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Changing the Designation of an Academic Unit from School to College

  • Responsible Office: Academic Affairs, Office of the Provost
  • Current Approved Version: 03/06/2020
  • Policy Type: Board of Visitors

Policy Statement and Purpose

This policy establishes the definition for a school and college and outlines the criteria and procedures for changing the designation of a school to a college. Changing the designation of a school to a college requires the agreement of the unit dean and a substantive rationale for the change in designation. Approval is required from the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs (chief academic officer of the institution), senior vice president for health sciences (for designation changes in health sciences units), the President’s Cabinet and Board of Visitors. A change in designation also requires State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) approval. If the change is substantive as defined in this policy, then notification and/or approval by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) may be required.

Noncompliance with this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. VCU supports an environment free from retaliation. Retaliation against any employee who brings forth a good faith concern, asks a clarifying question, or participates in an investigation is prohibited.

Who Should Know This Policy

All deans, vice provosts, vice presidents and other senior executives are responsible for knowing this policy and familiarizing themselves with its contents and provisions.



A college (with the two exceptions detailed below) is a large academic unit with a broad scope of degree granting programs covering multiple disciplines.  A college may contain schools, university chartered centers and/or institutes.  The multiple departments contained in a college require specific expertise to administer broad disciplines and execute administrative and budget responsibilities.  Departments within a college are led by a chair or director.  Colleges are overseen by a dean who reports to the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs or the senior vice president for health sciences (for health sciences units).  

At VCU, the Honor’s College and the University College stand as the only exceptions to the aforementioned college designation definition.


A school is an academic unit focused on teaching and research in a single disciplinary area.  A school is typically constituted by a small number of departments or divisions, but in some cases the school may itself function as a single large department. Schools typically offer a focused scope of degree programs. In some cases, a school may offer a single degree or a focal program with most of the school's enrollment plus a small handful of peripheral degree offerings. Schools are typically led by a chief officer who has administrative and budget responsibility and the title dean; the title may be (executive) director depending on the school's place within the overall governance of the institution. If the school is within a college, the chief officer may report to the college dean. If it is a freestanding academic unit, the dean may report to the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs or the senior vice president for health sciences (for health sciences schools).  

While the distinctions between a college and a school are highlighted, neither suggest that one entity is of greater stature than another. Instead, the distinction between a college or school is based on the disciplinary foci, national landscape and institutional perspectives.

Substantive Change

Substantive change, as defined by SACSCOC, is a significant modification or expansion of the nature and scope of an accredited institution. Substantive changes can include academic and non-academic institutional activities.


The Office of the Provost officially interprets this policy and is responsible for obtaining approval for any revisions as required by the policy Creating and Maintaining Policies and Procedures through the appropriate governance structures. Please direct policy questions to the Office of the Provost.

Policy Specifics and Procedures

A change in school designation is considered as an organizational change according to SCHEV. As such, the organizational change must be approved by SCHEV prior to implementation. Additionally, all organizational changes must abide by the university’s Substantive Change for Regional Accreditation policy. If the organizational change entails a substantive change, then SACSCOC notification and/or approval may be required prior to implementation.

1. Obtaining pre‐approvals:  To ensure that changing the designation of a school to a college fits university priorities, the dean of the school must first discuss the change in designation with the provost and, for health sciences units, the senior vice president for health sciences. Once the provost and the senior vice president for health sciences (for health sciences units) agrees to the designation change, the dean of the school may proceed to step 2 below.

2. Obtaining formal internal approvals: Obtaining formal internal approvals involves the following steps: 

o A proposal with an executive summary is created by the dean based on input and support from the faculty. Concurrently, the dean or dean’s designee completes the Organizational Change Request Form on the Office of the Provost website. The dean or dean’s designee should consult with the senior vice provost for academic affairs if guidance is needed.

o The dean presents the proposal for comment to the Council of Deans.

o The proposal is then reviewed and approved by the provost or provost designee.

o Next, the proposal is presented to the Academic Affairs and University Policy (AAUP) sub‐committee of the University Council for review and approval.

o The AAUP sends its recommendations to the University Council for a vote.

o Approval by the University Council places the proposal on the next available President’s Cabinet agenda.

o The proposal is reviewed and approved by the President’s Cabinet.

o The proposal is forwarded to the Board of Visitors agenda for final internal approval.

3. Obtaining formal external approvals: The organizational change changing the designation of a school to a college must be approved by SCHEV.

o The final Board of Visitors-approved organizational change is prepared by the Office of the Provost.

o The Office of the Provost prepares a formal cover letter, signed by the provost for submission to SCHEV.

o Upon receiving SCHEV approval, the Office of the Provost sends a letter of notification or request for approval to SACSCOC only if required by VCU’s Substantive Change for Regional Accreditation policy.

o The Office of the Provost announces the date for implementation of the designation change after all applicable notification and approval criteria are met. 


1. Organizational Change Request Form

Related Documents

1. State Council for Higher Education in Virginia Policy, Organizational Changes at Public Institutions: Policies and Procedures for Internal and Off-Campus Organizational Changes
2. VCU Policy: Substantive Change for Regional Accreditation 

Revision History

This policy supersedes the following archived policies:

Approval/Revision Date Title
December 09, 2016Changing the Designation of an Academic Unit from School to College


1. Who can initiate a change in unit designation?

No person below the administrative title of dean or equivalent as delineated in this policy, may initiate a designation change for an academic unit.

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