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Degree Titles

Programs and Curriculum Policy GCAC-217

Purpose: This policy establishes criteria for distinguishing between academic and professional programs degree titles.

Academic Goal: The academic goal of this policy is to assure that programs will have appropriate degree titles that align well with their educational goals and disciplinary communities.

Scope: This policy pertains to all graduate programs.

Policy Statement

  1. 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:
    1. 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.
    2. Academic degrees include a research requirement (scholarly paper, thesis, dissertation) while professional degrees may not include any research component, but this is not exclusive.
    3. 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).
    4. 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.
    5. Professional degrees emphasize professional development for advancement in specific careers (practitioners).
    6. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Revision History

Adapted from Graduate Bulletin, June 2018

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