Learning Contract Study and Undergraduate Students Policy

Learning Contract Study and Undergraduate Students Policy


Office of Academic Affairs and Committee on Undergraduate Studies and Policy


Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs


Academic and Student Affairs



Effective Date:


Review Date:


Implementation History:

This policy was approved by the president on Dec. 27, 2011 upon recommendation of college Senate and Committee on Undergraduate Studies and Policies (CUSP.) March 2012 (originally approved September, 1972. Previously revised: October, 1980; April, 1990; February, 1996; February, 2002) Previously Revised: October, 1980; April, 1990; February, 1996; February, 2002)


Learning Contract, Learning Outcomes, Formative Assessment, Learning Activities, Methods and Criteria for Evaluation

Background Information:

The revisions to this policy were made concurrently with revisions to the policy on undergraduate student evaluation and grading.  Both sets of revisions were prompted by the decision by the president in May 2011, upon advice from the college Senate and CUSP, to eliminate narrative contract evaluations.  The current version of this policy delineates more explicit expectations about statements of learning outcomes and formative assessment than earlier versions.


Empire State College is committed to the principles that:

  • effective learning derives from purposes and needs important to the individual
  • learning occurs in varied ways and places
  • styles of learning may differ significantly from person to person and from one setting to another.

Undergraduate students at Empire State College have the opportunity to pursue their education through a series of learning contracts, so-called because students and mentors together establish their content and approach.

A well-designed learning contract lays the foundation for effective student evaluation by clearly outlining learning objectives and activities, and methods and criteria for evaluation. The mentor evaluates the student’s work in light of these elements throughout the learning experience. Thus, the mentor’s feedback to the student arises from the learning contract or course design itself, occurs throughout the study, and culminates in the grade. The mentor also helps the student develop self-assessment skills, through the design of the study and through dialogue about learning objectives, learning outcomes and evaluation methods and criteria.

Empire State College also offers undergraduate classes and structured courses through the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies, the Center for Distance Learning, and International Programs. For these courses, students receive a syllabus with information comparable to that provided in a learning contract.


Definitions are embedded in the body of the policy.


Learning contracts provide the specifics about what will be studied, how it will be studied and how the student will be evaluated for each study. A learning contract stands in place of a course syllabus.

The college actively fosters the participation of the student in planning and designing his/her education through the use of individualized degree programs and learning contracts. Students are encouraged to design studies that help them clarify their goals and acquire the competence, knowledge and awareness necessary to pursue those purposes actively and independently.

Through learning contracts, students undertake studies tailored to their individual educational needs. Students and mentors design contracts that take into account the student's background and skills and encompass diverse fields and methods of study. Learning contracts allow great flexibility in the design and use of learning resources, and in the time and place of student learning.

Each Empire State College contract or course specifies the amount of credit that may be earned. Learning objectives/outcomes, learning activities and academic criteria for the evaluation of student work are established in the learning contract. Credit is not given for work that fails to meet those criteria. Students are expected to complete each contract or course within the enrollment term defined for the learning contract/course.

Learning Contract

The learning contract (LC) for each study should be prepared as early as possible so that the student has a study guide and a clear record of the academic expectations. Ideally, the LC is prepared two weeks before the beginning of the enrollment term. The learning contract should be prepared no more than four weeks after the start date of the enrollment term.

The instructor is responsible for preparing and submitting the learning contract. Learning contracts should be designed to engage the student in academic work throughout the term.

The learning contract is reviewed and approved according to college and center/program procedures for academic soundness and conformity to college policies, and then submitted according to college procedures.

Since fostering independent learning skills is a prime educational objective of the college, students may participate in the design of learning contracts. Students should take increasing responsibility for study design as they advance through their programs.

Elements of the Learning Contract

  • dates of the study – the beginning and end dates of the enrollment term
  • definition of the study – title, amount of credit, level of credit, liberal arts/nonliberal arts designation, role in meeting SUNY general education requirements, mentor/instructor
  • purpose – description of the scope and objectives of the study (this section may clarify how the study addresses one or more elements of the SUNY general education requirements)
  • learning outcomes – statement of learning goals and learning outcomes that specify the knowledge, skills and/or competencies that the student can expect to attain as a result of engaging in the learning activities of the contract
  • learning activities– description of the activities and modes of learning to be pursued during the study.

For independent studies, study groups, residency-based studies, and field work (internship, practicum, etc.) the description normally includes an outline of specific learning activities such as readings, writing assignments, paintings, research, laboratory study, etc.; and a bibliography of basic texts or required readings.

For study taken through cross-registration at another institution, the learning contract must document the name of the other institution, the course number, and the minimum acceptable grade for the credit award by Empire State College at the undergraduate level: C- or better. (See the Empire State College policy on cross-registration at other institutions for additional information.)

  • methods and criteria for evaluation – an explicit statement of the methods and criteria for evaluation to be employed by the mentor that informs the student about how he or she will be evaluated in relation to the expected learning outcomes

The criteria for evaluation are the standards by which the student's performance will be judged. Criteria should be consistent with the level of the study. The criteria should establish the minimum standard for the award of credit. The student must satisfy the requirements and evaluative criteria in order to receive credit for the contract.

  • plan for formative assessment – a description of the expected time frame for completion of learning activities throughout the term of enrollment and for developmental feedback on learning activities from the instructor. The plan outlines mutual commitments of student and instructor with regard to communication. The student is expected to engage in the study continuously throughout the term.

Applicable Legislation and Regulations

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education evaluates institutions in relation to 14 standards for accreditation. Standard 11 requires that an institution provide students with statements of expectations of learning outcomes at the institutional, program and course level. A learning contract is equivalent to a course syllabus for purposes of these standards. Standard 14 requires that an institution have an assessment process to evaluate and improve student learning in relation to expected learning outcomes.

Related References, Policies, Procedures, Forms and Appendices

Procedures for Learning Contract Study – Undergraduate Students

Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Characteristics of Excellence: Eligibility Requirements and Standards for Accreditation. 2011 edition.


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