Individualized Program Design: Bachelor’s Degrees Policy

Individualized Program Design: Bachelor’s Degrees Policy


Academic Affairs


Provost, Academic Affairs





Effective Date:


Implementation History:

Revised: May 2014, April 2005; May 2003; March 2000; February 1996


Degree Design, Degree Program Planning, Individualized Degree Programs, Individualized Program Design

Background Information:


This policy describes Empire State University's educational objective for baccalaureate degrees.



Educational Objectives

The university holds that undergraduate education should focus on the individual student and should foster independent and lifelong learning. Empire State University's degree programs are intended to:

  • enhance students' ability to deal with theoretical knowledge and methodological skills
  • to encourage students to apply what is learned in a practical or scholarly way
  • to nurture the habit of seeing what is learned in broad context and relating what is being learned to what is already known
  • to foster the skill and critical habit of judging what one is told rather than merely accepting it.

Underlying these objectives is the expectation that graduates will have become better able to pursue learning independently.

Students and faculty design degree programs that respond to the students' needs and interests and the university's educational objectives. Student interests and particular educational needs emerge and become clear in the course of degree program planning discussions with the university faculty and other appropriate experts. Therefore, such needs cannot be stated in advance of these significant educational planning discussions and activities.

Degree expectations for each student are formalized through the drafting, submission and approval of a degree program. While area of study guidelines define broad program expectations, the university does not set subject matter distribution requirements in advance for its students. Rather, as each degree program emerges from the educational planning process, distinct learning requirements based on the student's needs become clear. The expectations for each degree program can be different in the sense that they reflect each student's educational goals. They can be similar in the sense that they also address the acquisition of skills necessary for independent and lifelong learning. 

Every degree program has two major sections, the concentration and general learning. In planning their concentrations, students identify the central focus of their degree programs. Concentrations consist of a series of related studies building on each other and forming together a coherent whole. In planning their general learning, students have an opportunity to explore new areas, add breadth to their degree programs and develop new competencies, which enhance their overall education. 

As a college of arts and sciences, Empire State University expects students to acquire the qualities of a broadly educated person. The purpose of a college education is to enable students both to accumulate information and to:

  • see what is learned in a broad context
  • relate what is being learned to what is already known
  • judge what one is told rather than merely accepting it
  • use what is learned in a practical and intellectual way.

The student's learning should extend beyond a single, narrow discipline or field. The student should demonstrate an understanding of several diverse perspectives (such as historical, literary, scientific, technological, esthetic, ethical, international, multicultural, and gender-based) and be able to apply such perspectives to situations in which they must analyze, explain or solve problems concerning human behavior, society and the natural world.

The entire degree program, not just the concentration or just the general learning, creates the opportunities for students to address their own and the university's degree expectations.

Therefore, during degree program design students should address guidelines appropriate to their program and such general objectives as the acquisition of critical and analytical skills, communication skills and literacy, historical perspective, interaction with a variety of cultural values and scientific understanding. This list is not meant to be exclusive. Rather, it illustrates the university's concern for the arts and sciences and degree program breadth, concerns that, in keeping with the university's stress on individualized degrees, can only be expressed here in a general way.

The university's overall degree expectations are also stated in the following way:

  • All students at Empire State University are expected to develop their skills in reading, speaking and writing so that they may do these clearly, correctly and effectively. The university also expects students to acquire mathematical, technical, language, and/or other skills that may be essential to their particular program of study.
  • The university expects all students, whatever studies they undertake, to gain a basic knowledge of the facts, theories and methods appropriate to those studies. Comprehensive knowledge does not mean only the ability to repeat facts, theories and methods from memory, but also the capacity to translate what is learned into a different context -- to interpret and to extrapolate.
  • Students are further expected to develop analytical skills. Scientific laboratory work includes analysis in its most literal sense, but historians, philosophers, sociologists and other scholars also analyze by breaking apart the object of study to see its parts and its structure. Different subjects of inquiry require different methods of analysis, and competency in a subject requires a mastery of that subject's approach to analysis.
  • Concentration in an area of inquiry likewise requires that the student learn to make evaluations based on appropriate criteria. Whether the subject is administrative organizations, scientific theories or musical compositions, one should be able to recognize and evaluate quality.
  • In addition, the university expects students to be able to work creatively in the fields of inquiry they enter, learn how to synthesize, combine elements in a new order and to create a whole that was not there before. Synthesis is framing a new hypothesis, designing a new experiment, creating a work of art, solving a problem or developing a new theory, generalization or principle. Students also must demonstrate the ability to apply what they have learned to practical and concrete situations.

Individualized educational planning requires cognizance of broad degree expectations established by the State University of New York and the Board of Regents. These expectations differ depending upon the type of degree the student wishes to earn.

Degree Designations

In order to earn a bachelor's degree, students need to complete a program consisting of 124 credits. At least 45 credits in every bachelor's degree must be in advanced-level studies, including at least 24 credits of advanced-level study in the concentration. These provisions apply to all Empire State University bachelor's degrees. The university is registered to grant degrees in the arts; business, management and economics; community and human services; cultural studies; educational studies; historical studies; human development; interdisciplinary studies; labor studies, (the curriculum in labor studies is offered at Empire State University's Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies in New York City); science, mathematics and technology; and social science (formerly known as social theory, social structure and change).

Empire State University offers three bachelor's degrees with the following degree designations:

  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Bachelor of Science
  • Bachelor of Professional Studies.

Distinctions among these three degrees are made on the basis of liberal arts and sciences and educational content.

  • The Bachelor of Arts degree designation requires at least 75 percent liberal arts and sciences and not more than 25 percent applied, professional-vocational learning. The B.A. may be awarded for degree programs with concentrations in any of the university's registered areas of study.
  • The Bachelor of Science degree program is at least 50 percent liberal arts and sciences and may contain up to, but not more than, 50 percent applied, professional-vocational learning. The B.S. may be awarded for degree programs with concentrations in any of the university's registered areas of study.
  • The Bachelor of Professional Studies is the designation for degree programs containing more than 50 percent applied professional-vocational learning. The B.P.S. must contain at least 25 percent liberal arts and sciences. The B.P.S. may be awarded only for concentrations in the arts; business, management and economics; community and human services; interdisciplinary studies; labor studies; and technology.

Liberal Arts and Sciences and Advanced Liberal Arts and Sciences

Liberal arts and sciences and advanced-level arts and sciences are concepts used in evaluating degree programs. For these purposes, the university provides the following definitions.

Liberal Arts and Sciences

Liberal arts and sciences enhance the abilities of men and women to understand, to judge, to communicate and to take action with each other about the nature, quality and conditions of their lives. Learning that meets this definition generally tends to have strong theoretical and conceptual content. Fields of study traditionally included within the liberal arts (humanities, mathematics, natural and physical sciences, social sciences and the creative arts) fall within the present definition. Other subjects, when studied with appropriate theoretical and conceptual content, meet this definition.

Learning not considered liberal arts and sciences focuses primarily on specialized knowledge and skills within a professional-vocational framework rather than on the theoretical and conceptual learning from which the specialized knowledge and skills were derived. Such learning is often related to specific professional-vocational needs and practices.

Advanced Level Studies

Study beyond the introductory level involves higher levels of abstraction, increasingly extensive knowledge, complex content and greater methodological sophistication. The distinction between advanced study and introductory study should be made by considering factors such as the level of theoretical and application skills required (operations requiring analysis, synthesis and evaluation are more likely to be classified as advanced), the presumption of prior study, the nature of the studies themselves (introductory studies, surveys or technical foundations are more likely to be classified as beginning studies).

Responsibility for identifying liberal arts and sciences and advanced studies rests with the faculty in the context of SUNY policies. The student's total program (advanced standing and contract work) will be considered when individual or groups of learning components are examined in light of these definitions. The student's educational objectives and the stated objectives of learning contracts and other degree program components help to determine the degree classification.

Concentration Titles

As part of degree program planning, students need to identify concentration titles. Students have the benefit of faculty advice in planning concentrations and in developing concentration titles. Students may propose concentration titles; however, these are subject to faculty and administrative review.

The basic criterion used to determine whether a proposed concentration title will be approved is simple and logical: concentration titles should accurately reflect the concentration's content. On the one hand, students may plan innovative concentrations and these should have titles that reflect their innovative content. On the other hand, concentration titles that are standard in higher education should be used only when the concentration's content meets commonly understood expectations.

There are other factors which will be considered when concentration titles are reviewed. Certain professional areas regulated by state education law are not included in Empire State University's range of concentrations. The university does not offer special professional concentrations or professional licensing in any field. Therefore, the university does not approve professional concentration titles in areas covered by the state education law. However, some study in such areas may be included in an Empire State University degree program when appropriate learning resources are available.

The university does not approve professional concentration titles in the following fields: acupuncture, animal health technology, architecture, audiology, certified public accountant, certified shorthand reporting, chiropractic, dentistry, dental hygiene, dietetics, education, engineering, professional engineering, engineering technology, interior design, land surveying, landscape architecture, law, massage, medicine, midwifery, nursing, nutrition, occupational therapy, occupational therapy assistant, ophthalmic dispensing, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, physical therapy assistant, physician's assistant, podiatry, public accountancy, social work, speech-language pathology and veterinary medicine. Each profession has different entry, licensure, and other requirements. The law gives the Board of Regents, the Education Department, and the State Boards for the Professions a role in the regulatory process.

The Concentration

Progression and Integration

As the central focus of the student's individualized degree program, the concentration must be qualitatively strong. The learning components in a concentration should be related, should include advanced and complex study and should a coherent whole. Therefore, in addition to serving individual educational goals, concentrations should meet the criteria of progression and integration.

Progression emphasizes development from introductory toward increasingly advanced learning in one's concentration; however, this development need not be linear and concentrations will be evaluated as a whole. Integration highlights the need to grasp relationships between and among key learning components within and related to the field of concentration.

The emphasis on progression in concentrations is in harmony with SUNY upper-division requirements. That is to say, progression will normally result in at least 24 credits of advanced study in bachelor's concentrations and the university will expect its degree programs to meet that standard. All concentrations must include advanced studies, which may be derived from prior learning as well as from Empire State University learning contracts.

Attention in bachelor's concentrations is given to the acquisition of a basic understanding of theoretical concepts and methods of inquiry appropriate to the student's educational goals and concentration. 

Additionally, students should encounter a critical approach to learning based on the investigation of differing points of view and competing ideas and solutions to problems. The relationship between theory and practice should be explored to give relevance to learning as students engage in case studies, research projects, field studies or other activities designed to enhance their ability to analyze, apply and evaluate ideas. These objectives are applicable in a general way to all bachelor's concentrations. But this does not mean that every concentration will need to be designed according to a particular structural outline.

Concentration Design

The development of a structural outline or organizing framework for each concentration is another important dimension of concentration design. Various structures are needed to respond to diverse student interests and educational goals. However, the structure will need to accommodate and support the university's educational objectives for concentrations: progression and integration.

The university recognizes the need for a variety of concentration frameworks. In the course of degree program planning and review, the faculty should assist the student in the selection of an organizing structure appropriate to the student's educational needs. This is an important aspect of concentration development because different approaches to organization suggest different objectives which in turn influence concentration content. Progression and integration can be appropriately expressed in a number of organizing frameworks. The university recognizes five organizing frameworks for concentrations:

  • disciplinary
  • interdisciplinary
  • problem-oriented
  • professional/vocational
  • thematic.

In some cases, concentrations may combine elements from more than one organizational design.

In the disciplinary mode the student is guided by the existing framework of a discipline (sociology, biology, philosophy). An example of an interdisciplinary approach is the simultaneous and interrelated study of two or more disciplines. Problem-oriented study is organized around a problem and proposes solutions to the problem (the problem of reducing water pollution or providing decent housing for all). Thematic study programs focus on a particular theme or set of ideas -- the idea of the hero or of progress, for example. The thematic approach differs from the problem-oriented mode in the sense that the student is seeking an understanding of how and why a particular theme appears repeatedly in human experience rather than seeking a solution to a problem. Professional/vocational study focuses on acquiring knowledge and skills needed for specific career performance and applications. It also entails inquiry into the conceptual foundations of the profession, the role of the professional in that career and the relation between the profession and society at large.

Concentrations and Advanced Standing

University assessment policies and individualized degree programs permit students to combine in their concentration learning from a variety of sources and settings. Advanced standing based on transcripts (transfer credit), advanced standing based on evaluated work and life learning, and learning gained at Empire State University through learning contracts may be combined in any proportion to compose a concentration. The entire program, however, must meet university expectations regarding concentration progression, integration and liberal arts objectives.

In cases in which a substantial portion of the concentration is satisfied through advanced standing, the assessment process must assure that the concentration meets university expectations regarding progression and integration.

Concentration Size

Concentration sizes vary with student needs and interests. Because the concentration requires serious, focused learning and implies a degree of competency in an area, the amount of learning in a concentration should not be less than 24-36 credits of study. Concentrations that are larger than 50 percent of the degree should be examined carefully to be sure the learning is appropriately integrated. Large concentrations are acceptable as long as the degree program satisfies the university's educational objectives for undergraduate degrees and meet state expectations regarding liberal arts content.

Applicable Legislation and Regulations

Related References, Policies, Procedures, Forms and Appendices

Related Policies: Advanced Standing Credit: Transcript Credit; Policy and Procedures for Degree Program and Portfolio Review and Approval; Degree Program Rationale Policy on Educational Planning Studies; Individual Prior Learning Assessment Policy and Procedures; Breadth of Degree Programs and SUNY General Education Requirements