L&S Policy on Review of Certificate Programs

The university requires that all approved certificate programs engage in regular program review. In view of the expectation that certificate programs require and utilize fewer resources than major and degree programs, this review is considerably more modest than other types of review. It is used for program evaluation, to investigate low-award status, and generally to improve administration of these (usually) interdisciplinary programs. Review can lead to a recommendation for program continuation, revision, or closure.

Contact information:  Associate Dean for Academic Planning, Elaine M. Klein

Overview: About Certificate Programs in L&S


"A certificate program is a designated set of for‐credit courses focused upon a specific topic or theme. Certificates give students the opportunity to pursue a subject of interest in a formalized way and to have completion of the course of study recognized by the awarding of the certificate. After approval, the for‐credit certificate is documented on the student’s UW‐Madison transcript and becomes part of the official student record. Certificates add opportunities for flexibility not available in majors and degrees."  University Academic Planning Council Guidelines for For-Credit Certificate Programs (http://apir.wisc.edu/certificates.htm)

In the College of Letters and Science, certificate programs play various roles in our students’ academic experiences.  For example, certificate programs allow our faculty to organize coherent programs of study around topics to complement students' primary program of study (the major), as when students pursuing the International Studies major earn any of several certificates focusing on regions around the world.  Certificates provide recognition that students have pursued interdisciplinary studies spanning several departments (as with several ethnic studies programs, Folklore, Medieval Studies, and Archaeology).  Certificates can organize undergraduate breadth requirements into a meaningful and useful program (Integrated Liberal Studies). In many cases, certificate programs provide access to areas where scholarship and resources at UW-Madison have coalesced or are still emerging, but where there is not yet enough curriculum and program stability to offer a major.  In some cases, an approved certificate program can serve as a pathway into a related undergraduate major, or as a credential that can be awarded if a student leaves a major but has completed the right combination of courses to justify earning the credential.  At the graduate level, certificates provide additional certification of expertise in a discipline to complement advanced study in a field.  Per Graduate School Policy, graduate certificates satisfy the "breadth" requirement for doctoral study.  

Certificate programs generally call for fewer credits than majors (averaging 15-18 for undergraduate programs, and 9-12 for graduate programs). Requirements are usually more flexible than a major; however there are some constraints.  Proposals are submitted through Lumen Programs, which is accessed through the Lumen App in the MyUW portal. (Departments and programs should contact their Academic Associate Dean, or the Associate Dean for Academic Planning, if they are planning to propose a new program.) 

L&S and the university require regular review of all certificate programs, and for certificate programs that are considered to be in "low award" status. All certificate programs are subject to regular review; this process is intended to confirm that the curriculum is functioning as intended:
  • Required and optional courses are offered frequently enough that students can complete the program without delaying time to degree. 
  • Advising is available.
  • Program (DARS) exceptions are rare.
  • Assessment reports reflect student learning as defined by approved learning outcomes.
  • The program is available to, and is completed by, a diverse array of students.
  • Students seek out and complete the awards at levels above "low award" thresholds.
  • Faculty governance, including leadership and committee succession, is stable and consistent.
  • Administrative responsibilities are clearly defined and functioning well.   


Reporting Cycle
  • In general, certificates are reviewed five years after first enrollment, and then regularly after that. 
  • Certificate programs managed by academic departments and programs subject to the regular review of degree programs will be included with the review of other programs administered by those departments, according to the schedule established by the Provost and Dean.
  • Certificates are required to submit annual reports on Assessment of Student Learning, per the annual call for reports. These reports contribute to (but do not substitute for) periodic program review.
Report Contents

In light of the limited level of resources usually dedicated to certificate program administration, the information required by the APC is also more limited than what is required for review of a major or degree program.  Reports on certificate programs include the following information:
  1. Recommendation regarding program continuation
  2. Program description and context, including mission, requirements, learning goals, relationship to other units
  3. Demonstrated need for the program, recruitment/outreach to populations served by the program
  4. Program administration and resources, including administrative and advising processes.  Where appropriate, this also includes evaluation of fiscal models that support the program.
  5. List of participating faculty and staff, with department affiliation noted
  6. Total number of students enrolled/declared in the program, average time for program completion
  7. Courses actually offered or for which students received program credit, by semester, including enrollment data for “core” (introductory) and/or “capstone” courses
  8. Program completion - number of certificates awarded annually.  "Professionally oriented" programs should include placement data.
  9. Assessment of student learning - assessment plan and summary of annual assessment activities (especially those leading to requests for curricular changes)
The Office of Academic Planning & Institutional Research makes available a template for the Certificate Program self study that covers all of these topics and which includes annotations and links to data supporting review.

Reports 

Undergraduate Certificate Review:
  • The Self-Study and any additional supporting materials should be submitted to the Dean, who will bring them forward for review and consultation by the L&S Academic Planning Council (APC).  Additional information will be gathered as needed.
  • Because the review may lead to program revisions, the L&S Curriculum Committee may be invited to participate in the review process.  
  • Certificates offered in collaboration with other units (e.g., the Institute for Regional and International Studies, the Division of Continuing Studies) will be convened by L&S in consultation with those units.  
  • The Dean may elect to convene a review committee that will also submit a report to the APC. 
Graduate Certificate Review:
  • The Self-Study and any additional supporting materials should be submitted to the Dean.
  • Certificates offered in collaboration with other units will be convened in consultation with those units.  
  • L&S will convene a review committee in consultation with the Graduate School.  
  • Review committees reports are discussed by the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee (GFEC) and by the L&S Academic Planning Council. 
The L&S Dean will send a formal memo completing the review following L&S APC discussion. Memoranda related to review are shared with the Provost via the Office of Academic Planning & Institutional Research. APIR affirms completion of the review in the annual report to the University Academic Planning Council and to UW System.

Any program changes arising from review must be submitted through Lumen Programs; completion of the review does not imply approval of program changes.

Review Related to Low-Award Producing Certificate Programs

In Spring 2020, the University Academic Planning Council approved an update to campus-level policy concerning low-award producing programs. The revised policy includes undergraduate, graduate/professional, and capstone certificates. In short, all low-award producing programs are subject to review, and all programs that do not meet certain thresholds must submit annual reports to the Provost (facilitated by the College), regardless of their review status.  

Certificate programs that award fewer than 10 credentials in a five-year period are considered "low-award producing" and must be reviewed. The organizational unit (faculty committee and sponsoring department, program, or center) responsible for the certificate must conduct the review and make a compelling case for continuation of the program (likely with specific action to be taken to increase awards); otherwise, the faculty should be prepared for a possible recommendation for program discontinuation. 

Reviews prompted by low-award status generally address the following questions:
  • What is the demonstrated student need, even at a low level, for graduates with this credential?
  • Does the program fill a specific academic niche unique to UW‐Madison or in some way necessary for the University’s identity, or for the fulfillment of the mission of the program, school/college, or university?
  • What is the cost of the program? No program is without cost, so a clear recognition of all costs is important. All programs incur costs in terms of record keeping and a range of monitoring activities for the school/college, the Registrar's Office, the Graduate School, the Office of the Provost, and others.
  • Is faculty time and effort best invested in such a program? Time must be devoted to learning outcomes assessment, review of the program, recruitment of students, curriculum development, advising, catalog and website maintenance, course scheduling, and similar activities. Programs with few or no students that are formally offered still need to have a full curriculum available to a student who seeks to enroll in the program.
  • What are the compelling reasons why none of the options outlined above (discontinuing the program or merging this major into a larger major) are viable alternatives?
  • Does the program have a stable academic home (usually in a department)?  Is that academic home actively engaged in supporting and managing the program?
The APC expects that reviews of low-award programs will include suggestions for change.  The following possibilities may be considered for low-producing programs that no longer serve students and faculty: 
  • Discontinue the program.
  • Merge smaller programs into an appropriate larger program with a more inclusive scope. 
  • Merge several low-producing programs into one more inclusive title. 
  • Rejuvenate the program through substantial curricular revision, renewed recruiting, or other approaches. 
Of course, any review may involve additional questions, the better to consider the opportunity costs of fielding low-enrollment and low-award programs. 

Low award reviews are convened by the Dean, who presents reports for discussion with the L&S Academic Planning Council, which will consider requests to continue programs, and which may recommend other actions.  Reviews of low-award Graduate programs are also shared with Graduate School, and may be discussed by the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee.  

Finally, per UAPC policy that has been endorsed by the L&S APC, certificate programs that have zero (0) awards in a five year period will be automatically discontinued without review.

Useful information:

Prepared by Elaine M. Klein, Associate Dean