Saturday, November 15, 2014

What is an "Academic Program"? [Updated]

As the name suggests, "academic programs" are the focus of our APP process.  But what exactly do we mean when we talk about "academic programs"? It turns out that this particular term is used in several subtly different ways across the campus, so it is important for us to be as precise as we can about what it means in the context of APP.

[Updated: November 23, 2014: Please read on to see the draft/proposed list of academic programs that will be included in the APP process for AY 2014-15.]

The final report of the previous ad hoc committee provided the following definition as a starting point:
an academic program is any collection of activities that consumes resources and either:
  • contributes transcripted courses to a credential (i.e., UNST, Hons, IELP); or
  • leads to a credential (e.g., B.A., B.S., Minor, certificate, masters, doctorate, ...).
One weakness here is that this definition does not deal with issues of granularity: it would not be too hard to argue, for example, that anything on the spectrum from a single course section to the collected activities of the university as a whole could be considered as an "academic program" according to this definition. To clarify this, we need to identify conditions under which two collections of activities should be treated either as distinct programs, or else combined as a single program.

To address this issue, we have developed the following guidelines:
  • Two groups of activities that share substantially the same resources (i.e., it likely wouldn't make sense to do one without the other) should be combined.  Typical examples include: B.A./B.S. (or M.A./M.S.) degrees that differ only in their general education requirements; multiple flavors of Ph.D. within a single department; minors or certificates that are awarded using a subset of the classes in a corresponding major; etc.
  • Two groups of activities that differ significantly in the resources they use (including faculty, or courses, or facilities, or other factors) should be separated.  Typical examples of programs that would be treated as distinct include: undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees; standalone minors; etc.
Note that these later guidelines are intended only to provide an initial default grouping.  Final judgements regarding grouping in to programs should be made by the faculty and administration within individual units and departments.  At the time of writing, a specific process for soliciting and receiving this feedback has yet to be determined.

We are aware of two types of educational programs that the proposals described above do not current identify:
  • Online programs, in which a degree or other credential is taught with a substantial, perhaps even complete, online component.  The data sources that we are currently working with do not always allow us to distinguish between students in traditional, primarily classroom-based programs and those who are engaged instead in online versions.
  • Preparatory programs, are offered in some parts of the University to provide a course of training that involves paid instruction but does not lead or contribute to a credential.  These courses are often offered as a way for incoming students, including those who are transitioning from a different discipline, to fill in missing background and gain the experience that they need, either to enter a regular academic program, or to prepare for employment.  To the extent that these programs consume resources, including class room space and faculty/staff time for instruction and administration, these activities should be considered for inclusion as academic programs.  The post-bac programs that are offered in some departments are examples of this, although they typically share the same courses as existing programs (e.g., an undergraduate program) and hence would not normally be separated out as a distinct program unless they involved special course developed and used exclusively for that preparatory program.
It is not clear if we will be able to support these as part of the current APP effort, or if their inclusion will be deferred to future iterations.

[UPDATED, November 23, 2014]
By applying the definitions and guidelines above to institutional data about the numbers of students who have graduated with specific academic credentials during the last six academic years, 2008-14, the APPC has drafted a proposed list of all academic programs across the university. Note, however, that the guidelines are intended only to provide an initial default grouping. Final judgements regarding grouping in to programs should be made, in response to this document, by the faculty and administration within individual units and departments.

APPC has also produced the following supplemental documents for those interested in limiting their review of the lists of programs to smaller sections of the University. These additional documents are provided for convenience only and do not add or change any of the entries in the main document: