Director of Graduate Council Administration.

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