Academic Council

Authorizes Release:

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Responsible Area:

Academic Affairs

Review Cycle:

Annually or as required

Last Review:

February 2021

Related Policies and Additional References:


The following proposal establishes standards and policies relevant for online courses and online programs.  It is divided into three sections: the first section clarifies and defines what is meant by online courses and programs versus other forms of distance education; the second section establishes standards for online courses and programs; and the third section outlines a process for the development and implementation of new online courses or programs.  The appendix summarizes possible best practices associated with online courses and programs that should be considered for possible inclusion in policy guidelines.


  1. Online course—a course that is taught 100% online. Instructors may supplement this course with non-mandatory in-person meetings.
  2. Blended course (also called Hybrid Course)—a course that combines both traditional classroom-based teaching and learning as well as online coursework.  A traditional on-campus course that uses instructional technology such as Blackboard to make course materials available or to facilitate communication between faculty and students does not constitute a blended/hybrid course.
  3. Online program—generally, all degree or certificate requirements are fulfilled online, including courses and other program requirements.
  4. Blended program—degree or certificate requirements are met through a combination of online courses and program requirements, blended courses, and traditional on-campus courses and program requirements.
  5. Course via videoconferencing—an on-campus course that is delivered to an off-campus location through videoconferencing technology.  This is not considered an online course.
  6. Off-campus course/program—a course or program that is similar to an existing on-campus course or program except that it is offered at an off-campus location.

The following standards and policies cover online courses and programs and, where appropriate, blended/hybrid courses and programs.  Courses and programs offered through video-conferencing or off-campus follow the same standards and policies as traditional on-campus courses and programs.


When evaluating existing or proposed online courses or programs, the following standards should be used as a guide to determine whether a course or program is consistent with the goals and mission of St. Mary’s University.

  • Mission Standards—Online courses and programs must contribute to the St. Mary’s mission and be consistent with the distinctive features of education in the Catholic, Marianist tradition. Though in different ways, community and personal attention must remain instruments of education and formation to a degree comparable to the campus environment.
  • Quality Standards—Online courses and programs must meet the same quality standards that are required of similar courses and programs offered on campus. The content of online courses and programs must carry the same academic rigor and expectations of on-campus courses and programs.
  • Admission Standards—Students must satisfy, at a minimum, the same requirements for admission into online courses or programs that are required of on-campus students. Admission standards may require students to have access to the necessary technology associated with the online class or program.
  • Faculty Qualifications—Faculty who teach online courses must meet the same standards, review, and approval procedures used by St. Mary’s to select and evaluate faculty responsible for on-campus instruction. In addition, faculty must have or acquire the technological and pedagogical skills necessary for effective online teaching. Mary’s will offer appropriate training for faculty development as necessary.

The relevant program director or department chair is responsible for assuring the competency of the faculty teaching online undergraduate courses.  Faculty teaching graduate-level online courses must be eligible to teach graduate-level courses and be approved by Graduate Council.

  • Oversight—All online courses must be offered through the department or program administering the corresponding on-campus courses or through the appropriate department or program if there is no comparable on-campus course. The supervision, monitoring, and evaluation processes for instructors must be equivalent to on-campus courses. Directors of graduate programs will have access to all online graduate courses.
  • Evaluation—All online courses and programs must meet the same evaluation standards for courses and programs offered on campus. This includes student teaching evaluation for every course as well as regular assessment of student learning outcomes for online courses and programs to assure the comparability of online courses and programs with equivalent on-campus courses and programs. If there are professional accrediting standard for comparable on-campus programs, online programs must meet (or work towards) those same professional accrediting standards.  Student evaluations will also elicit student feedback from students on their experience with and evaluation of instructional technologies associated with the course.
  • Support Services—Students in online courses and programs must be provided academic support services comparable to those available for on-campus students, including but not limited to: academic advising, counseling and testing, library and other learning resources, tutoring services, career services, international student services, and financial aid.
  • SACSCOC—Institutions must also adhere to criteria outlined by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in:

2009 Distance and Correspondence Education: Policy Statement;

2010 The Principles of Accreditation; and

2010 Distance Education and the Principles of Accreditation

And any future guidelines, updates or revisions of policies adopted by SACSCOC that bear upon distance education.

Procedures for Developing and Implementing New Online Courses or Programs

  • Any faculty may propose a new online course or program by submitting a written proposal to the appropriate departmental chair or program director. The proposal should include:
    • A brief description of the course or program;
    • A justification showing how the proposed course or program would contribute to the mission of St. Mary’s and the mission of department or program;
    • A sample syllabus (course) or list of courses (program);
    • A summary of delivery methods, including a specification of all instructional technologies required by instructors and students;
    • A list of expected student learning outcomes with associated course requirements or assignments that will be used to assess the student learning outcomes;
    • A statement from the director of Academic Technology Services (ATS) confirming that the necessary technology is available;
    • A statement from the director of Academic Assessment to confirm that expected student learning outcomes can be assessed as described by the proposal.
  • If the proposal is acceptable, the department chair or program director will forward the proposal with his or her recommendations to the appropriate dean (or deans for inter-school programs) for approval. If the proposal is not approved, a written explanation will be provided to the proposing faculty member.
  • If the proposal is acceptable, it will be considered for approval by Academic Council based, in part, on the standards developed for online courses and programs.
  • If the proposal is for a new online program leading to the award of a degree or certificate (not simply offering a current program in a new format), the proposal must also be reviewed and approved by the Executive Council and Board of Trustees as outlined in the Faculty Handbook.
  • At any point during the process, excluding the decision of the Board of Trustees, the faculty member responsible for the proposal shall have an opportunity to respond to any concerns raised by those involved in the approval process and revise or withdraw the proposal.
  • If a substantively new online program is being proposed, SACSCOC approval must be obtained prior to the offering of the program. If the proposal is for offering an existing program through online or distance learning, then only SACSCOC notification is required.
  • Online courses should be clearly identified in the course schedule and program literature so that students have an opportunity for self-selection. Students will be informed of the modes of delivery, technology requirements, and, if appropriate, any additional requirements necessary for synchronous online assignments associated with each course or program.


Best Practices

The following list represents recommended best practices for the implementation of online courses and programs. If deemed appropriate, these best practices can lay the foundation for requirements for faculty and students involved with online courses and programs.

  • Undergraduate students must complete 30 hours before taking online courses.
  • All students must pass a technology proficiency test before taking online courses.
  • Faculty are expected to complete a technology proficiency tutorial before teaching online courses.
  • Syllabi for online courses must include requirements for synchronous and/or asynchronous faculty/student and student/student interaction.
  • Expectations and requirements for student participation in online discussions are clearly delineated, monitored, and assessed by each instructor.
  • Online courses or different sections of an online course cannot exceed total enrollment of 20 students.
  • Faculty are expected to log into online courses a minimum of two times a week for a total number of contact hours appropriate for the credit hours designated for the course as determined by the appropriate academic department or program.
  • Faculty are available to the students by telephone or VOIP at regular office hours, which are posted online, and can also be contacted via email and or fax.
  • In the normal progress of the course queries from students are responded to promptly and assignments are graded and returned within a reasonable time frame.

Additional Recommendation:

An Online Technology Committee (OTC) will be formed to monitor and assess the suitability of the technology to effectively deliver online courses and programs. The Committee will consist of the program directors of online programs, two online faculty instructors, a student representative with online course or program experience, and Academic Technology Services (ATS) personnel involved with the delivery, training and support for online courses and programs. The Vice President for Academic Affairs appoints the committee and faculty chair, and sets the terms of service for committee members. The OTC serves in an advisory capacity to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.

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