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Undergraduate certificates can reflect emerging academic areas, necessary professional development requirements, or groups of courses that do not constitute a degree program. A certificate is intended to foster incremental or targeted development in an area of specialty or competency within a discipline or field of study. Certificates are earned either in conjunction with a major or independent of associate or baccalaureate degrees, so they may be suitable for both degree candidates and non-degree candidates (Senate Policy 59-20).

Certificates are designed by academic units to accommodate the parameters of the discipline or field of study as well as the specific educational needs of the intended students. A certificate consists of a group of courses, typically 9-15 credits, developed, supervised, and evaluated by the offering academic unit(s). At least two-thirds (2/3) of the credits used to complete a certificate must be earned at Penn State. In exceptional circumstances, a certificate may have fewer than 9 credits or more than 15 credits, provided adequate justification is given to explain why. Certificates should be reviewed by the Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs, Certificate Subcommittee (or delegate(s) of the chair) every 5 years for enrollment and currency.

Requirements for a certificate may be completed at any campus location offering the specified courses for the certificate.

All credit courses for a certificate require a grade of 'C' or higher. If enrolled in a degree program, at least six (6) credits of the certificate must be unique from the Prescribed Courses required by the student's major program(s).  All noncredit courses for a certificate require satisfactory completion, as defined by the unit offering the certificate.

Approval Process:

All certificates (credit and noncredit) must be authorized by a degree-granting academic unit of the University. Academic deans, campus college chancellors, and, for the campuses of the University College, the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses (or their designees) are charged with approving all undergraduate credit and noncredit certificates and are responsible for ensuring that all aspects of the certificate, including any course substitutions, adhere to the guidelines for certificates.

The process for developing new undergraduate certificates should begin in the academic unit and adhere to the processes required by that unit. Once unit approval is obtained, the steps listed below must be taken. Program approval times may vary based on unit requirements, consultation, and committee meeting schedules.

Descriptions of approved undergraduate credit certificates are published in the Undergraduate Bulletin.

Each academic unit should develop its own processes for proposing and approving certificates. Although academic deans, campus college chancellors, and, for the campuses of the University College, the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses (or their designees) may request additional information, all certificate proposals must include the following supporting materials:

  1. The academic unit responsible for the certificate, including an individual's name and contact information.
  2. A list of all campuses planning to offer the certificate, along with faculty contact information for each location.
  3. A concise explanation of the purpose and learning objectives of the certificate.
  4. Requirements of the certificate including entrance requirements, courses, and time limit for completion.
  5. An assessment plan for the certificate.

Enrolling Students in Certificates:

All students who enroll in certificates must be defined as Penn State students. New students enrolling in undergraduate credit certificates must enroll as non-degree regular students (see AAPP A-4 and Senate Policy 14-00). Degree seeking students must enroll in any certificate(s) prior to the end of the late drop period of their final semester.

Awarding Certificates:

For certificates earned in conjunction with a major, students must declare the intent to earn the certificate prior to being awarded their associate or baccalaureate degrees. Students completing independent certificates should declare their intent to earn the certificate during the final semester of course work. Certificates cannot be awarded retroactively.

Issuing the Certificate:

The Office of the University Registrar will prepare a certificate for each approved student. The certificate will include the signatures of the dean or chancellor of the academic unit offering the certificate. The certificate will be issued at the end of the semester the certificate was awarded.

Changes to Certificates:

The process of making curricular changes to a certificate begins in the academic unit and requires consultation with faculty contacts at campuses where students are completing courses for the certificate.

Expiration and Renewal of Certificates:

Five years after a certificate has been authorized for delivery, it will be closed unless the academic unit pursues one of the following options: (1) submit a curricular proposal to convert the certificate to a minor (please note the requirements for minors in Senate Policies 59-00 and 59-10, and AAPP L-6); (2) submit a joint proposal to transfer the administrative home of the certificate to another unit; or (3) extend the certificate for another five years.

Each September, Undergraduate Education will notify academic units of those certificates that must be addressed during the current academic year. A request to extend the certificate may be submitted to the Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs. The request must include: (1) a statement of the unit's intention to support the program for an additional five years including the commitment of necessary resources (listed, as appropriate); (2) data on university-wide enrollments and completions during the previous five years (broken out by unit); and (3) the most recent assessment plan/report submitted to the Office of Planning and Assessment.

Units intending to allow the certificate to expire are asked to provide a brief memo to the Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs and Undergraduate Education indicating their intention to close the certificate along with the rationale.

Closing the Certificate:

The request to close a certificate prior to the five-year expiration period needs to include consultation with all academic units where the certificate has been issued, along with a justification and phase-out plan.

Senate Policy: 59-00, Minors and Certificates

Senate Policy: 59-20, Requirements for Certificates

Approved: ACUE (5-5-11)
Approved: ACUE (7-7-16); Effective Fall 2016
Approved: ACUE (6-1-17)
Approved: ACUE (8-2-18)
Revised: ACUE (3-15-19)