Individualized Degree Design

Individualized Degree Programs 

One of the hallmarks of Empire State University’s undergraduate programs is the flexibility students have to design their own degree programs. Individualized degrees are often the best way to maximize transfer credit and prior learning, and to meet specific learning goals.  When pursuing an individualized degree, the student works with their mentor in an educational planning course to create a degree plan proposal that is reviewed and codified as their individualized official curriculum. SUNY Empire is authorized to award individualized degrees in the following areas of study:

Planning a Degree

Each student wishing to pursue an individualized degree program works with their assigned mentor to design their degree. The bulk of this work occurs while taking a required credit bearing educational planning course that teaches how a degree is structured, examines how prior learning fits into the degree, and assists in planning the learning still needed to accomplish their goals and complete the degree.

In planning the degree, the student and mentor explore relevant questions, such as:

  • What are the learning goals?
  • What has already been learned?
  • What still needs to be learned to advance toward the final goal?

The culmination of the degree planning process is a degree program proposal, that includes three main components:

  1. A plan for a degree program that shows all the learning accomplished, and the courses planned to complete the degree.
  2. A rationale essay explaining the purpose, design, and significance of the individualized degree program being submitted. 
  3. All related supporting documentation (e.g., transcripts, prior learning assessment recommendations) necessary to verify credits acquired outside of SUNY Empire.

Changing an Area of Study or Concentration While Planning the Degree  

During the degree planning process and in consultation with their mentors, students may find that the degree type and/or area of study that they originally planned no longer fits their educational goals or discover they would like to pursue more than one degree. See Changing A Degree for details on how to initiate a change or addition to your sought degree(s).  

Requirements by Type of Degree

Associate Degree Programs

Individualized associate degrees require a minimum of 64 credits, with at least 24 credits earned at SUNY Empire. Students may include up to 40 credits of transfer and/or other prior learning (advanced standing). Associate in Arts (A.A.) degrees require at least 48 liberal arts and sciences credits and an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree requires at least 32 liberal arts and sciences credits. Advanced-level coursework is not required for associate degrees, but students may choose to include them. Students seeking A.A. and A.S. degrees will be expected to meet Area of Study guidelines as well as SUNY General Education Requirements.  

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Individualized bachelor’s degrees require a minimum of 124 credits, with at least 30 credits earned at SUNY Empire. Students may include up to 94 credits of transfer and/or other prior learning (advanced standing).

A Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree requires at least 94 liberal arts and sciences credits, a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree requires at least 62 liberal arts and sciences credits, and a Bachelor of Professional Studies (B.P.S.) requires at least 32 liberal arts and sciences credits. All bachelor’s degrees require a minimum of 45 advanced-level credits with a minimum of 24 of them directly supporting the chosen concentration.

Students will be expected to meet Area of Study and Concentration (if applicable) guidelines, as well as SUNY General Education Requirements.  

The university offers 5 types of degrees that may be individualized. The table below outlines the minimum criteria for each degree. The minimum G.P.A. requirement to graduate with an undergraduate degree is a 2.0 G.P.A.

Degree Requirements Grid 

Degree Total Credits Required Minimum Credits to be Earned at SUNY Empire Minimum Liberal Arts and Sciences Credits Required Minimum General Education Credits Minimum Advanced-level Credit in Concentration Minimum Advanced-level Credits in Degree Program
A.A. 64 24* 48 30 - -
A.S. 64 24* 32 30 - -
B.A. 124 30 94 30 24 45
B.S. 124 30 62 30 24 45
B.P.S. 124 30 32 30 24 45

Degree Components

General Education

SUNY requires that at least 30 credits of an awarded degree be comprised of learning that meets its established general education framework. This framework varies by matriculation date so it is important to consult the general education section of the catalog for guidance on how this degree component applies to the individual seeking a degree.

Introductory and Advanced Level Learning

Introductory level learning is beginning, or foundational learning also known as lower-level study. Advanced level learning builds on introductory level learning and involves higher levels of abstraction, increasingly extensive knowledge, complex content, and greater methodological sophistication. It is also known as upper-level study. The minimum number of advanced level credits required varies by degree type as indicated in the Degree Requirements Grid.

Liberal Arts and Sciences

Liberal Arts and Sciences courses have a strong theoretical content, generally from the disciplines of the humanities, natural sciences, mathematics, and social sciences. The minimum number of liberal arts and sciences credits required varies by degree type as indicated in the Degree Requirements Grid.

Transfer Credit

The term transfer credit (also called advanced standing) encompasses several sources of credit accepted by SUNY Empire and available to apply to a degree.

Individualized Prior Learning Assessment (iPLA)

SUNY Empire provides a process for evaluating student knowledge for possible college-level learning obtained through experiences outside the traditional classroom such as workplace training, personal research, and special interests. Once approved by faculty, the credit award becomes official, is applied to the student record and is available as a credit component of a degree program.

SUNY Empire Credits

There is a minimum number of earned SUNY Empire credits required to be awarded a degree from SUNY Empire, and this number varies by degree type. Bachelor's degrees require students to complete a minimum of 30 credits at SUNY Empire, and associate degrees require students to complete a minimum of 24 credits at SUNY Empire. 

Areas of Study and Concentration Guidelines

The areas of study and concentration guidelines, found in the undergraduate programs section of the catalog, identify the knowledge expectations of academic and/or professional fields for the university's individualized degrees.   Students use the guidelines to develop their degree programs to include both expected knowledge and currency in their field. The guidelines are not names of specific courses; instead, they identify knowledge expectations that can be included through multiple courses and in multiple ways.

An awarded degree represents an acquired body of knowledge. To assure that is the case, the mentor helps the student interpret the area of study guidelines, and helps the student develop both a concentration title and put together the learning needed to adequately support the chosen title.

When the degree program proposal is submitted for review and approval it goes through faculty and university-level review processes; the guidelines will be used as the basis for the review of the degree design and concentration. In the degree program rationale, the student explains how learning and courses included on the plan address the area of study and where necessary, concentration guidelines, as well as the university’s learning goals and degree requirements.

Area of Study Guidelines Frameworks

Each set of area of study guidelines is written broadly to represent a body of knowledge expected within that field, and are the source provided to structure the individualized degree with each student’s specific goals in mind. Individualized degrees fall into one of five frameworks:

  1. Disciplinary – a program of study guided by the existing framework of a discipline. Degrees designed within this framework are similar in design to programs of study at other institutions.
  2. Interdisciplinary – a program of study that simultaneously interrelates two or more disciplines. Degrees designed within this framework draw upon the methods and bodies of knowledge of multiple disciplines to think across boundaries.
  3. Problem Oriented – a program of study designed around a problem. Degrees designed within this framework examine a significant issue in depth from multiple perspectives.
  4. Professional/Vocational – a program of study that focuses on acquiring knowledge and skills needed for specific career performance and applications. Degrees designed within this framework explore the conceptual foundations of the profession, the role of the professional in that career, and the relations between the profession and society at large.
  5. Thematic – a program of study focusing on a particular theme or set of ideas. Degrees designed within this framework trace the development of a theme or idea, or explore various aspects of a theme to examine its cultural and intellectual influence.

Concentrations and General Learning

Individualized degree programs at SUNY Empire divide learning into two categories: concentration and general learning. The concentration encompasses the learning that is included on the degree based on area of study and concentration guidelines, and as presented in the section above, may be a focused, in-depth study of a discipline (for example, economics, physics, political science); an interrelated study of two or more disciplines; the study of a problem or a theme; or study in preparation for a profession or vocation. Because these frameworks require serious, focused learning, and imply a degree of competence in an area, bachelor’s degree concentrations are required to contain at least 24 advanced-level credits. Associate degrees do not require advanced-level credits. 

General learning is the term used to describe learning not directly related to the concentration, however it is an equally important part of the individualized degree. It can support he concentration, add breadth to the degree program, meet general education requirements, or simply be elective learning of interest to the student.

For both bachelor's and associate degrees, generally, no more than half of the total number of degree credits sit in the concentration.

Concentration Guidelines and Titles

Concentration designs and titles can be unique to the student’s learning goals or they can follow pre-established guidance and titles.

Students often design concentrations for which no specific guidelines exist. This option provides flexibility in the degree program design, which is especially useful when transferring in a significant number of credits. A unique concentration of learning and concentration title is explained and supported within the degree program rationale where students present their interest, research, and reasons the unique concentration is supported by the included learning components on the degree program.

There are also some areas of study with established concentration guidelines. Like area of study guidelines, these concentration guidelines identify knowledge expectations rather than specific courses, and students can choose to address these expectations through various types of learning and in multiple ways.

For example, in the Business, Management and Economics area of study guidelines, there are specific concentration titles for Economics, Finance, Marketing and more. In the Science, Mathematics and Technology area of study guidelines, there are specific concentration titles for Biology, Mathematics, Information Systems, Computer Science and others.

Restricted Concentration titles

New York state education law regulates certain kinds of professional education that leads to NYS licensure. SUNY Empire cannot offer individualized concentration titles closely related to certain professional areas of licensure, including: 

  •  Acupuncture
  • Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Architecture
  • Athletic Training
  • Audiology
  • Certified Shorthand Reporting
  • Chiropractic
  • Clinical Laboratory Technology
  • Counseling
  • Dentistry
  • Dietetics and Nutrition
  • Engineering
  • Geology
  • Interior Design
  • Land Surveying
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Massage Therapy
  • Medical Physics
  • Medicine
  • Mental Health Practitioners
  • Midwifery
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Ophthalmic Dispensing
  • Optometry
  • Pathologists' Assistant
  • Perfusion
  • Pharmacy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Podiatry
  • Polysomnographic Technology
  • Respiratory Therapy 
  • Social Work
  • Speech-Language Pathology
  • Veterinary Medicine 

Concentrations in Accounting or Education

New York state has additional regulations for a concentration in education or a degree in accounting.  Certification/licensure in education and accounting require additional education beyond the bachelor’s degree. All students within the Educational Studies area of study or pursuing an accounting degree, or who plan to acquire one of these certifications, must complete a certification disclaimer form indicating that they understand they will need more education to reach their goal. These forms may be completed online (SUNY Empire login required):

Double Concentrations

Double concentrations are possible in bachelor’s degrees, when appropriate, but are not possible in an associate degree. When a degree program has a double concentration, each area must be represented by a set of integrated learning components that demonstrate progression to advanced levels of learning. The university has established guidelines for completing concentrations in each area of study. These guidelines outline general expectations for study in the area, as well as specific expectations for certain concentrations. In addition, students often design concentrations for which no specific guidelines exist. These students research their interests and explain their choices within their degree program rationale. Students should talk to their mentor if they are interested in a double concentration.

Elements of the Degree Program Proposal

All degree program proposals include:

  • Degree program plan
  • Degree program rationale essay
  • General education document
  • Individualized prior learning assessment (iPLA) evaluations if applicable
  • For planned PLA, a memo outlining the attributes of each request including whether the PLA will address/meet requirements such as general education or an area of study guideline if applicable

Official copies of college transcripts for all completed advanced standing must be received by the Admission Office prior to degree program proposal submission.

Programs may be approved with:

  • up to 16 outstanding PLA credits
  • other planned or in-progress advanced standing, including directly transferable college credits, credit by examination, and Professional Learning Evaluation (PLE)

Rationale Essay

The rationale essay is written to explain the purpose, design, and significance of individualized degree programs. Through a rationale essay the student discusses:

  • their educational background and professional experience
  • how the proposed degree plan meets their academic goals and learning needs
  • how the learning in the degree plan reflects the SUNY Empire area of study learning outcomes and concentration guidelines for the degree when applicable, or in rare instances how their learning deviates from the learning outcomes to meet a specific educational need.
  • awareness of external professional expectations, where applicable.

The rationale essay accompanies the individualized degree plan and is a key outcome of the required study in educational planning. The final draft that accompanies the individualized degree program when it goes for academic review should meet college-level writing expectations in terms of substance, presentation, and academic integrity.

Degree Program Proposal Review and Approval Process

Timing of Submission of Degree Program Proposal

Active students may submit a degree program for approval as early as their first term of matriculation into an undergraduate degree program.

Students must submit their degree program for approval no later than the end of the term in which they will have earned their 24th SUNY Empire credit.

Degree Program Proposal Review

Once the degree program plan and all required forms and documents as outlined in the Elements of the Degree Program Proposal section are ready, the mentor submits the information through the DP Planner system, which triggers the correct office of academic review to start the review and approval process. The office performs a thorough technical review to surface any issues, and then facilitates a faculty committee review. Upon approval at that level, the degree program is sent to the office of the registrar for final review. Both reviews examine the technical correctness and the academic soundness of the proposed degree program.

Concurrence and Final Approval

The office of the registrar is responsible for the university-level policy review and concurrence of the degree program. If the office of the registrar finds issues needing resolution during its review, including incomplete documentation or non-compliance with SUNY Empire policy or criteria, the reviewer informs the appropriate academic review office within 30 days. The academic review office works with the student, mentor, and others as needed, to resolve the problem, or provide additional information.

When the office of the registrar finds no issues with the degree program proposal, it “concurs” (approves) the degree program, and it becomes the official curriculum to be completed to earn the degree. The student and mentor are notified, and the degree program officially moves from DP Planner as the planning tool into Degree Works as the official record and auditing tool.

Degree Works Audit 

After the degree program is concurred, an individualized degree audit is created for the approved degree program. The student and mentor then utilize Degree Works to track their progress toward degree completion. 

Changes to a Concurred Degree Program

Course Substitutions 

Although changing a course may appear inconsequential, there could be unanticipated consequences. Any deviation from learning on the concurred degree program requires mentor consultation and office of academic review approval prior to registration.  

If a change is minor, substitutions within your SUNY Empire coursework can be made with mentor approval. If the change being requested is more than a course swap, a formal amendment may be required to re-approve the degree program.

Degree Program Amendments

A formal amendment process is required if there are more substantial changes to the degree program being requested such as a change to the area of study or concentration title.  Amendment requests go through the mentor to the office of academic review. 

Longevity of Degree Programs

A concurred degree program is valid for as long as the student retains matriculated status. Status is changed to inactive upon three years of non-enrollment, at which point reapplication to the university is required. A returning student may continue to follow the concurred degree program if their return is within five years of the date of concurrence.