Academic Program Approval Process

Approval Process for Hybrid (Y5) Academic Programs

Online academic programs at Indiana University require approval by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). However, ICHE and HLC differ in how they define online (“distance delivery”) programs. HLC defines such programs as those in which a student could take 50% of more of the courses online (i.e., “courses in which all or the vast majority … of the instruction and interaction occur via electronic communication…or other mechanisms, with the faculty and students physically separated from each other”), whether the campus intends this to be the case or not. On the other hand, ICHE defines these programs as those which are intentionally designed such that 80% or more of the courses will be taken online. Because HLC requires online programs at state institutions to receive state approval prior to receiving HLC approval, IU has been requiring programs in which 50% of the courses are offered online to follow the same processes as fully online programs, and IU has reported them to ICHE for listing as distance programs in the Approved Program Inventory.

With the growth of online programs at IU, ICHE and IU’s Board of Trustees have stated that IU campuses must avoid creating duplicate online programs; any similar online programs must be clearly distinct from each other. Campuses are expected to collaborate on online programs to avoid duplication, to discourage unnecessary inter-campus competition for students, and to take advantage of economies of scale. IU’s approval process for online programs was developed to comply with these expectations.

However, in programs which meet the HLC (50%) definition, but not the ICHE (80%) definition, students take a significant proportion of their courses on campus. Necessarily then, these programs are designed to serve students who live in the campus’s regional service area, unlike programs that are intended to be offered mostly or fully online. These programs do not violate the “no duplication without distinction” standard, and, because they recruit and serve students from within their service regions, they do not encourage inter-campus competition for students. Therefore, these programs should undergo a different process from that followed by programs offered mostly or fully online. To easily identify such programs, IU is designating these as “hybrid” programs.

IU uses these definitions to identify online courses, online academic programs, and hybrid academic programs:

  • An online course is one in which 76% or more of the instruction and interaction occurs online, in which the instructor and students are physically separated.

    • Courses which have a smaller component of online work are NOT considered to be online courses.
    • Consistent with HLC policy, for purposes of this definition, such courses are the same as on-campus courses which have no online component.
    • A hybrid academic program is one in which 50 – 79% of the required credit hours are designed to be taken as online courses (as defined above), and at least 21% of the required credit hours are to be taken on campus.
    • An online academic program is one in which 80% or more of the required credit hours are designed to be taken as online courses (as defined above). 

Read additional information on online course and program definitions »

Campuses must receive University approval to offer a new hybrid academic program or to convert an existing program to a hybrid format.

Campuses wishing to create a new academic program and to offer it in hybrid format should follow the new degree proposal process, including seeking approval from the Office of Online Education for a hybrid program. In addition to elements required for a new degree proposal, the proposal should specify the online and on-campus courses that comprise the program and demonstrate that the percentage of online courses is no greater than 79%.

To gain approval for a hybrid program, a campus must agree, in writing, to the following:

  1.  With regard to the hybrid program, the campus is bound by existing IU policy governing campus service areas, including, but not limited to, refraining from recruiting students outside the campus’s established service area.

  2. Hybrid programs must not be described or characterized as “online programs” in any way, including advertising materials or other outreach to students.

  3. Because hybrid programs are not intended to be fully online programs, they will not receive Office of Online Education services that are reserved for online programs, such as 

    • inclusion in the IU Online website listing of online programs,
    • inclusion in external rankings surveys such as Peterson’s and US News & World Report,
    •  inclusion in OOE’s risk management activities, including state authorization and related reciprocity agreements such as SARA, and
    •  inclusion in OOE’s marketing, advertising, and recruitment efforts.
  4. The campus must re-certify annually that it continues to meet IU’s definition of a hybrid program. If the program crosses the 80% online threshold (i.e., 80% or more of the courses in the program have the instruction mode “OA,” “OI,” “HD,” or “DO”), the campus must pursue approval for a fully online degree, following the process for converting existing programs to online.

OOE will follow an expedited approval process for hybrid academic programs, similar to that followed for online programs with fewer than 30 credit hours. OOE will notify the regional campus EVCAAs, IUPUI’s EVCAA, and the Bloomington Provost that a hybrid program has been proposed. If no campus objects, OOE will approve the hybrid program and it will move forward in the approval process. If one or more campuses object, OOE will facilitate a conversation among the campuses to resolve the issues. If the campuses cannot reach a mutually-agreeable decision, OOE will forward the proposal and the objections to the ALC Executive Committee for resolution.

For hybrid academic programs, IU will continue its practice of requesting distance delivery approval from ICHE via routine staff action. Per HLC rules, once all approvals are obtained, the campus will report the program to the Higher Learning Commission as an online (distance delivery) program. Though hybrid programs will be approved for “distance delivery” by ICHE and HLC, they will NOT be designated as “online programs” by the university or the campus in any of its advertising or program descriptions. All academic policies and procedures that apply to on-campus programs also apply to hybrid programs.

Required Documentation For Program Proposals

Hybrid Program Approval Form