The Board of Regents policy on Academic Program Planning, Review, and Approval applies to all UW institutions and the UW System Administration.
The purpose of this policy is to establish clear roles for the Board of Regents, UW System Administration, and UW institutions in the planning, review, and approval process for new academic programs.
As one of the largest systems of public higher education in the country, one of the most critical components of the University of Wisconsin System’s mission is to offer a robust array of academic programs that will serve the state of Wisconsin by providing a quality education to all students, strengthening communities, and responding to workforce development and societal needs. In offering and managing the academic program array, the UW System must ensure the responsible use of state and other resources, the availability of programs to meet student and employer demand, and the sustainability of high-quality undergraduate, graduate, and professional educational offerings at UW institutions.
UW System Administration administrators and staff, in their roles as consultants and advocates, work with the UW institutions to ensure the development and implementation of high-quality degree offerings and opportunities for lifelong learning that effectively leverage existing academic strengths within the UW System, support the distinct missions of UW System institutions, and respond to current and emerging workforce and societal needs that require broad-based planning and educational innovation.
In the context of ever-evolving needs of UW students and institutions, the state of Wisconsin, and the nation, the roles outlined in this policy are meant to foster increased efficiency and agility in meeting existing and emerging workforce and societal needs, while also ensuring the quality of the UW System’s academic program offerings.
Oversight, Roles & Responsibilities
Chapter 36, Wis. Stats., gives the Board of Regents the authority to “ensure the diversity of quality undergraduate programs.” In fulfilling this statutory role, the Board has oversight over UW System Administration and UW institutions to ensure that these entities meet their respective roles and responsibilities as designated below. As a steward of the UW System’s human and financial resources, the Board is also responsible for balancing access to education with cost-effectiveness in the development and maintenance of academic programs. The Board of Regents requires UW System Administration and UW institutions to follow the specific principles, guidelines, and practices described in the UW System Academic Program Planning, Review, and Approval policy. As part of the System policy, all new academic degree programs must be approved by the Board of Regents prior to implementation. In addition, new academic program proposals must be submitted to the Board of Regents for approval at the recommendation of the President.
UW System Administration is responsible for managing the UW System’s academic program array. Management of the academic program array entails: consulting with UW institutions in the planning of new academic programs; monitoring and analyzing the current program array, including degree productivity, distance education offerings, and modes of delivery; working with UW institutions in identifying gaps in the current array to address changing and emerging workforce and societal needs; and supporting the Board of Regents and UW institutions in bringing new programs to the Board for approval.
UW institutions are responsible for: developing and maintaining high-quality academic programs through efficient and effective use of available resources in support of their missions and workforce and societal needs; determining the quality of new and existing programs, including through regular assessment and review, and periodic accreditation, as appropriate. UW institutions present their academic plans to the Board of Regents. The required minimum number of credits for a degree program is 120 credits. Institutions shall periodically review the credit requirements of existing degree programs that require more than 130 credits in an effort to reduce the credits and time to degree for students. Institutions shall also continue to identify approaches to advise students in a timely way in order to reduce the number of students who accumulate excess credits. Improved transfer policies and efforts to ensure that required courses are available are examples of other types of initiatives that have a proven track record for reducing the accumulation of excess credits.
Both UW System Administration and UW institutions assist the Board of Regents in meeting its statutory requirement for ensuring the diversity of high-quality academic programs by making available institutional definitions of and standards for quality, program planning and review processes, and general information on how program evaluation and assessment of student learning are conducted, including, where applicable, through evaluation by external accreditation agencies.
UW System Administration and UW institutions should periodically review both the Regent and the UW System academic program planning, review, and approval policies and the array management role to assess their efficacy and determine whether they are meeting the needs of the UW System (the Board of Regents, System Administration, the institutions, faculty and staff, and students), as well as of the state of Wisconsin. The results of that review will be communicated to the Board.
Related RPDs and Applicable Policies
Regent Policy Document 4-5: Accreditation and Assessment of Student Learning (adopted 02/07/2020).
Regent Policy Document 15-2: Distance Education Standards (adopted 06/08/2000).
History: Res. 541, adopted 08/03/1973, created RPD 73-11. Res. 3911, adopted 10/09/1987, created RPD 87-13. Res. 3968, adopted 02/05/1988, created RPD 88-1. Res. 5971, adopted 12/06/1991, replaced RPDs 73-11, 87-13, and 88-1 with RPD 91-12.
Portions of RPD 91-12 regarding Academic Information Series (ACIS) 1.0 (effective September 1992) were amended by Res. 7046 (adopted 11/08/1995), Res. 7420 (adopted 04/11/1997), and Res. 7440 (adopted 05/09/1997). RPD 91-12 was subsequently renumbered as RPD 4-12. ACIS 1.0 was subsequently renumbered as UW System Administrative Policy 102.
Res. 10115, adopted 08/24/2012, amended and renamed RPD 4-12. Res. 10835, adopted 03/09/2017, authorized technical corrections to RPD 4-12. Res. 11677, adopted 07/09/2021, amended RPD 4-12 consistent with provisions in Res. 11610 (adopted 04/09/2021) related to the review of degree programs that require more than 130 credit hours to complete.
[UW System Administrative policies are included for reference and are separate from Regent Policy Documents adopted by the Board.]