Penn State Graduate School Penn State Penn State Graduate School

Extended and Off-Campus Graduate Degree Programs


The intent of this document is to outline guidelines and procedures by which a department or other academic unit may obtain approval to offer new graduate degree programs that are either extended* or off-campus**, or approval to offer extended or off-campus delivery of existing graduate degree programs to different locations and on different schedules to accommodate local demands. When proposing such extended or off-campus delivery of existing programs*** (with no changes to the program otherwise), the following information must be provided to and will be assessed by the Graduate Council Committee on Programs and Courses. For such delivery of new programs, review will be through the full Graduate Council curricular review process.

*Extended graduate degree programs are those that are extended from the University Park campus or other approved graduate center (Behrend College, Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, Capital College, College of Medicine) to another University location.

**Off-campus degree programs are those offered at a non-University location (e.g., World Campus, corporate facility, school district, etc.), which includes both programs delivered in a traditional face-to-face format and those delivered at a distance.

***To determine whether a program change proposal is necessary, consider the following: delivery of any graduate (500- and 800-level) course to students at an off-campus location, either in face-to-face instruction or through distance delivery technologies, requires academic approval as noted below.

Up to three existing graduate courses may be offered to students at an off-campus location with approval from the chair of the Graduate Council Committee on Programs and Courses and the Dean of the Graduate School through an expedited process; see guidelines and request form for the Expedited Review Process for Limited Off-Site Course Offerings.

Approval to offer four existing graduate courses up to half of the course credits required for completion of the degree to students at an off-campus location requires submission of a program change proposal by the graduate program to offer a blended program.

Approval to offer more than half of the course credits required for completion of the degree to students at an off-campus location requires submission of a program change proposal by the graduate program to offer the degree program off-site.

Note - These guidelines should be used in concert with "Residency and Related Policies for Off-Campus Graduate Programs."

Common Requirements for New Extended or New Off-Campus Degree Programs and Extended or Off-Campus Delivery of Existing Degree Programs:

  • Justification statement including: 1) evidence of demand for the program in the new location, with market survey data if appropriate; 2) the projected size of the program and its anticipated duration; 3) evidence concerning the academic unit's ability to offer a quality program in an off-campus environment; 4) a statement demonstrating the impact of the proposed new program or off-campus delivery of an existing program on other programs (undergraduate and graduate)   offered by the academic unit (and in particular, on faculty load), as well as on programs offered by other units; and 5) a statement indicating fiscal responsibility for the program.
  • A program description in a format for the Graduate Bulletin that includes the following: 1) a statement of admission requirements, e.g., standardized test scores, GPA, recommendations, etc. (Note - Admissions criteria for off-campus degree programs must be the same as those for the same degree program offered to students in residence); 2) complete degree requirements; 3) a list of required courses.  In addition, a description of the course sequence and typical scheduling pattern should be provided, but need not be part of the Bulletin description. For proposals involving off-campus delivery of existing degree programs, if any changes to admission or degree requirements are being proposed as a result of off-campus delivery, a side-by-side comparison of the existing program requirements and the revised requirements must be provided, along with a statement justifying all proposed revisions; such proposals will undergo the full Graduate Council curricular review process.
  • A statement demonstrating how the essential elements of residency (as defined in "Residency and Related Policies for Off-Campus Graduate Programs") will be achieved for off-campus programs. Three years after program inception a report must be made to the Graduate Council Committee on Programs and Courses that provides evidence concerning how the essential elements of residency have actually been incorporated into the program and demonstrates that high-quality graduate education has been delivered in the off-campus program (see Reporting Checklist for Programs Approved to be Offered Off-site/Online).  During this three-year period, the Graduate School is charged with monitoring program delivery and quality.
  • Program operation and maintenance including: 1) identification of a program director who must be a member of the graduate faculty in the academic unit offering the degree; 2) evidence of how academic advising, counseling, and learning support will be provided to students; 3) description of available facilities including research facilities, libraries, technological resources, etc.; and  4) a statement regarding any technological resources and related specifications that students will be expected to have (e.g., laptop and specifications for operating system, camera, etc.; internet access specifications; etc.).
  • Written responses indicating consultation with other units affected by or that potentially would have interest in the proposed program. In addition, if the program is to be offered online or use technology as the primary delivery method to serve off-campus students, the World Campus must be consulted at the earliest possible stage of program development and a letter of consultation must be provided from the World Campus Director of Academic Affairs for Graduate Programs.
  • Off-campus programs must incorporate a mechanism for assessing program quality through student surveys for feedback at critical milestones in the program as well as a student exit questionnaire at the time of graduation.

Additional Requirements for New Extended or New Off-Campus Degree Programs

  • Objectives of the program including: 1) an explanation of how the new program meets the educational objectives and/or strengthens existing programs of the college(s) and the University; 2) an explanation of why this program is appropriate for off-campus delivery; 3) a description of what students may expect to accomplish through the new program; and 4) a statement of how the new offering does not unnecessarily duplicate other degree programs.
  • A list of new courses to be established as a part of the new degree program.

Additional Requirements for Online Graduate Courses and Graduate Degree Programs, Hybrid Graduate Courses, and Blended Graduate Degree Programs

Information technology available in the 21st century has presented higher education with a host of new educational opportunities. Accompanying them, however, are a host of potential issues. Key among them is the issue of maintaining a high standard of instructor-student engagement in graduate education. In determining the standards for instructor-student engagement, a number of factors need to be taken into account.

  • Technology-enhanced graduate education can come in many forms, such as: resident courses supplemented by information technology applications; blended learning formats that involve some resident and some online students in the same “classroom”; completely online courses.
  • Online education does not necessarily mean asynchronous and self-paced learning, or the absence of instructor-student interaction.
  • While technology provides myriad opportunities to enhance education, it is up to the instructor and standards groups to choose the best way to deploy the technology.

For students enrolled in off-campus degree programs, and eligible for and seeking federal financial aid, the Federal Register[1] requires “significant instructor-initiated interaction” for courses to qualify as distance education (versus correspondence courses), including online courses. Proposals that involve distance-delivery of courses must describe the kinds of instructor-initiated interaction that will occur in each course, including: mode of communication, frequency of communication, and expectations for student responses. Proposals must describe all student course deliverables and graded artifacts for the course. Proposals also must describe any special considerations needed in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (for example, audio or video content or interactive web content).

1The Federal Register for the US Department of Education, Part IV, 34 CFR Pats 600 and 602, http:// index.html.


The following sites provide further relevant information:
Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin
Articles of Authority, Bylaws, and Standing Rules of Graduate Council
The Graduate Faculty: Membership Criteria, Responsibilities, and Methods of Appointment
Academic and Administrative Policies and Procedures
Policy AD55 Role of the Department of Distance Education/World Campus
Policy AD20 Computer and Network Security
Policy AD47 General Standards of Professional Ethics
Policy IP02 Co-Authorship of Scholarly Reports, Papers, and Publications
Policy HR36 Educational Privileges for Faculty, Staff and Retirees


Fulfilling the Essential Elements of Residency in Off-Campus Graduate Degree Programs

The intent of this document is to encourage creative ways of addressing student and community needs in off-campus graduate degree programs, while ensuring that such graduate degree programs maintain academic standards parallel to those of more traditional programs. For the seven essential elements of residency, alternative techniques and technologies are suggested as ways of providing in off-campus graduate degree programs benefits comparable to traditional residency.

A glossary of terms related to e-learning and distance education is available through the World Campus website.

Element 1: Interaction between faculty members and students above and beyond direct instruction

The objectives of out-of-class interaction include socializing students to their professional fields, providing a broad exposure to developments in the disciplines, supporting the students in their academic programs and career and professional development, and building a community of scholars and professionals. On campus, these objectives are typically met through advising sessions with faculty members and through participation in a variety of informal and formal events in which students and faculty can share ideas and experiences.

Techniques for achieving interaction include

Mentoring, academic counseling, and career counseling. Faculty members can offer one-to-one advice and counsel on a range of academic and professional issues beyond the scope of a specific course. Advisers can provide academic and career-related counseling.

Off-campus example: Mentoring and counseling can be conducted via a variety of means assisted by technology, including email, audioconference, or videoconference. If a course uses interactive video, the faculty member can arrange for the video connection to remain open after class to permit video-based office hours.

Open discussions. Faculty members can arrange for open discussion of ideas and issues related to the professional field but not limited to specific course content. Discussions can be moderated or unmoderated.

Off-campus example: Open discussions can be conducted in real-time chat areas online or as threaded (topic-specific) discussions using online conferencing applications or social media. They can also be conducted via audioconference or structured as additions to videoconferences, for example.

Non-class lectures and seminars. Lectures and departmental or interdepartmental seminars presented by other faculty members or visiting scholars offer students opportunities to interact with faculty representing a range of knowledge and perspectives.

Off-campus example: Technology-assisted conferencing via a variety of means (e.g., audiconference, videoconference, podcast) allows faculty members to provide off-campus students opportunities to interact with specialists from either the campus or around the world. The guest speaker can provide an advance set of readings for discussion or make an online presentation, then be available to answer questions or participate in online discussions over a period of several days.

Element 2: Interaction between peers (i.e., among students in a given program)

The primary objective of interaction among students in a given program is to permit students to share and benefit from the diverse social and educational experiences other students bring into the program. In a resident program the students are able to benefit socially and educationally from interaction and shared experiences in classes as well as other activities, including student- and campus-sponsored events and organizations. Resident students also have the advantage of exposure to interaction with students in other disciplines on campus through classes and campus events.

Techniques for achieving this type of interaction include

Collaborative work groups. Group or team projects allow students to pool their varied knowledge, skills, and experiences in solving a content-based problem or in developing a course-specific project. Collaborative groups can be monitored or facilitated by a faculty member or graduate teaching assistant.

Off-campus example: Technology can be used to connect and support synchronous or asynchronous group collaboration on case-study preparation, project development, class presentations, etc. Audioconferencing, for example, can connect students at different sites for real-time development and presentation of a variety of collaborative projects including debates and panel presentations.

Peer counseling. Senior graduate students can provide advice on academic issues such as preparation for exams and administrative procedures. They can also provide important support for less-experienced students by offering encouragement and advice relating to the challenges of juggling multiple roles and responsibilities.

Off-campus example: A variety of technology-assisted media can provide students in a program with synchronous or asynchronous opportunities to interact with other students who have successfully coped with a variety of graduate student experiences. Interactions can also be scheduled via telephone conversations.

Discipline-based student clubs and inter-disciplinary social organizations. Student clubs give graduate students in a particular field of study an opportunity to meet and mix with peers who share similar academic interests and goals. Organizations that include graduate students from a range of disciplines offer a chance to socialize or otherwise interact with peers representing a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

Off-campus example: Students can use technology to form  discussion groups based on mutual interests, whether academic or social. Social media sites can support the exchange of information among students interested in a particular area of study or in a particular hobby or pastime.

Element 3: Access to information and instructional resources (such as libraries, laboratories, and research facilities)

The objective of providing access to information and instructional resources is to expand the educational experiences afforded to the students beyond what can be provided by instructors. For most resident students, this provision can be assumed because graduate programs are generally structured around information resources available on the campus on which the program originates.

Techniques for achieving this access include

Providing access to content experts other than the program's instructors. Inviting guest lecturers to a class or outside experts to campus to offer seminars or workshops enriches the learning experience by providing other perspectives on or extended knowledge of topics or subject areas.

Off-campus example: A variety of means assisted by technology, such as videoconferencing, for example, offer ways to connect students directly to extra-institutional content experts. Online seminars and workshops with experts around the world, structured and facilitated by the instructor, greatly expand the geographic range from which these experts can be drawn.

Providing access to a broad range of discipline-specific and interdisciplinary resources. Libraries and other repositories of information complement the information and knowledge provided in the classroom. From these and other sources students gather the raw materials they need to develop a personal knowledge base and a coherent approach to their field of study.

Off-campus example: DVDs, online searches, and electronic connections to library and other data collections offer access to vast collections of data and information. Course Home Pages can offer course-specific resources or direct students to related sources of information. Students can combine these resources with others available onsite and with course content to enhance learning and expand their knowledge base.

Providing access to research facilities. Research projects introduce students to the ways in which knowledge in their fields is constructed and validated. The research process gives students a way to participate in the discovery of new knowledge and opportunities to integrate what is learned in the classroom with what is learned empirically.

Off-campus example: Often students in off-campus programs are pursuing professional master’s degrees in a field in which they are currently employed. In such cases, their work environment offers opportunities both for conducting original research and for putting the results of that research into practice. Such "situated" research and practice provides an excellent way for students to integrate classroom knowledge with new knowledge gained from research and practice.

Element 4: Exposure to and socialization in the field of study

The objective of exposure to and socialization in the field of study is to provide students with a range of educational experiences that introduce them to the language and issues of their disciplines. Seminar series, workshops, research exhibitions, discussions with professional peers, informal departmental activities, and other shared experiences serve this purpose for resident students.

Techniques for achieving this socialization include

Seminars. Seminars can introduce students to current issues of research and/or practice and provide a forum for interaction with colleagues within the student's field.

Off-campus example: Groups of peers can use a variety of means assisted by technology to discuss a seminar topic introduced by an outside expert or a member of the group. Discussion can be synchronous or, carried out over a period of days.

Skill-enhancement workshops. Workshops on specific aspects of professional practice, such as writing for publication or designing effective conference presentations, offer students opportunities to build skills necessary to actively contribute to their fields.

Off-campus example: Faculty or practicing professionals can present skills workshops via a variety of means assisted by technology, including audioconference, videoconference, or podcasts, for example. Depending on the requirements of the content, both presentation and interaction can be either synchronous or asynchronous.

Research displays. Exhibitions or displays of in-process or completed research allow students to get an overview of the types and areas of investigation being conducted in their fields. These activities can facilitate networking with those who share students' research interests or suggest possible directions for personal research.

Off-campus example: Students can develop multi-media "poster-sessions" of their research for display in cyberspace. They can also view the results of others' research and react to/discuss the displays over a period of days or weeks via a variety of means assisted by technology.

Discussions with professional peers. Discussion with peers at conferences or other meetings of discipline-related professional groups allows students to exchange ideas and network with practicing professionals in their fields.

Off-campus example: Off-campus students can be encouraged to participate in regional and/or national conferences and professional society meetings in their geographic areas. Additionally, faculty members can structure and facilitate student participation in the online pre- and post-conference discussions that are associated with many academic conferences.

Element 5: Ready access to suitable academic advising and support services

The objective of ready access to suitable academic advising and support services is to ensure that students are receiving the guidance and personal support required to complete their programs in a successful and timely manner. Resident students can take advantage of their presence on campus to schedule meetings with program advisers or career counselors, if necessary.

Techniques for achieving this support include

Meetings with an academic adviser or student support staff. Academic advisers offer guidance in establishing and completing a course of study that reflects a student's academic goals. Faculty members or student support staff can notify students of and explain departmental and institutional policies that govern advanced academic programs.

Off-campus example: Faculty or staff advisers can conduct individual academic counseling sessions via a variety of means assisted by technology (audioconference, videoconference, social media, etc.). General policies and procedures should be posted on program websites for access at the students’ convenience, and support related to administrative functions (registration, payments, grades, etc.) should be available online as well as by telephone or email. The faculty member with general responsibility for the off-campus program should be available by telephone or email during specified “office hours” to answer questions or direct students to the right source of information about broader issues relating to a student's program.

Meetings with a career counselor. Career counselors provide advice relating to entry into or advancement in fields related to the student's course of study.

Off-campus example: Students at remote sites can meet with career counselors in a variety of ways assisted by technology, including telephone, email, or videoconferencing sessions. General information such as position listings, information for developing resumes, tips for job interviews, etc., should be posted on program websites for access at the students’ convenience.

Element 6: Contribution of graduate students to the degree program, the college, and the University

The objective of contributions from graduate students of diverse backgrounds is to share the social and educational experiences students bring into the program, the college, and the University to the benefit of other students, faculty, and the University overall. In a resident program this is made possible through interactions of students, faculty, and other University personnel in classes and other formal and informal events.

Techniques for facilitating student contributions include

Introduction of new students. Programs use a variety of methods to introduce new students to returning students and to faculty members. "Veteran" students can interview new students in order to identify perspectives and contributions that these students bring to the program or to the University as a whole. This personal and professional information can then be disseminated via the program’s informational materials.

Off-campus example: Program or departmental newsletters with new-student information can be disseminated to students and faculty via a variety of technology-assisted means. Programs also may develop web pages that include information about the professional interests and contributions of both new and continuing students, and students can develop personal web pages or social media sites through which to share information about themselves.

Informal Seminars. Many graduate students in professional degree programs bring with them considerable knowledge and experience gained through real-world practice. Informal seminars offer opportunities to exchange knowledge and engage in peer networking around topics of mutual professional interest.

Off-campus example: Technology allows students to conduct real-time presentation and discussion of perspectives gained through previous educational experiences or in professional practice. Many conferencing services can support an asynchronous seminar format, with new students posting information and then responding to queries or facilitating related discussions.

Element 7: Identification with Penn State

The objective of identification with Penn State is to provide students with a unique educational experience that reflects the history, reputation, personnel, and resources of Penn State. In resident programs, this objective is met by students’ presence on a Penn State campus or campuses and exposure to Penn State traditions.

Techniques for achieving this identification include

Formation of connections through initial and continuing communications. Official correspondence from the program or the University can establish a sense of institutional identification through welcoming messages and communications of interest about Penn State.

Off-campus example: Like their on-campus counterparts, off-campus students receive official communications that establish their relationship with a department and with the University. Prominent display of Penn State logos and other identifying symbols on all communications, including course materials, can help establish a student's identity as a Penn Stater. Small "gifts" such as Penn State bumper stickers or folders can be useful in establishing a positive feeling toward the institution, as well as giving off-campus students a way to display their institutional affiliation. All Penn State students routinely are assigned Access Accounts, which will ensure that off-campus students are able to interact electronically with the University and its resources.

Formation and maintenance of connections through University publications. General University and department-specific publications can be used to keep students informed about people, activities, policies and procedures, etc.

Off-campus example: Off-campus students can access University publications online. Some publications, including the student-published newspaper the Daily Collegian, provide informative and entertaining ways of establishing a sense of identification with the University. Programs comprising primarily or entirely off-campus students can develop online materials specifically designed to foster a sense of inclusion in and connection to the sponsoring department and the University.

Formation and maintenance of relationships with the Penn State chapter of academic or professional societies. Membership in academic and professional groups fosters a sense of identification both with a larger community of scholars and/or practitioners and with those who have shared or are currently sharing a common academic experience.

Off-campus example: Students can be informed of and encouraged to join appropriate academic and professional societies. Off-campus students can find information about the availability and location of chapters in their geographic area online. Programs can also establish a mentoring system whereby Penn State graduates are matched up with current off-campus students in their geographic region for the purpose of helping them connect to local University



Updated 02/18/2015

Facebook Facebook LinkedIn LinkedIn Twitter Twitter