Policy on Educational Planning Studies

Policy on Educational Planning Studies


Academic Affairs







Effective Date:


Implementation History:

July 31, 2008


Policy on Educational Planning Studies

Background Information:


What follows is a discussion of educational planning at Empire State College. It includes a statement about the relationship between individual degree design and the college's core values, guidelines to good practice in educational planning, and the articulation of policies and procedures relevant to the construction and approval of Empire State College educational plans.



Individualized Degrees

Individually planned degrees are a hallmark of Empire State College's academic program. The college was founded in 1971 as an experimenting institution, designed to pioneer innovative ways for adults to gain access to a college degree. Individualized degree planning is a key element of this mission for innovation and access, and reflects the college's commitment to empowering adults to define and pursue their own educational goals.

At most colleges, students complete pre-structured degree requirements in the major and general education, regardless of the knowledge and experience they may bring to their studies. The structure of, rationale for and relationships among studies are often not clear to students. Learning may be fragmented and duplicative, especially for adults who attended more than one institution, experienced interruptions in their studies, and/or already have college-level knowledge acquired outside of a college classroom.

In contrast, Empire State College's individually tailored degrees enable adults to create a coherent educational plan, incorporate credit for their existing knowledge, plan new learning that builds on that base and pursue studies of greatest interest and value to them. This flexible approach can reduce the time and resources needed to complete the degree, and is at the core of how the college affords adults genuine access to a college degree that responds to their personal, professional and academic goals.

Individually tailored degrees afford adult learners the opportunity to:

  • create coherent educational plans, which integrate and build on learning histories that extend across time and place,
  • identify and build on – rather than duplicate – existing knowledge and skills,
  • incorporate academic credit for prior college-level learning,
  • complete degrees more quickly and at lower total cost than at institutions that do not offer prior learning assessment and/or flexible program design,
  • expand awareness and utilize a wide range of learning modes and subjects available,
  • identify and pursue studies of greatest interest and importance to them,
  • expand their capacities for self direction and independent, lifelong learning, and
  • engage in active, reflective and creative academic work within a community of learners.

The college awards undergraduate degrees in eleven broad "areas of study," which are registered by the NYS Education Department (NYSED). Each student designs an individually tailored degree, with a concentration within one of the areas of study, which builds upon the student's prior college-level learning. NYSED's approval of broad registered areas of study is predicated on the college's individualized degree planning model. The alternative at other public colleges is to submit pre-structured curricula in each degree field for approval by the State University of New York and NYSED.

With the flexibility of an individual degree comes a special responsibility for the student and for the college. A curriculum that is pre-defined by the faculty of a college is ordinarily approved in advance by faculty curriculum committees, academic administrators and external regulators. Empire State College students must firmly ground their individually tailored degrees by identifying their existing knowledge and skills, degree goals and learning needs and interests, and by carefully researching their fields of study. Faculty mentors actively guide and collaborate with students in the educational planning process. Ultimately, a faculty committee must approve each individual degree program proposal, and the Office of College-wide Academic Review conducts a final technical review.

Educational Planning

Academic study in educational planning, guided by a faculty mentor, is a learning experience that serves as the student's pathway to an individualized degree. Through this study or series of studies, the student creates a degree program proposal that is tailored to her/his own background, goals and learning needs.

As a matter of context, it may be useful to think of educational planning as a learning experience that begins before and extends beyond the formal educational planning study. There are also connections among students' experiences in orientation, programs to develop and assess skills, and educational planning.

At its best, the learning that takes place in educational planning lays a foundation for student success in later studies. The student and mentor identify and plan ways to meet the student's unique learning needs during the remainder of the degree, including the need to build academic skills early on. This may be a student's first opportunity to actively develop the skills of an independent learner. Among other things, this means the student learns what topics and modes of learning are available and how they might be incorporated in the student's individual program.

Educational Planning Studies and Outcomes

Educational planning is the core undergraduate degree requirement* at Empire State College, and students must complete from 4 to 8 college credits in this topic. The college recognizes a range of learning modes and activities, mentoring styles and student needs and preferences for educational planning. There are also varied enrollment models (e.g., 4 credit studies, 2+2 or 4+2 models, other more modular approaches).

Within educational planning as a formal academic study, the primary mentor guides the student through substantive academic work, including reading, research and writing assignments that relate directly to the program design itself and to broader professional and intellectual issues.

Educational planning activities and outcomes reflect the student's goals and background. The student designs his/her individualized degree program proposal, with support and consultation from the mentor. The degree program proposal and the process of developing it should be neither mechanistic nor formulaic. Ideally, learning activities should respond to a particular student's interest and needs, and support a more reflective, transformative process.

One result of educational planning is the preparation of a degree program proposal and portfolio. Educational planning may be completed in a single study or through a more modular approach. Preparation of the degree program proposal and portfolio is normally expected for credit to be earned in the study or module designed for that purpose.

When the student's educational exploration leads to a decision not to pursue a degree at Empire State College, the mentor may award credit based on alternative assignments and the student's achievement of expected learning outcomes.

The following learning activities and anticipated outcomes in educational planning studies may help students develop the degree program proposal and portfolio and the skills needed for independent learning. During educational planning, students may:

  • Identify and reflect carefully on any of the goals they intend their learning to serve – academic, professional, personal, civic, and/or others.
  • Identify and begin to develop the skills needed to be an independent learner, such as skills in assessing their own academic and professional skills and knowledge, learning style and possible learning modes and resources.
  • Identify their own learning needs, and consider a variety of possible ideas, studies and projects to meet those needs.
  • Consider questions about learning and education, shaped by the student's interests.
  • Become familiar with important intellectual and/or professional issues and expectations in their fields.
  • Gain a working knowledge of Empire State College's degree requirements and expectations (e.g., SUNY general education requirements, total credit for the degree, advanced-level credit and credit in the liberal arts and sciences, credit in the concentration and in general learning, academic breadth, diverse perspectives, and relevant college guidelines for areas of study and concentrations).
  • Become aware of how they may further consider the issues above and modify an approved (concurred) degree plan as their studies unfold in subsequent enrollments.
  • Understand how to submit the degree program proposal and portfolio for center and college approval and how the approval process works.
  • Prepare requests for individual assessment of prior learning (PLA).
  • Create an example of a learning contract for a student-designed guided independent study, which could be incorporated into the student's degree program.

*With the exception of a very few pre-structured programs.

Level and Type of Credit

The designation of an educational planning study as to level of study and liberal arts and sciences status is based on the same considerations as for any other study at Empire State College. Whether an educational planning study meets expectations for liberal arts and sciences credit depends on the actual learning activities and outcomes included in the study. (See the college Policy on Individualized Program Design for further discussion of the distinctions between introductory and advanced level studies and between liberal arts and sciences and non-liberal-arts studies.)

Award of Credit in Educational Planning

Just as in any other study, the criteria for awarding credit in educational planning are established by the mentor in the learning contract or course guide. However, there is one generally expected college-wide outcome for the educational planning component designed for this purpose, in addition to other academic expectations for this learning experience, and that is the degree program portfolio.

It is often beneficial for students to engage in educational planning over two or more studies rather than in a single enrollment. If the student enrolls in educational planning over more than one term in smaller "modules," each learning contract or course clearly states the criteria for earning credit in that segment of educational planning. One of the student's educational planning studies should include completion of the degree portfolio as an expected outcome.

Students who have completed all elements of the degree program proposal and portfolio when the mentor awards credit for educational planning are more likely to secure timely college approval of the degree plan and complete the degree itself. The college cannot approve the student's degree program proposal and portfolio until the student completes all requests for individualized prior learning assessment (PLA) and evaluators complete their recommendations. And, the student benefits from having an approved plan of study to follow. Therefore, the college strongly encourages students to prepare all of their PLA requests (rather than just brief descriptions) within educational planning if possible, and within the next term if necessary.

The student normally completes the degree portfolio, as defined below, in order to earn credit in the appropriate educational planning study. The mentor awards credit for that educational planning study when s/he is satisfied that the student has completed acceptable drafts of the expected elements of the degree portfolio and has met all other academic expectations for the study, as specified in the learning contract or course materials. The expected elements of the degree portfolio include the following:

  • A well-developed degree program proposal.
  • General education grid.
  • Complete rationale.
  • Documentation for transfer credit and "generic" (pre-evaluated) prior learning components included in the degree program proposal.
  • Student requests for individualized prior learning (PLA). Mentors and students may agree that brief descriptions can be substituted for those PLA requests that are not yet ready to submit to an evaluator.

To ensure timely evaluation of requests for individualized prior learning assessment (PLA), the student should submit all PLA requests to the mentor for transmittal to the center Office of Academic Review at the earlier possible date. Only completed PLA requests can be evaluated for recommendation of credit. The mentor's award of academic credit for educational planning is distinct from submission of a complete portfolio to the center Office of Academic Review, and from college approval of the student's program design and portfolio. To ensure timely college approval of the program and completion of the degree, the student should submit the complete portfolio to the center Office of Academic Review at the earliest possible date.

College policy on awarding incompletes in educational planning studies is the same as for other academic studies.

Submitting Official Documents

Students are responsible for having official documentation for transfer credit and "generic" (pre-evaluated) prior learning components sent to the college Admissions Office. Instructions are included in the Student Planning Guide for Degree Programs and Portfolios , which is available online and in print. Students, mentors, center Office of Academic Review (OAR) staff and committees may work from student copies of such documents during the initial planning stages. However, official copies must be included in the portfolio before the center OAR can forward the degree program proposal and portfolio to the Office of College-wide Academic Review (OCAR) for final college concurrence (approval). Until all official documents are received and reviewed, a student's program cannot be officially approved.

Timing of Educational Planning

Within the first 24 credits of enrollment, matriculated students normally enroll in an educational planning study or series of studies that includes preparation of the degree program proposal and portfolio as an expected outcome. The student must complete this study before registering for the final 16 credits in the degree.

This means that if the student expects be within 16 credits of completing the degree during the first 24 credits of enrollment, then the student must enroll in and complete the relevant educational planning very early in her/his work with the college.

Preliminary Titles for Empire State College Studies. There may be some areas of future contract study for which the student has not yet determined a precise title; in this case the student may include a broad label for the degree component rather than a specific study title. For example, the degree program proposal might label a future study "Advanced Literature Study," rather than include a specific title like "Major Women Poets of the Twentieth Century." If a planned study has no specific role in the program design (e.g., as a general education study), the preliminary title can simply be "Elective." This provides some flexibility in selecting or designing studies later in the program, so that later study choices can build on the student's learning as s/he progresses through the program.

Associate-Bachelor's Degree Sequence. Students who enter the college with little or no prior college study or potential prior learning credit may benefit from exploring various fields of study before deciding on a primary field of study (concentration) for a bachelor's degree. These students might design an initial associate degree within the first 3 terms of enrollment that provides a broad foundation for further study at the bachelor's level. An interdisciplinary, liberal arts or "one-column" associate degree may be most appropriate. The student may then design the bachelor's degree as s/he nears completion of the associate degree.

Degree Program Amendments. Students may make substitutions or amendments in approved degree programs, as provided in the Policy and Procedures for Degree Program Review and Approval.

Advanced Standing Credit for Educational Planning

In exceptional cases where students have the knowledge and skills involved in educational planning before they come to Empire State College, students may request advanced standing credit toward the educational planning requirement through prior learning assessment or transcript credit.

Approved July 31, 2008

Applicable Legislation and Regulations

Related References, Policies, Procedures, Forms and Appendices