400-500 Parallel Courses

Background

Following the Provost's guidelines, any existing undergraduate course and new undergraduate course expecting regular graduate student participation must create a 500-level course in parallel to the undergraduate course.

The Graduate School requires that parallel undergraduate/graduate courses demonstrate distinguishable difference between the undergraduate and graduate components. In general, graduate courses must be presented at a level that assumes enrolled students bring to the class a background at least equivalent to a bachelor's degree in the field or a related interdisciplinary field. For parallel graduate/undergraduate courses, there must be significant differences that are reflected in areas such as course content, grading practices, learning outcomes, readings and assignments, exams, and performance.

The UW Curriculum Committee will not approve a newly proposed 500-level course if it does not distinguish itself from the parallel undergraduate course. In this case the undergraduate course will have to be restricted to undergraduate students via the Time Schedule.

Rationale

The underlying principle behind the Provost's memo, and explicitly supported by the Graduate School Dean, is that programs of study at the graduate level demonstrate greater depth of study and increased demands on student intellectual and creative capacities beyond the undergraduate level. This is a guideline given by the UW's accrediting body, the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). For graduate education at UW this should be reflected at the overall curricular level as well as the level of individual courses. Graduate School policy remains that graduate courses should be presented at a level that assumes enrolled students bring to the class a background at least equivalent to a bachelor's degree in the field or a related interdisciplinary field. For individual courses listed with a 400 and 500 level component, the Graduate School expects significant differences reflected in areas such as course content, grading practices, learning outcomes, readings and assignments, exams, and performance. There is no central, university-wide checklist for these differences, since all of these areas differ by field. But all fields should be able to articulate clear and significant difference between the graduate and undergraduate learning experience in their courses.


Frequently-Asked Questions

  • Q: If this policy only applies to new courses (without any previous enrollment history), how do we determine whether the class is likely to draw a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students?

    A: This should be based on the demand for the course and where it fits into the curriculum of the department. The assumption is that the department has identified a need for the course as part of specific degree or general education requirements. Every new course application asks for anticipated student enrollment.

  • Q: It is not clear to many of my department's faculty, what we should be doing with existing 400 level courses that routinely enroll graduate students.

    A: For now the 400/500 policy is only actively being applied to newly created courses; for currently existing courses with minimal graduate enrollment a policy for how to best proceed is being worked on, however the Provost has requested that the Office of the Registrar (Curriculum Office) work with the departments to either convert courses that should be graduate courses and creating parallel graduate courses to complement any existing 400 level course with routine graduate enrollment ASAP.

  • Q: Does this mean that the 5xx version of a 4xx/5xx paired course MUST have additional expectations and work for graduate students?

    A: Yes.

  • Q: Some faculty suggest that we simply make a new 5xx course, with identical expectations as an existing 4xx course. They argue that their course is already taught at a graduate level, but is also suitable for capable upper division undergraduates. Would this be acceptable?

    A: No; there should be a clear distinction between the graduate and undergraduate educational experience, as described above. If it is already graduate-level material, then it can be numbered at the 500 level (Graduate School policy does not prevent advanced undergraduates from enrolling in graduate courses).