Reporting and Approval of Academic Actions Constituting Substantive Change

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University Policy Number 3003


Responsible Office:

Policy Procedure:

  • Procedures to Supplement Reporting on Courses Offered through Distance Education and Off-site Locations

Related Law & Policy:

  • N/A


This policy applies to all academic actions defined by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) as substantive change, including but not limited to:

  • Initiating distance education constituting 25% or more of a degree program
  • Initiating programs or courses offered through contractual agreement or consortium
  • Initiating off-campus sites
  • The establishment of a branch campus
  • Initiating joint or dual degree programs with another institution
  • Initiating a certificate program–typically for workforce development–at a new off-campus site (if a previously approved program) or that is a significant departure from previously approved programs.
  • Altering significantly the length of a program
  • Initiating degree completion programs


The purpose of this policy is to ensure that the George Mason University operates in compliance with regulations established by SACS-COC.  Because it is the responsibility of the Provost, as chief academic officer, to ensure that all college-level units of the university consistently meet these regulations, all such actions must be reviewed and approved by the Office of the Provost prior to implementation.  A centralized approval process is also intended to relieve the deans and directors or college-level units of the responsibility of remaining familiar with the details of an external policy that changes frequently, and is therefore intended to increase efficiency.

All substantive changes to academic degree programs must be reported by the colleges and schools to the Office of the Provost, and obtain formal approval for the action itself and the timeline for implementation.  College-level units are not permitted to implement substantive change actions without formal approval by the Office of the Provost.


“Substantive change” is defined in accordance with relevant SACS-COC policies.  In general, the term refers to the kinds of actions outlined in Section I.  Questions about whether a given academic action constitutes substantive change should be directed to the Office of the Provost for clarification.


Deans and directors of college-level units are responsible for contacting the Office of the Provost well in advance of any actions similar to those defined in Section I—some kinds of actions may require a minimum of six months’ advance notice to SACS-COC—and are responsible for providing the Office of the Provost with sufficiently detailed information about the proposed activity to prepare documentation for SACS-COC.

The Office of the Provost has the responsibility for ensuring proposed actions comply with SACS-COC regulations for substantive, for reviewing proposed actions in a timely manner and assisting units to identify ways to meet the regulations, and for ensuring that deans and directors of academic units perform their responsibilities in this regard.  The Office of the Provost is also responsible for alerting the deans and directors of college-level units of any significant changes in either the SACS-COC or the George Mason University policy on substantive change.


Not applicable


Deans and directors of college-level units are expected to ensure that their units remain in compliance with this policy.  If necessary, the Provost may address non-compliance through performance reviews or other measures as appropriate.


August 15, 2010


This policy will be reviewed annually by the Office of the Provost for continued alignment with SACS-COC policies and revised as necessary.


Maurice W. Scherrens
Senior Vice President

Peter N. Stearns

Date approved: August 25, 2010