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Institutional Approval Information

Apply to become a College, University or Seminary

Any institution offering programs for academic credit and awarding of academic, higher education degrees must be authorized by the Secretary of Education prior to operating in Pennsylvania. 

Please note that Pennsylvania does not have a religious exemption; all parties offering programs for credit and awarding degrees must be properly approved regardless of the content of instruction.

Apply to Become an Education Enterprise

Out-of-state institutions or organizations must be authorized by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education before conducting education activity that includes academic credit or continuing education credit or charges a fee or tuition. (See 22. Pa. Code § 31.2)

Contact the Division of Higher and Career Education for an application to operate in Pennsylvania as an Education Enterprise.

Use of the word College, University or Seminary

The words "college," "university," and "seminary" are restricted words in Pennsylvania. Any change in status, such as from college to university or establishing a new college, university or seminary, requires approval and a separate certificate of authority. (See 24 Pa. C.S.A. § 6503.) Filing of corporate names and fictitious corporate names using these words requires approval.  Contact the Division of Higher and Career Education for an application for approval.

Regulations in Pennsylvania currently do not allow institutions operating solely by distance education or telecommunications instruction to operate in this commonwealth. Title 22 Pa. Code § 31.1(e) states: "Only a postsecondary degree-granting institution having more than 50% of its degree programs consisting of resident-based instruction may be established or operate in this Commonwealth." Thus, no institution that offers education solely on a non-resident basis or by telecommunications instruction alone may operate in Pennsylvania. 

The Law:

To be a degree-granting college, university or seminary, an institution must abide by 24 Pa. C.S.A. § 6502(b), which states:

"No institution shall be authorized to confer degrees in the arts, pure and applied science, philosophy, literature, law, medicine and theology, or any of them, unless it has:

(1) A minimum protective endowment of at least $500,000, beyond all indebtedness and assets invested in buildings and apparatus for the exclusive purpose of promoting instruction, except that, in the case of tax-supported institutions or those maintained by religious or other eleemosynary organizations, financial support or contributed services equivalent in value to the endowment herein specified may be substituted for such endowment.

(2) A faculty consisting of at least eight regular professors who devote all their time to the instruction of its higher education classes, unless the institution is devoted to a specific subject in the arts, archaeology, literature or science (medical and law schools excepted), in which case the faculty shall consist of at least three regular professors who devote all their time to the instruction in the special branch for which the institution is established, and two or more instructors or fellows in the particular branch, who shall be provided to assist in the instruction to be given the students for the promotion of original investigation and in the development and growth of the special branch of science to which such institution may be devoted."

The regulations relevant to this approval process are found in 22 Pa. Code Chapters 31, 36, 40 and 42. 

The Process:

The Department of Education requires a formal application from the party or entity seeking approval from the Secretary of Education to conduct academic programs for credit and to award academic, higher education degrees. To obtain the application, contact the Division of Higher and Career Education. 

For additional information, please contact:

Division of Higher & Career Education |
Pennsylvania Department of Education - Postsecondary and Adult Education
333 Market Street, 12th Fl | Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 717.783.8228 | Fax: 717.722.3622
ra-collunivseminfo@pa.gov | www.education.state.pa.us