Online or Distance Education Programs

When a school wishes to offer a new program online (that it previously has not offered to students on campus)  schools should follow the same processes outlined on this website for establishing a new degree or certificate program.  A proposal for a new online version of an on-campus (in residence) program that has already been approved is also subject to review before it can begin.  The approval of the New York State Education Department (NYSED) is needed only when the school wishes to offer 50 percent or more of the program online. 

The process to launch an online version of an existing program is outlined below. Please consult with OVPAP (ovpap@columbia.edu) 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 that have APAS access at that school can log in and check the status at any time: http://apas.provost.columbia.edu

Each school relies upon a Committee on Instruction (COI), Curriculum Committee (CC),  or an equivalent faculty body, to ensure that its  online as well as its in-residence programs meet its standards of quality and contribute to its educational mission.  Therefore, every proposal for  online programming 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. Formscan 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
  • There is no decanal review of proposals to offer an already established program online

Once a proposal to add an online version of an existing program 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 must be informed of all new  online versions of existing programs leading to a degree, certificate, or certification of professional achievement.   A vote by the full Senate is not required.

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. 

 


Online versions of existing programs are not reviewed by the University Trustees.

The University needs the permission of the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to offer 50 percent or more of a previously approved program  online but not if the percentage is less.  This is the case regardless of whether the use of  online teaching will replace or supplement classroom instruction.  

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 online at www.op.nysed.gov/prof

Programs in other fields and all online programming leading to 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 ovpap@columbia.edu 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.