Process for the Approval of a New Academic Major or Degree

New major and degree programs represent significant commitments by faculty and deans. The approval process to authorize their implementation is structured to assure wide communication and sufficient planning to make sure that the program is ready for students at the time of implementation. After approval by the school/college, the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee (GFEC) (as applicable, for graduate-level programs), and the University Academic Planning Council (UAPC) is complete, the Board of Regents formally authorizes the new degree/major program. The approval process is dictated by UW System Administration and Board of Regents policy, and is summarized in APIR’s UW-Madison Planning and Approval Guidelines for New Degree/Majors, which was updated in January 2020. Following is a summary of the process with related links:

Step 1: Preliminary Conversations

The planning process usually starts with informal discussions among faculty and with deans and deans’ staff. This informal consultation stage is quite important for building widespread support for the program and for uncovering any potential sticking points. Once there is some consensus within the program and school/college, it is very important to reach out to campus units that will help shepherd the proposal through governance approvals. Notably this includes the director of Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR) (Jocelyn Milner, jocelyn.milner@wisc.edu). For graduate-level programs, the Graduate School should also be consulted, namely Jenna Alsteen (jenna.alsteen@wisc.edu), the assistant dean for academic analysis, planning, and assessment. The guidance is that once the program has some consensus to move forward with planning for a new degree/major, that program staff reach out to APIR and the Graduate School (as applicable) via email, briefly explain what is being proposed, and from there APIR/Graduate School will provide counsel on navigating the process and inform next steps. Please do not proceed with the Notice of Intent without first consulting with APIR/Graduate School.

Step 2: Notice of Intent

The Notice of Intent (NOI), also referred to as the Approval to Plan, is the first formal step in the planning/approval process for new degrees/majors. The NOI is a short written proposal (3-5 pages) that highlights the key features of the program being proposed. The NOI moves through a review/approval process that includes the school/college, GFEC (as applicable), UAPC, the provosts of other UW System institutions, and finally the UW System associate vice president for academic affairs. The other campus provosts evaluate the planned program for opportunities for collaboration and any concerns for duplication. It is ultimately the UW System vice president who renders a decision on the permission to plan. There is a required outline to follow when preparing the written NOI, and that outline/template is included within APIR’s UW-Madison Planning and Approval Guidelines for New Degree/Majors. The NOI is drafted and uploaded to a new Lumen Structures proposal created by the program. This process in Lumen is detailed in the Lumen Structures: Forms and Actions KnowledgeBase document. (Please note the request to upload both a pdf and MS-Word version of the NOI into Lumen Structures.) Once the NOI receives both campus and UW System approval, that approval is formally delivered to the program via a memo from Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR), and that correspondence provides the approval to proceed toward the full authorization process.

Step 3: Full Authorization Proposal

Once the NOI has been approved, the program faculty then proceed to prepare the full proposal for authorization, also referred to as the authorization proposal. This written proposal builds on the NOI and provides the rationale for the program, describes the curriculum, outlines student support services, and outlines plans and resources for assessment and program review. Proposers must initiate a new Lumen Programs proposal for the new program, into which the written authorization proposal is uploaded. In addition, the program must complete and upload the UW System Cost and Revenue Projections Narrative Template, and if the proposed program is a revenue/131 program, the Revenue/131-Program Model Budget Spreadsheet. Here are some tips and resources in preparing the authorization proposal:

  • Authorization Proposal Template: For the written authorization proposal, it is very important to use the UW System template. This template has very specific requirements for margins, font, spacing, sections, etc., and there is no room for deviation. The template also changes somewhat regularly, so it’s important to go directly to the UW System Academic Planning website for the current version. In addition to the BOR New Program Authorization Guide, which is the MS-Word template, proposers should refer to the Authorization Guidance and Checklist document to help in writing the proposal and ensuring all aspects are covered. It is suggested that proposers refer to the Checklist as they draft the proposal, and then go back through the Checklist once the proposal is complete to ensure the proposal covers all requirements.
  • Cost and Revenue Projections (budget and narrative): UW System requires a program budget in a very specific MS-Excel format, accompanied by a budget narrative. Templates for both are also included on the UW System Academic Planning website, referred to as the Cost and Revenue Projections for Newly Proposed Program (aka, the budget, an MS-Excel file) and the Cost and Revenue Projections Narrative Template (aka, the budget narrative, an MS-Word doc). It is very important to note that the program is asked to complete the budget narrative but not the budget itself. The director of APIR (i.e., Jocelyn Milner) will use the narrative as prepared by the program to complete the budget itself, on behalf of the program. This is because the budget is very detailed and in a unique format. Essentially the ask is that the program writes out the budget narrative, giving voice to the plan for the budget and supporting the completion of the budget, and then APIR takes that plan and populates the budget itself, circling back to the program with any questions that arise.
  • Revenue/131-Program Model Budget Spreadsheet: If the proposed program is a revenue/131 program, the proposal must include the completed Revenue/131-Program Model Budget Spreadsheet. (A revenue/131 program is one that meets specific requirements and has all paid tuition returned to the program to cover expenses and allow for program reinvestment.) For complete details and to access the current spreadsheet, refer to the Revenue/131 Tuition Status KnowledgeBase document.
  • Lumen Programs Form and Uploads: In addition to the UW System documents, UW-Madison uses Lumen Programs to assemble and package the full authorization proposal. The Lumen form asks very specific questions, some of which are also featured within the UW System authorization proposal template. As such, as appropriate, it is fine to cut-and-paste from one document to the other. However there are unique and often campus-specific questions on the Lumen Programs form, which require attention as well. There is a section/topic within the UW-Madison Lumen KnowledgeBase dedicated to Program Proposals, and within there are documents that detail each section of the Lumen Programs form. Please refer to these resources when completing the form as they will answer many questions about appropriate responses. As alluded to earlier, the Lumen Programs form requires the upload of specific documents, as follows:
    • Notice of Intent (NOI): This upload field is within the Basic Information section and the program should upload its final NOI, in both the pdf and MS-Word formats, to this field.
    • UW System NOI Approval Memo: This upload field is the same as the NOI upload, and here the program should upload the NOI approval memo received from UW System via APIR.
    • Authorization Proposal: This upload field is within the Basic Information section and is where the program should upload its completed authorization proposal. Again, it is very important to upload both a pdf and MS-Word version and to have adhered to the template instructions when completing the document. The MS-Word version enables any final edits that may be required to the document to conform with UW System requirements.
    • Revenue/131-Program Model Budget Spreadsheet: As noted above, if the program is proposed to be a 131/revenue program, the Lumen proposal must include the completed and approved Revenue/131-Program Model Budget Spreadsheet. Within the Lumen Programs form, the field for the budget spreadsheet upload is within the Resources, Budget, and Finance section.
    • Assessment Plan: The Lumen Programs form includes an area to add the Program Learning Outcomes and also upload the approved Assessment Plan.
    • Letters of Support: Programs/units that have a vested interest in the new program should be detailed in the Supporting Information section of the Lumen Programs form. If a program provided a formal letter of support, it can be uploaded to the appropriate field in the Lumen Programs form. Complete information on this topic can be found in the Program Proposal: Vested Interest, Supporting Information, and Approval KnowledgeBase document.

APIR is happy to assist the program in completing the full authorization proposal and all associated documents. Once the proposal is finalized, it will then be routed to GFEC (as applicable, for graduate-level programs) and UAPC for campus approvals. Once approved by these UW-Madison governance committees, the proposal will advance to the UW System Board of Regents, accompanied by the Letter of Commitment from the provost. (APIR will secure the Letter of Commitment on behalf of the program.) In terms of timing, it is important to note that UW System requires that a new program proposal be submitted at least eight weeks prior to an upcoming meeting in order to be added to the agenda. Once slated for the Board of Regents agenda, the provost will present the program to the board on behalf of the university. The board will vote on the proposal at the meeting and UW System Administration will send a formal approval memo, which will be forwarded to the program from APIR. From there, the program will proceed to schedule its program implementation meeting and continue with its planning and implementation.

Option for an Expedited/Fast-Track Process: Combining the NOI and Authorization Proposal

A select few programs may be eligible for UW System’s new Fast-Track authorization process, which essentially combines the NOI and authorization proposal into a single step. Features of Fast-Track-eligible programs include: clear and compelling demand, prior approval by university governance bodies, no new resources or capital outlay required for implementation, only bachelor’s or master’s degree programs (i.e., typically not a PhD program), and not subject to specialized accreditation. Consideration for the Fast-Track process will occur during that initial consult with APIR (Step 1 above), during which APIR’s director will determine if the program might be eligible. If yes, the director will consult with APIR Administration to request approval for the Fast-Track process, which if granted, will allow the program to prepare the NOI and the authorization proposal (as associated documents) in one step and route through campus and UW System governance for one-step approval.