Reporting and Approval of Academic Actions Constituting Substantive Change

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University Policy Number 3003


Responsible Office:

Policy Procedure:

Related Law & Policy:

I. Scope

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

  • Any change in the established mission or objectives of the institution
  • Any change in legal status, form of control, or ownership of the institution
  • The addition of courses or programs that represent a significant departure, either in content or method of delivery, from those that were offered when the institution was last evaluated
  • The addition of courses or programs of study at a degree or credential level different from that which is included in the institution’s current accreditation or reaffirmation
  • A change from clock hours to credit hours
  • A substantial increase in the number of clock or credit hours awarded for successful completion of a program
  • The establishment of an additional location geographically apart from the main campus at which the institution offers at least 50% of an educational program
  • The establishment of a branch campus
  • Closing a program, off-campus site, branch campus or institution
  • Entering into a collaborative academic arrangement that includes only the initiation of a dual or joint academic program with another institution
  • Acquiring another institution or a program or location of another institution
  • Adding a permanent location at a site where the institution is conducting a teach-out program for a closed institution
  • Entering into a contract by which an entity not eligible for Title IV funding offers 25% or more of one or more of the accredited institution’s programs

The SACSCOC Substantive Change Policy also identifies other changes that may be considered to be a substantive change, including:

  • Initiating programs or courses through contractual agreement or consortium
  • Initiating a direct assessment competency-based program
  • Initiating a certificate program at a new off-campus site (if a previously approved program) or that is a significant departure from previously approved programs
  • Moving an off-campus instructional site (serving the same geographic area)
  • Initiating degree completion programs
  • Entering into a contract with an entity not certified to participate in USDOE Title IV programs if the entity provides less than 25% of an educational program offered by the SACSCOC accredited institution

II. Policy Statement

The purpose of this policy is to ensure that the George Mason University operates in compliance with regulations established by SACSCOC.  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.

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

III. Definitions

“Substantive change” is defined in accordance with relevant SACSCOC 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.

IV. Compliance

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.

V. Forms


VI. Dates:

A. Effective Date: August 15, 2010
B. Date of Most Recent Review:  November 26, 2019

VII. Timetable for Review

This policy, and any related procedures, shall be reviewed every three years or more frequently as needed.


Peter N. Stearns

Date approved: August 25, 2010

Revised: May 3, 2016

Revised: January 13, 2020