Program Review and Why We Do It


There are presently three external forces acting with regard to assessment and institutional improvement. They are the system policy on program review, the system continuous improvement initiative and the current emphasis on assessment by Middle States. An emphasis on accountability is apparent in each of the three forces. Traditional program review lent itself to the past practices of the Middle States Association. Middle States is reorienting itself to address accountability and institutional effectiveness. Shippensburg University faces the problem of responding to each of these three forces. This document outlines an approach to consolidate these diverse needs through a single process already familiar to many departments of the university. This process will benefit everyone at the university and meet the needs created by these forces.

This process will not appear as something completely new, since its form is similar to the program review that has been in place. By consolidating the three external sets of requirements, this process should minimize the effort needed to comply with the demands of each. However, a greater emphasis on assessment is required throughout the university. Beyond the increased need for assessment, this process has been expanded and now requires administrative areas to conduct both assessment and continuous improvement. For all areas, this process should reveal strengths as well as needed changes. These changes represent continuous improvement and increased accountability.

Overview of the Process

 Six steps for Program Review. The purpose of Program Review and evaluation is to implement and maintain a continuous planning, evaluation, and improvement process and to serve as a five-year internal audit of the health of university programs. While its aim focuses on departmental planning and active program improvement and modification, the following objectives outline the process: refine and redevelop departmental vision, mission, plans, goals, and assessment; collect and interpret data on customers/stakeholders, faculty/employees, and processes; identify external factors with potential impact on programs; and formulate recommendations for improvement, change and/or modification.

The review process consists of six phases. Initially the department should prepare for the review by selecting key personnel and gathering documents created in the past. The review continues with an introspective look at the intentions, expectations, and endeavors of the department. The department will need to collect information as evidence for the outcomes of these endeavors. The entire process is summarized every five years in a report that is structured around general guidelines for academic and administrative areas. Finally, the department receives feedback on its progress from a campus-wide committee and the status of the department is reported to various campus and external constituencies.

Timeline. In the June before the review year, a study team should be constructed from the membership of the department. The study team will meet through the fall collecting data and drafting the report. The report should begin to be finalized in the spring and shared with the entirety of the department. The final draft of the report is due in March. The report will be evaluated in April and May and finalized in a summary report to the President and System Office in June.

Importance of Program Review

While the external reasons are apparent, the most important motivation for doing assessment is a desire to improve. Improvement is directed by the outcomes that are sought by the institution and its programs. These outcomes are generated from the mission and goals of the university. Goals begin with the mission statement and end with objectives stated in terms of the specified outcomes. Assessment becomes critical in showing evidence for either congruence or non-congruence with the outcomes and goals. Based on this evaluation, improvement can be sought. Strengths appear when evidence shows that objectives are being met. On the other hand, weaknesses surface when outcomes have not been achieved. Both the strengths and weaknesses are equally important.

Current trends in higher education are stressing assessment. That is why objective and quantitative analyses are augmenting subjective and qualitative assessments. This approach results in comprehensive, multi-dimensional assessment that provides information for further development and enhancement of university programs and systems. As mentioned, there are several reasons for doing assessment, but we should internalize and own the process. In Frameworks for Outcomes Assessment, Middle States stresses the importance of the continuance of assessment, "although the results of outcomes assessment should be duly noted during the accreditation self-study process, the activities needed to generate those results must be made a routine part of the institutional agenda."

The Feedback Loop

The whole process can be visualized as a feedback loop (see graphic); it is complete when the strengths and weaknesses are incorporated into new goals, objectives, and outcomes. As the process continues, the goals and outcomes are assessed during the ensuing Program Review period and addressed in the next review report, continuously leading to improvement. Therefore, the process should be part of normal departmental operations each year. This five-year review process simply summarizes departmental activity during that period.