Substantive Changes: New York State Education Department

Many changes in degree or certificate programs do not need the approval of the New York State Education Department (NYSED). These include, for example, changes in the content and organization of individual courses or the substitution of one course for another as meeting a specific program requirement. The University is, however, obligated to ask the NYSED to modify the registered status of a program in many situations, including the following.

    The New York State Education Department (NYSED) has defined the minimum credits or terms of enrollment required for each level of degree.  Students in bachelor’s programs must complete at least 120 credits.  For a master’s, the minimum number is 30.  The NYSED does not specify a minimum number of credits for a Ph.D. or professional doctorate, but it does require a minimum of three academic years of full-time graduate study for a program leading to a doctoral degree, or the equivalent in part-time study.  The University may not offer degree programs requiring fewer points than stipulated in the State’s regulations.  It can require more.

    If a school wishes to change the number of credits in a degree or certificate program by one-third or more of the minimum required for the level of degree its students will earn, the University must ask the NYSED to amend the program’s registered status.  Thus, the University must seek the permission of the NYSED for changes in the number of credits if they equal or exceed the following limits:

    • Bachelor’s:  40 credits
    • Master’s: 10 credits
    • Ph.D. or professional doctorate: 1 year

    There is no NYSED minimum for certificate programs, but the University Senate has stipulated that students who are simultaneously enrolled in a degree program must take at least 20 credits while those in a stand-alone certificate program (one in which the student is not enrolled in a degree program at the same time) must complete at least 24.  

    Any changes in the number of credits in a certificate program may need the approval of the NYSED since they could adversely affect its students’ eligibility for state and federal financial aid.  Schools should, therefore, consult with the Vice Provost for Academic Programs to determine if a change in the credit requirements of a certificate program requires the University to submit a proposal to the NYSED for its review.

    In joint degree programs, the University agrees with its partner institution that a certain number of credits earned at each will count to the completion of the degree awarded by the other.  The University must obtain the New York State Education Department (NYSED)’s authorization to increase or decrease the credits the students take at the partner institution by a substantial number.

    There are a number of circumstances where NYSED provides clear guidance on curriculum updates that require submission for their assessment.  However, there are additional areas that involve a fair amount of ambiguity.  Schools should always reach out to the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs for consultation and guidance.

    Authorization is needed for such changes as a major reorganization of the curriculum, shifts in focus, and/or the addition or elimination of a major requirement.  You will see additional examples regarding specific course and credit changes also located on this page: https://provost.columbia.edu/content/policies-and-procedures-creating-and-modifying-educational-programs/post-approval-reviews/substantive-changes-nyse

    In summary, and to restate, schools should consult with the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs whenever they intend to make material alterations in the curricula they offer.  As part of this conversation, OVPAP can explore in more detail the types of changes the school is considering in light of what is mentioned above.  This is underscored by the fact that changes to NYSED process and/or regulations may occur at any time, and often do.

    The New York State Education Department (NYSED) does not require the separate registration of tracks within a registered program, nor is it necessary to obtain a separate approval for a concentration in subject areas in which students may also major as long as the University has a registered program in that area.

    Nonetheless, the University does need the NYSED’s approval to add a new track or concentration to a previously registered program.  Similarly, the Department expects the University to report the elimination of a track or concentration so that it can update its inventory.

    A change in registration is necessary whenever a school wishes to extend an existing program over a greater number of terms or reduce the length of time it takes to complete the degree or certificate.

    Refer to New Online Programs for approval information on adding an online component to a registered program.

    In addition to registering the addition on an online component to a registered program, the University must seek authorization from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for other types of changes in the mode of delivery of its curricula.  

    If a school adds a part-time option to a program previously open only to students who enroll full-time, the University must seek authorization from the NYSED.

    When a school creates an executive program in which the instruction is delivered in a different format or on a different schedule from another program in the same field that have already been registered, the NYSED expect a request for a change in registration.

    This list is not meant to be complete. Other types of changes may also need to be registered with the NYSED. Schools should, therefore, consult with the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs whenever it wishes to make material changes in the format or mode of delivery of a registered program.

    If a school decides to change the degree awarded on completion of a program (for example, from a Masters of Science to a Masters of Arts), the University must first obtain the approval of the New York State Education Department (NYSED).

    When a school changes the name of a program, the University must report it to the NYSED so that it can update its inventory. This is true even if the new name is not accompanied by any other changes in the program’s curriculum. Please note that once a name change is approved by NYSED, the old name is removed from the state inventory and replaced by the new name. Thus, from that point forward, all students enrolled in the program must complete it under the new name. If you have any questions, please reach out to OVPAP (ovpap@columbia.edu).

    Whenever a school decides to discontinue a registered program, the University must inform the New York State Education Department (NYSED) so that it can update its registry of the University’s approved programs.

    The New York State Education Department (NYSED) distinguishes between new degree programs that begin as tracks or concentrations in already registered programs and those that do not.  The NYSED approves new programs that were not part of previously registered programs through its process for new registrations.  If a school wishes to turn a track or concentration in an existing program into a separate program, the University must ask the NYSED to authorize a change in registration.

    The University, on the other hand, reviews proposals for turning tracks into separate programs through its normal process for evaluating requests to start a new program, as described in other pages of this web site.

    The New York State Education Department (NYSED) defines a dual-degree program as one in which some credits are counted to the completion of two University degrees.  Whenever the University wishes to combine two of its programs that the NYSED has already registered, the Department treats it as a change in registration.  If either of the two programs has not previously been registered, the University submits an application for a new registration.

    Any dual-degree program, regardless of whether the NYSED considers it a new registration or a change in registration, go through the full University process for evaluating proposals for dual-degree programs described in other parts of this web site.

    A joint degree program is one in which a school collaborates with another university to offer a combined educational curriculum.  With most joint degree programs, students earn credits at each institution toward the completion of a degree at the other.  Less frequently, and only with the approval of the Trustees, the University and its partner jointly award one degree.

    If the school’s partner is located in New York State and both parts of the joint degree program have already been registered by the NYSED, the Department treats it as a change in registration rather than a new registration.  If either of the two programs has not previously been registered, the University must submit an application for a new registration.

    Proposals for joint degree programs in which the partner institution is located outside of New York State always follow the process for requesting a new registration.

    Any joint degree program, regardless of whether the NYSED considers it a new registration or a change in registration, go through the full University process for evaluating proposals for joint degree programs described in other parts of this web site.

    This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Deans, chairs and directors of programs should contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs whenever they have questions about whether changes in their curricula need NYSED approval.

    Any educational change requiring NYSED authorization must be approved first by the Committee on Instruction and dean of the appropriate school and then by the Vice Provost for Academic Programs acting on behalf of the Provost. The Vice Provost is responsible for obtaining any other University approvals that may be necessary (e.g., decanal review of program name changes) and forwarding the proposed change to the NYSED for registration.

    To request approval to make a substantial change in one of its curricular programs, the school prepares a request consisting of both a Proposal for Making a Substantive Change, an internal University form, and one or more forms required by the NYSED. The State forms may vary depending on the subject matter of the new program. 

    If a school wishes to propose a new program based on a track in an existing program, they should complete the New Program Proposal Application for APAS

    Applications are entered through the Academic Program Approval System (APAS). Please contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs (OVPAP) at ovpap@columbia.edu or (212) 854-2691 for access to APAS. Schools are also advised to consult with OVPAP for guidance on which NYSED forms to complete.