New Doctoral Degree Program

The process to launch a new doctoral program is outlined below. Please consult with OVPAP ([email protected]) if there are any questions regarding the necessary approval steps, appropriate forms to complete, or access to APAS (Academic Program Approval System). Once a proposal has been submitted to APAS, those with APAS access at that school can log in and check the status at any time:

The University Statutes give the individual schools the responsibility for organizing curricular programs leading to new degrees, defining their requirements and approving the courses that fulfill those requirements.  Each school relies upon a Committee on Instruction (COI), Curriculum Committee (CC), or an equivalent faculty body, to ensure that its programs meet its standards of quality and contribute to its educational mission. Therefore, every new program, regardless of the level of the degree, must first be reviewed and approved by the COI, CC, or an equivalent body, of the school in which it will be offered. It also needs the approval of the dean of the school.

Schools should complete and upload the appropriate internal University proposal form to APAS. Forms can be downloaded from the sidebar on the right. The internal proposal is uploaded by the School Administrator. Once schools have completed their respective internal review processes, a representative for the COI/CC and a representative for the school dean must give their approval in APAS.

The Vice Provost for Academic Programs evaluates proposals for new programs on behalf of the Provost and forwards them to other offices for the following reviews: 

  • The University Registrar reviews proposals for conformity with University policies and New York State regulations;
  • The University Librarian certifies that the University has the information resources to support them;
  • The Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, who serves as the University’s Chief Digital Officer, evaluates any proposals involving online education; and 
  • The Vice Provost for Academic Programs also sends proposals for new programs or program name changes to the deans of all other Columbia schools to determine if the program will conflict with any they already offer or intend to offer. If questions about the new program are raised during decanal review, further consideration of the proposal is suspended until they are resolved. If the deans are unable to resolve the issue, the Provost determines when and how the proposal will move forward.

Once a doctoral degree proposal has all of the approvals listed above, the Vice Provost for Academic Programs forwards it to the University Senate.

The Education Committee of the University Senate reviews all new programs leading to a doctoral degree on behalf of the full Senate.

  • It establishes a subcommittee at one of its meetings to review the proposal and report back to the full Committee at a subsequent meeting.  As part of its review, the subcommittee may discuss the proposal with the faculty sponsors of the proposed program and may request additional information to complete their review.
  • After receiving the subcommittee’s report, the full Education Committee discusses the proposal and votes on whether to recommend it to the full University Senate. 

Proposals that receive an affirmative vote in the Education Committee are forwarded to the Executive Committee of the University Senate for consideration at the next Plenary meeting of the full Senate.

The Senate Education Committee meets monthly between September and April. It takes a minimum of 2-3 months (2-3 consecutive meetings) for the Senate Education Committee to complete their review. Therefore, it is advisable to submit proposals no later than November of the fall semester if the program is to make its way through the Senate process before the end of the academic year. 

The approval of the University Senate is normally the final step within the University for starting a new doctoral program. However, if a proposed program leads to a degree a school previously has not conferred, the University Statutes must be amended to allow the school to award that degree. Statutory amendments require consideration at a minimum of two separate meetings of the Trustees. Additionally, if the proposed program will lead to a degree that has not previously been awarded in New York State, the New York Board of Regents must amend their rules before the University Trustees can act.


All new doctoral programs are required by NYSED (New York State Department of Education) to undergo an external review by two experts to assess the quality of the proposed program. Each expert must meet the following criteria: he or she should work and reside outside of New York State, should not be a graduate or past employee of Columbia, and should have no other conflicts of interest that could taint their review. In their evaluation, NYSED is particularly interested in the following:

  • the strength of the proposed curriculum;
  • the quality of the faculty; and
  • the resources committed to the program to ensure that its students are prepared for successful careers

The school/department sponsoring the program is responsible for requesting, obtaining, and responding to the external review(s).  The school/department is also responsible for working with the appropriate person to submit these documents to APAS.

For further guidance on the external review process, please contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs (OVPAP) at [email protected].

Step 1: Requesting and Obtaining the External Reviews for Doctoral Programs

  • Two external reviews are required.
  • For new doctoral programs NYSED must pre-approve potential external reviewers.
  • Schools are required to submit a list of 4-5 potential reviewers for NYSED’s approval before the school can request the reviews.  The list of potential external reviewers must be submitted to APAS along with the internal proposal for the new program.

Schools should ask the selected reviewer(s) to:

  • Complete the External Review Form;
  • Sign the Conflict of Interest Statement; and
  • Provide their CV.

Further guidance on the external review process as outlined by NYSED can be found here:

Step 2: Responding to the External Review

Once the school has obtained the external review(s), it should prepare a response. The response should:

  • Address any weaknesses or deficiencies that the reviewer(s) mentioned/commented on.
  • Be written on department letterhead and signed by the program director, department chair, or lead faculty sponsoring the program proposal.
  • If there were any questions that a reviewer was unable to comment on these should also be addressed in the response.
  • If the reviewer raised no issues or concerns, it is fine for the letter to simply thank each reviewer for his/her feedback.

Step 3: Submitting the External Review

  • Both the external review(s) and the school’s response must be submitted through APAS. It is fine to submit one response to 2 reviews.
  • The school is responsible for submitting documents to the designated School Administrator for uploading to APAS. The school should submit two documents (in Word or PDF):
  • The external review(s) and CV(s)
  • Their response to the external review
  • If the school doesn’t know who the APAS School Administrator is, they should contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs (OVPAP) at [email protected].

Once a proposal for a new doctoral program has received all of the necessary University approvals and the two external evaluations have been received, the Vice Provost for Academic Programs submits it to the New York State Education Department (NYSED).  

Within NYSED, proposals for new educational programs are reviewed by one of two offices, depending on the field of study.  The Office of the Professions (OP) is responsible for reviewing programs in most fields for which the state issues licenses. Currently, OP approves new programs, with the exception of those leading to the Ph.D., in the following fields in which the University currently educates students:

  • Accounting
  • Architecture
  • Dental Medicine
  • Engineering
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Medicine
  • Mental Health
  • Nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Social Work

OP also evaluates programming in other fields leading to a license.  A complete list of its areas of responsibility is available on-line at

Programs in other fields and all Ph.D. programs regardless of field are approved by the Office of College and University Evaluation (OCUE).

OP and OCUE each require different forms to establish a new degree or certificate program or to modify an already registered program.  Schools should contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs at [email protected] for guidance on how to complete the appropriate NYSED forms.

NYSED generally reviews applications within 12 to 18 months,  depending on the volume of programs being reviewed and whether there are any questions about the program proposal that require supplemental information be submitted to NYSED. Therefore, it is wise to start the process early.

The University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). If the University makes any significant changes in its programming in between reviews, it is obligated to seek the Commission's approval before putting them into effect.

The Commission defines the type of programmatic changes that require its review in a document entitled Substantive Change Policy Statement. While the policy statement describes all of the actions that might trigger a substantive change review, there are two types that are most likely to require the Commission's approval. These typically occur when a school is seeking to create collaborative programs with other universities, especially in other countries:

1. Additional Educational Locations

MSCHE requires a review of new degree or certificate programs, including joint programs with other institutions, in which 50 percent or more of the instruction leading to the Columbia degree will be delivered at a site other than one of the University's campuses. In MSCHE terminology, such a site is an "additional location."

The 50 percent rule applies only to the credits required for the Columbia degree and not to the total number of credits the students will take as part of a joint degree program. For example, assume that a school with a 60-credit program wishes to offer it as part of a joint degree program with another university and that some of the courses taken at the partnering institution will count toward the University degree. As long as the credits completed at Columbia are greater than 30, the University does not need the permission of the Middle States Commission, no matter how many credits the students will take at the two institutions combined.

2. Contractual Relationship with another Educational Institution

If the University enters into a contractual relationship with another institution to deliver instruction leading to a degree or a certificate, it may need the prior approval of MSCHE.

If the University's partner is a for-profit company or an American institution that is not accredited by a federally recognized agency, the Commission's approval is necessary regardless of the number of credits given at Columbia.

In the case of joint degree or certificate programs with accredited, non-profit American universities and colleges and with institutions outside of the United States, the Commission's approval is normally necessary if 50 percent or more of the instruction is given on the partner's campus.

Departments and schools interested in creating degree and certificate programs with other educational institutions should contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Administration to determine if the Middle States Commission needs to review its plans.  When the Commission's approval is required, the originating unit should prepare a proposal that follows the guidelines included in the Substantive Change Policy Statement. That proposal differs in content and form from the one that must be prepared for the University Senate and the New York State Education Department.