3.6.1 Post-baccalaureate Program Rigor

Comprehensive Standard 3.6.1: Post-baccalaureate Program Rigor

The institution’s post-baccalaureate professional degree programs, master’s and doctoral degree programs, are progressively more advanced in academic content than its undergraduate programs.

USF Sarasota-Manatee Focused Report Response

USF Sarasota-Manatee’s practice is to award master’s degrees only to students who have completed at least 30 graduate credit hours. As a result of the SACSCOC Off-site Report, USF Sarasota-Manatee clarified the graduate minimum hours requirement to explain that a minimum of 30 graduate hours is met with graduate (5000 level or above) courses. Master’s degree programs may use undergraduate courses for prerequisite purposes, but these undergraduate courses must be above and beyond the 30 minimum graduate hours. The updated requirement language, as approved by the Academic Programs Committee (APC) and the Regional Vice Chancellor of Academic & Student Affairs (APC Approval Form), is available in the 2015-2016 Catalog (Minimum Hours).

Below is an excerpt from the Catalog showing the revised wording of the requirements for master’s degrees.

A minimum of thirty (30) graduate hours (5000 level and up) is required for a master’s degree, at least sixteen (16) hours of which must be at the 6000 level.

At least twenty (20) hours must be in formal, regularly scheduled course work (i.e., not directed research, independent study, internships, etc.), at least ten (10) of which must be at the 6000 level.

Undergraduate courses may not be used to satisfy the minimum 30 hours in master’s course requirements but may be taken to meet specific prerequisites.  All graduate and undergraduate courses taken as a graduate student count in the overall GPA, whether or not they count toward the minimum hours for the degree.

Graduate students may not enroll for more than 18 hours in any semester without written permission from the College Dean.

The following transcripts show that students met the requirement of at least 30 graduate credit hours for the master’s degree: Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration transcript (33 graduate hours), Master of Business Administration transcript (40 graduate hours), Master of Education in Educational Leadership transcript (36 graduate hours), and Master of Science in Hospitality Management transcript (36 graduate hours). Only one master’s degree program at USF Sarasota-Manatee, the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), requires three hours of undergraduate course work in science methods to complete the degree. However, the MAT requires 39 credit hours. Therefore, students must complete 36 hours in graduate-level courses in addition to the undergraduate course. An MAT graduate transcript shows the total number of credits earned at 39 with 36 at the graduate level and three at the undergraduate level.

Please note that the language in the original Reaffirmation document that stated, “the intent is that more than half of the course work for any USF Sarasota-Manatee master’s degree will be in courses clearly differentiated as graduate-level” is not accurate and should not have been included.

Off-Site Committee Report – Non-Compliance

Graduate courses and programs at USF S-M are progressively more advanced in content than those at the undergraduate level. Evidence was provided in the form of student learning outcomes, assignments, and syllabi for courses at the graduate level in each of the 7 Masters programs offered (2 additional Masters programs are approved for delivery by USF S-M, but they are inactive due to lack of student demand).

Of particular concern is the fact that graduate students are permitted to take non-graduate courses for degree credit. They may take up to 6 credit hours of 4000-level (i.e., undergraduate) courses to meet the minimum 30-hour graduate degree requirements. Beyond this, the requirements are hard to follow. “Of the minimum 30 hours required for a master’s degree, at least sixteen (16) hours must be at the 6000 level. At least twenty (20) hours must be in formal, regularly-scheduled course work, ten (10) of which must be at the 6000 level.” USF S-M states that “the intent is that more than half of the course work for any USF Sarasota-Manatee master’s degree will be in courses clearly differentiated as graduate-level.”

USF Sarasota-Manatee’s original submission narrative is shown below.  

Compliance Partial Compliance Non-compliance


Master’s degree programs at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USF Sarasota-Manatee) are progressively more advanced in academic content than undergraduate programs and typically require a research or major project component. USF Sarasota-Manatee does not currently award other post-baccalaureate professional or doctoral degrees.

USF Sarasota-Manatee has several requirements to ensure the integrity of the master’s degree. The University admits students to graduate study only upon submission of an undergraduate transcript documenting completion of a baccalaureate degree. The Academic Catalog lists USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Minimum Hours Requirements. Of the minimum 30 hours required for a master’s degree, at least sixteen (16) hours must be at the 6000 level. At least twenty (20) hours must be in formal, regularly-scheduled course work, ten (10) of which must be at the 6000 level. While master’s students may take up to six (6) hours of 4000-level courses as part of a planned degree program, the intent is that more than half of the course work for any USF Sarasota-Manatee master’s degree will be in courses clearly differentiated as graduate-level.

Monitoring the academic content and level of academic programs begins with the faculty and its peer review process. The USF Sarasota-Manatee Academic Programs Committee (APC) of the Faculty Senate reviews all proposals for new master’s degree programs (Example: MA in Education Proposal,  APC Agenda – MA in EducationAPC Minutes – MA in Education). APC also reviews all new graduate courses (Example: APC Minutes – MBA Accounting Course), as well as course and program changes (Example: APC Minutes – MBA Program Change). Academic Council reviews the APC recommendations (Example: Academic Council Minutes – MA Education) to recommend approval or denial by the Regional Vice Chancellor for Academic & Student Affairs, who approves all graduate courses and degrees on behalf of the Regional Chancellor.

Below are examples of the differing expectations for graduate students and undergraduate students in specific master’s degree programs when taking courses at the 4000 level versus 5000 or 6000 levels.

Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration (MA)

The curriculum of the MA in Criminal Justice Administration, a professional degree for leaders in the field of criminal justice, is more advanced both in its content and its assignments than the curriculum for the BA in Criminology (BA and MA Curricula). The program does not cross-list graduate courses with undergraduate courses. These two degrees differ in focus and intent as well as level of rigor. While the BA in Criminology develops broad understanding of the social science discipline of criminology, the MA in Criminal Justice Administration develops the competencies needed by those with administrative responsibility in the broad array of public agencies related to criminal justice. Although the undergraduate program develops social science research skills with a course in Research Methods (Syllabus CCJ 3701) and a capstone course (Syllabus CCJ 4939) requiring development of a research proposal, the entire program is not focused on these competencies.

The advanced rigor, of the master’s-level degree is described in the Newly Admitted Student Letter. It explains that, through development of a real research proposal, they will develop all the skills needed for research-driven decision-making and effective presentation of argument. The curriculum covers major ideas, issues, theories, and research in the field of Criminal Justice Administration, intended to develop theoretical reasoning and research skills, as well as the application of theory to practice.

A carefully constructed core sequence of courses, leading students through the “real world” experience of creating and presenting a grant proposal, develops the competencies needed by those with administrative responsibility in public agencies (Criminal Justice Administration Factsheet).  Because this proposal must begin with a theoretical premise based on a literature review, faculty introduce the students early to the necessity of critical engagement with the current literature shaping the theories and principles of the discipline (Syllabus CCJ 6118).  Next, students take a course in sociological research methodology and careful documentation of sources (Syllabus CCJ 6705).  This course is followed by a course in Quantitative Analysis to assure that their proposals will be based on data used well (Syllabus CCJ 6706), as well as a course in Grant Writing (Syllabus CCJ 6459), a vital application of research, reasoning, and communication skills needed by public administrators.  In the penultimate term, advanced students return to the study of literature engaging the challenges and best practices in the field (Syllabus CCJ 6932) in preparation for producing an original grant proposal in their last course applying all the knowledge and skills they have developed over the courses of the program (Syllabus CCJ 6935). In this capstone course, students present their full proposal to the class and a team of external reviewers.


Master of Business Administration (MBA) 

Because not all of the students entering the MBA program have a formal education in business, it is necessary to include some foundational concepts from each business discipline that comprises the MBA. However, the pace and depth of presentation in the MBA Program is markedly different from the undergraduate courses. For example, undergraduate students in marketing do not develop or present a marketing plan until the third or fourth course that they take, but the graduate students must master the basic marketing concepts and develop a complete marketing plan in the first marketing course that they take in Marketing Management (Syllabus MAR 6815).

Teaching methods vary between the master’s program and the bachelor’s program. Although lectures, student presentations, and class discussions are common to both levels, faculty use other methods, such as case discussions and simulations to challenge MBA students. Faculty use cases in courses such as Organizational Behavior and Leadership (Syllabus MAN 6055), Marketing Management (Syllabus MAR 6815), and Organizational Change and Development (Syllabus MAN 6289) to facilitate student application of the concepts studied within the courses. A simulation is used in the MBA capstone course, Integrated Business Applications (Syllabus GEB 6895), to give the students an opportunity to apply their skills to managing a company and see the outcomes of decisions that they make. Faculty teach Business Analytics and Big Data (Syllabus ISM 6930) in the MBA program but not in the undergraduate programs, because the subject matter is too complex for many undergraduate students to master.

Both the master’s and bachelor’s degrees have capstone courses. While faculty designed both capstone courses to allow students to demonstrate the integration of learned concepts from course work across the business curriculum, significant differences exist between the courses and deliverables for each course. The undergraduate capstone, Strategic Management and Decision Making (Syllabus GEB 4890), integrates material from other business courses in a comprehensive framework of strategic thinking and evaluates student performance through a series of quizzes and a project, where students apply the strategic management process to an opportunity within an organization and propose a course of action. The graduate capstone course, Integrated Business Applications (Syllabus GEB 6895), is far more demanding, requiring student teams to compete in an online simulation, where they manage automobile manufacturers, and to develop a complete business plan. These business plans must include an environmental analysis, a competition analysis, a full marketing plan, complete operational plans, and a full financial analysis demonstrating the viability of the plan. Students then present these plans to a group of faculty and community business leaders, who evaluate the viability and strength of the plans.

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

Faculty designed the  Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) for those who have earned a degree in a non-education field who now seek a master’s in education to become elementary school teachers. To be accepted for the program, candidates must have earned a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited institution (or international equivalent) with a minimum 3.0 GPA or a graduate degree with a minimum 3.5 GPA.  Candidates in the MAT program meet rigorous requirements for initial teacher certification as required in the BA in Elementary Education degree program; however, the graduate program requires advanced study of the discipline of education. For example, as graduate students, candidates must read, analyze, and lead a discussion on an article from a scholarly journal (Syllabus RED 6514 Reading Process), whereas undergraduates reflect on readings from their course texts (Syllabus RED 4310 Reading and Learning to Read).  Graduate students prepare a virtual field trip (Syllabus SSE 6617 Trends in K-6 Social Science Education) while undergraduates prepare a simple report on a site (Syllabus SSE 4313Teaching Elementary Social Studies). Throughout their program, graduate candidates read and analyze research and current practices (MAE 6117, Common Core State Standards Paper).  In addition to advanced studies within courses, graduate students in the master’s program complete two projects independently that are not required in the undergraduate program. In the first (MAT Transition Point Project) candidates redesign a unit of study developed earlier in the program, applying advance knowledge (with citation support from research studied) to its evaluation.  In the second project, candidates complete a literature review and action research (MAT Action Research Project).

Master of Education in Educational Leadership (M.Ed.)

Admission to the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership requires applicants to have an earned baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited university with a 3.0 GPA minimum for upper division coursework, letters of reference, and for the K-12 Public School Leadership Concentration, a valid professional educator’s certificate from Florida Department of Education. Further, candidates need at least two (2) years of experience in the field. Thus, candidates come to the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership with pre-requisite knowledge of learners and learning and teaching required in preparation for this advanced degree. Through graduate courses, candidates expand their knowledge to learn leadership in student achievement, instruction, faculty development, effective learning environments, organizational systems, change processes, leadership development, and school management (including fiscal management, communication, and technology). In an illustrative example of the type of assignments required at the graduate level that differ from undergraduate expectations, in Educational Leadership (Syllabus EDA 6192), candidates synthesize their professional experience and research to identify the purpose of education and the meaning of leadership, such as how leaders make decisions and support the growth of teachers in culturally relevant curriculum planning. This course work requires perspective and knowledge beyond what faculty expect at the baccalaureate level.

Master of Arts in Education, General (MA)

The faculty designed the MA in Education, General, for individuals with a baccalaureate from a regionally accredited university who earned at least a 3.0 GPA in upper division coursework or hold a graduate degree with a minimum of 3.5 GPA. Candidates do not come from the field of education. The degree program offers advanced study in either Human Resource Education (HRE) or Online Teaching and Learning (OTL). Through graduate level courses, candidates build knowledge regarding learners and learning, research, American education (history, economics, analysis of influences), global education, and curriculum theory. Differing expectations for graduate students over what would be expected at the undergraduate level include preparing a book critique Global and Multicultural Perspectives (Syllabus EDG 6931, compared to conducting interviews and writing an essay for Global Perspectives (Syllabus SSE 4380). Another example is requiring a research paper using scholarly, peer-referred articles in Social/Economic Foundations of Education (Syllabus EDF 6606) and the inclusion of two comprehensive projects that would not be required in an undergraduate program (Transition Point Project 1and Transition Point Project 2).

Master of Arts in Secondary Education, English Education (MA)

The MA in Secondary Education, English Education, is an advanced degree for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in English (at least 24 upper-level undergraduate courses in English) who wish to teach English at a community college or private secondary school. Candidates extend and deepen knowledge built during their baccalaureate programs through an additional eighteen (18) graduate credit hours in English (English, Language Arts, and Literature). In addition candidates engage in advanced study of instruction, including systematic design of instructional courseware and measurement/evaluation (Syllabus EDF 6432  Foundations of Measurement) and theoretical, philosophical, ethical and practical social issues (Syllabus ESE 5344 Classroom Management). Each of these courses hold higher expectations for students than similar courses at the undergraduate level. Compared to the topics in EDF 6432, undergraduate candidates study testing and monitoring progress (Syllabus EDF 4430 Measurement for Teachers). In the undergraduate course The Learning Environment (Syllabus EDE 4302), candidates write a paper without citing research sources, but a reflective research analysis is required in the graduate course (Syllabus ESE 5344 Classroom Management).

Master of Science in Hospitality Management (MS)

The MS in Hospitality Management  has several important distinctions from the undergraduate program. The curriculum for the MS in Hospitality Management is focused on strategy and management within the hospitality industry, whereas the BS in Hospitality Management curriculum is geared more toward developing relevant skills and exposing students to the operational basics for hospitality. Faculty require students at the undergraduate level to acquire significant experience in the hospitality industry through 1,000 hours of work, internships, and service learning. Faculty expect MS students to have the relevant experience already when they enter the program.

The MS in Hospitality Management program requires graduating students to complete either a Research Thesis or Professional Project, as outlined in the Graduate Student Handbook. The bachelor’s degree does not require these. Students in the Master’s Thesis track must conduct theory-based research, where they test hypotheses derived from theories relevant to the hospitality industry. The thesis should make a contribution to the body of knowledge in the field of hospitality management. Students in the professional project track must demonstrate analytical skills they have acquired during their graduate education, identify an industry problem, analyze and synthesize data they collected, and make recommendations to industry practitioners. Students in the MS in Hospitality Management are required to take Research Methods for Hospitality (Syllabus HFT 6586) in which they learn how to properly conduct research and are exposed to current literature in the field of hospitality management. Faculty require no similar course at the bachelor’s level.


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