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Collaborative Graduate Education Programs with Institutions Outside of the United States



presents guidelines for establishing collaborations with institutions outside the U.S. involving graduate education.


Academic Goal

to ensure that academic units considering international collaborations in graduate education consider all necessary details and address all issues in advance, so there are no barriers to implement these programs and to ensure and maintain their academic quality and success.



all graduate programs.

In 2007, a Task Force on Globalization of Research and Graduate Education was jointly appointed by Eva J. Pell, then Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, and Michael A. Adewumi, Vice Provost for Global Programs, as part of the strategic planning process. The Task Force report recognized three “motives” or international activity: “1) To enhance the quality of the scholarship in Penn State’s research activities; 2) To broaden the educational experiences of our graduate students who will live and work in an increasingly connected world; and 3) To reach out to other parts of the world and offer the benefits of our expertise and capabilities to all citizens of the globe.”

One of the specific recommendations of the task force was to increase Penn State’s visibility and impact outside the U.S. through mechanisms that target strategic graduate education partnerships. Such partnerships should be based upon a foundation of:

  1. Mutual interest and benefit: The partnership should bring reasonable added value to both institutions.
  2. Strategic importance: Prospective partner institutions and related collaborative programs should be considered in the context of Penn State’s strategic plan and in particular, how Penn State must make a fundamental change in the way it engages overseas partner institutions by focusing on fewer and more strategic universities in a true partnership manner. Such universities will comprise a select and limited network with focused activities in key global areas such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. While the University’s strategy does not preclude forming engagements outside of this global engagement network (GEN), new programs that are proposed should be evaluated with reference to any GEN relationships in the region to insure they do not interfere or conflict. Within this context, the academic unit’s mission, long-range strategic planning, and potential for disciplinary synergy should also be considered (For example, does the partner institution/program provide curricular assets not otherwise available? Do individual faculty members have important research expertise/stature that may provide exceptional opportunities for research collaborations tied to graduate training? Would the collaboration provide access to unique research facilities/specialized resource centers that would enhance the training of graduate students and the research capabilities of faculty?).
  3. Ability to offer a high quality, sustainable program of reasonable magnitude: Faculty/staff resources and commitment within the unit (and on the part of the partner institution) must be sufficient to establish and deliver the proposed program without compromising existing programs, for a sustained period. Such collaborative programs are generally very resource-intensive in terms of staff support, faculty and administrative oversight and central institutional processes (such as those administered by the University Office of Global Programs, the Graduate School, University Registrar, etc.), and should not be considered if the likelihood of a significant population of students participating in the program over a sustained period of time is not anticipated.

Policy Statement

  1. Mechanisms are available within existing institutional policies to support graduate education activities with an institution outside the U.S., without the need for a formal institutional agreement, and within the existing institutional framework. Such mechanisms include the following:
    1. Graduate students enrolled in a Penn State graduate degree program may register for SUBJ 603, FOREIGN ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE, for variable credits (up to 12) to temporarily engage in foreign study and/or research approved by the graduate program, while enrolled in a university outside the U.S., constituting progress towards the degree. SUBJ 603 carries a flat tuition rate, with the expectation that tuition is paid to the university outside the U.S. at which the student is engaged.
    2. Graduate students enrolled in a Penn State graduate degree program and registered for credit courses at an institution outside the U.S. may transfer into their Penn State graduate degree up to 10 credits within established guidelines for transfer credits. Programs should consult the above guidelines and Graduate Enrollment Services (GES) in the Graduate School to ensure the transferability of credits before students are encouraged to enroll for credit courses outside of Penn State.
    3. An approved Penn State graduate course maybe offered by a member of the graduate faculty or approved instructor at a location outside the U.S. with approval of the Graduate School, according to established policies for limited off-site course offerings.
    4. Visiting graduate students who are enrolled at a university outside the U.S. may register for graduate courses and research at Penn State, and may be appointed to a graduate assistantship (e.g., provided by a Penn State host graduate program/academic unit/faculty grant) by completing the online graduate application for the program in which the visiting student will be hosted, and with a request by the graduate program for admission as “Provisional No-Time Limit.”
    5. Use of distance technology, in particular delivery of online courses, may provide unique opportunities for inclusion of students outside the U.S. in graduate education programming at Penn State and bring the added benefit, when such courses include resident students, for enriched learning environments. Programs should consider how specific courses that currently exist in an online or other distance-delivered format or that could be converted or developed for online/distance delivery might contribute to collaborative graduate education initiatives.
    6. Participation of visiting faculty from an international institution in teaching courses, advising students, and serving on doctoral committees for a limited time. (See GCAC-101 Graduate Faculty Membership.)
  2. Although the above mechanisms afford significant opportunities for graduate education activities with institutions outside the U.S. without the need for formal agreements and special processes/approvals, in limited cases there may be justification to create formal collaborative graduate degree programs with other institutions that afford special privileges and allowances beyond existing graduate education policies at Penn State. Such collaborative international (CI) programs, described further below, are concurrent graduate degree programs (CGDP) and integrated undergraduate-graduate degree programs (IUGDP), that allow for courses from the participating institution to be double-counted toward two graduate degrees, or an undergraduate and a graduate degree, respectively.
    1. Current policy does not allow for the transfer of more than 10 credits from an external institution. However, approved collaborative programs may request allowance for more than 10 credits to be transferred into a Penn State graduate degree program, and for transferred courses to be identified on the Penn State transcript as part of the special, collaborative program.
    2. Because approval for a collaborative graduate program affords the participating institution special privileges not available otherwise, formal collaborative programs should only be considered for institutions of high stature that bring significant added value to the partnership.
  3. Approval for establishment of such special, collaborative international graduate programs requires submission of a proposal through the program review process of Graduate Council, and justification for the program according to the criteria and guidelines (see Guidelines for Collaborative International Graduate Program Proposals in the Further Information section, below).
    1. To best facilitate their efforts, academic units are advised to consult with the Graduate School at the earliest possible stages when collaborations that might involve graduate education are first being envisioned, and prior to pursuing a formal agreement or beginning to develop a proposal for a collaborative international program offering.
    2. In addition to Graduate Council review and approval, establishing a collaborative graduate degree program with an institution abroad requires the approval of the Vice Provost for Global Programs and a formal written agreement signed by both institutions.
      1. The University Office of Global Programs (UOGP) will assist with drafting the agreement, ensure appropriate review, and coordinate the approval.
      2. Proposers are advised to consult with UOGP advisers early in the development of a collaborative international graduate program.
  4. The following guiding questions are intended to raise awareness of the complexity of issues that need to be considered in advance of pursuing a collaborative international graduate degree program, but are in no way an exhaustive list, nor will every question be applicable to every collaborative opportunity.
    1. Reconciliation of Program Policies: Which policies take priority (those of Penn State or the international institution) and are there some aspects of the proposed graduate program where these cannot be reconciled?
    2. Academic Calendars and Residency: How do the academic calendars relate (e.g., does the proposed partner institution follow a similar semester vs. term or other system)? What is the length of the semester/term at the international institution? Are there academic calendar inconsistencies that might affect a student’s ability to come to Penn State at the beginning of the semester, and compromise advancement through the degree program in a continuous and seamless manner? How will any residency requirements applicable for the Penn State degree be met?
    3. Course Equivalency: Are the courses at the international institution at the equivalent level as Penn State courses to be credited towards a graduate degree (e.g., 400-, 500-, and 800-level); are the credits equivalent; is the grading system equivalent? What is the potential for courses not being completed (and grades not being assigned) when a student originating at the collaborating institution is to be at Penn State (or vice versa)? Tracking students and their academic progress in such programs is challenging and resource-intensive. Currently, Penn State students admitted internally into an integrated program (i.e., an IUG) must have courses and grades obtained in the undergraduate program manually entered onto the student’s graduate transcript, which requires close and continuous communication and consultation with the undergraduate program, and which is facilitated by access to a shared institutional student record system (i.e., ISIS). How will this be systematically coordinated and monitored for students in the collaborative program where the undergraduate record is not directly accessible and information related to the record, as well as direct oversight of the student’s progress through the undergraduate portion of the program, is dependent upon individuals at another institution?
    4. Student Funding/Assistantship Requirements: Will students admitted to the Penn State program be provided funding in the form of assistantships or other support? How will the program ensure that students who originate at a collaborating international institution and are provided teaching assistantships meet the English proficiency requirement?
    5. Faculty Participation: If visiting faculty members are to serve on Penn State student committees, teach graduate courses at Penn State, or instruct in designated Penn State courses delivered at the cooperating institution, how will they be evaluated? (See GCAC-101 Graduate Faculty Membership for criteria for appointment of individuals as special members of doctoral committees and graduate faculty membership, and Approval to Teach 500- and 800-Level Courses for special approval to teach a graduate course.)
    6. Culture: Are there cultural differences that could impact student success in the program? Differences in expectations and educational culture of international versus U.S. institutions need to be considered when proposing such a program.
    7. Student Admissions/Selectivity: How will students be selected for admission into the collaborative program? Will there be a joint admissions committee with faculty from both institutions? How will the University Office of Global Programs’ requirements be handled, such as visa documents, etc.? Such collaborative programs are appropriate for some, but not all students who might otherwise formally meet the minimum standards for admission to the respective individual degree programs. (For example, a prospective student to a collaborative concurrent master’s degree program might qualify for admission to the Penn State master’s degree, but not have the capability to be successful in a concurrent program demanding greater effort, commitment, intellectual focus, cultural awareness, language skills, etc.). Programs should consider the issues of how students will be recruited, selectivity of admissions, and appropriateness of the program to individual students. Collaborative programs also require that mechanisms for evaluating students for admission, which ensure input by both institutions without compromising either institution’s standards, and for monitoring and mentoring students’ progress in the program be carefully considered.
    8. Consistent Standards and Expectations: Are standards and expectations for undergraduate/graduate education at the collaborating institution consistent with undergraduate or graduate programs at Penn State? For example, a culminating or “capstone” experience (i.e., dissertation, thesis, scholarly paper, internship project, etc.) that goes beyond a collection of course credits to demonstrate evidence of analytical ability and synthesis of material is a requirement of all Penn State graduate degrees. If a concurrent graduate degree program is being proposed, does the collaborating graduate degree include such a culminating experience?
  5. The complexity of issues related to developing programmatic collaborations with other institutions, especially those involving international entities as reflected above, underline the significant challenges to establishing high quality, cost-effective, and sustainable programs. Considered together with feedback on successes and challenges experienced by other institutions, as well as benchmarking by national organizations (e.g., the Council of Graduate Schools), it has been concluded that only certain program models are viable for such collaborations. For these reasons, academic units have two options in developing collaborative graduate programs between Penn State and institutions outside the United States.
    1. Collaborative International-Concurrent Graduate Degree Programs (CI-CGDP): Students are enrolled concurrently in a master’s degree program at Penn State and a master’s degree program at the collaborating institution; or in a Penn State doctoral program and collaborating master’s degree program; or in a Penn State master’s and collaborating doctoral degree program. Under such programs, specified courses may be applicable to both degrees, i.e., double-counted. See Guidelines for Collaborative International-Concurrent Graduate Degree Programs (CI-CGDP) for a more detailed description and model guidelines.
    2. Collaborative International -Integrated Undergraduate-Graduate Degree Programs (CIP-IUGDP): Students are enrolled in a baccalaureate degree program at the collaborating institution and a master’s program at Penn State and may “double-count” specified courses towards both degrees. See Guidelines for Collaborative International-Integrated Undergraduate-Graduate Degree Programs (CI-IUGDP) for a more detailed description and model guidelines.
  6. Collaborative programs in which a single degree is awarded jointly by both Penn State and another institution (i.e., in which the student receives a single diploma reflecting both institutional identities) are NOT allowed, given the substantial logistical, academic, accreditation (in some cases) and other issues that this presents.
  7. The Penn State dual-title degree is a unique internal degree model that integrates two fields of study within the Penn State system into a single program in terms of both course work and research/scholarship, so that a single diploma titled in both fields is issued. This model is also NOT appropriate for collaborative programs.


P1 - Graduate Curricular Proposal Requirements

Further Information

Guidelines for Collaborative International-Concurrent Graduate Degree Programs (CI-CGDP)

Guidelines for Collaborative International-Integrated Undergraduate-Graduate Degree Programs (CI-IUGDP)

Revision History

Approved by Graduate Council, May 2010.

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