Program Review - Overview of Process (Purpose, Governance, Cycle)

Information about academic program review, including the purpose of review, governance, and the review cycle.

Purpose of Program Review

UW–Madison has a long history of conducting regular reviews of academic programs. The purpose of program review is to examine strengths and challenges, to celebrate accomplishments, and to reflect on, and plan for, the future. Program review is a platform for exploring ways to maintain and enhance the quality of academic programs. Program review provides the opportunity to set priorities, to articulate a strong case for those priorities, and to develop strategies for a program to be at the forefront of its field in any budgetary environment. Occasionally, program review may provide a venue in which to consider discontinuing or recombining academic programs to strengthen priority areas.  Program review requires significant investment of faculty and staff time. The deans hold primary responsibly for initiating program review and for seeing that program review is carried out. The program faculty have responsibility for the self-study and for assuring the quality of the student experience. It is also important to note that the University Academic Planning Council has endorsed expectations that academic units advancing proposals for new academic programs or academic program changes must be up-to-date on program review for all of their programs as an indication of capacity for regular attention to program quality. Generally, proposals will be put on hold until all past-due program reviews are conducted so that the new program or program changes can be considered in the fuller context of the academic unit.

In all contexts, program review should be student-focused and address issues related to student learning. Program review should include information on the learning goals that have been established for the program and how they relate to institutionally established learning goals for programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional level. Program review should also address how the academic program under review contributes to advancing the major strategic priorities of the school/college and university. The overall structure for program review applies to all academic programs, however, each school/college dean’s office may use their own self-study guidelines and instructions to review committees. In some units, programs will be reviewed in the context of departmental review; this is acceptable if there is a student-learning focus on the academic programs in addition to what is usually a faculty-centered focus of departmental review. Accreditation reviews meet the needs of program review in a regular ten-year cycle for most programs and in a five-year review for most new programs. Programs that have specialized accreditation include Business (BBA and MBA), Engineering, Medicine (MD), Nursing, Pharmacy (PharmD), Law, and Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Graduate programs require review supplemental to an accreditation review to meet the needs of the Graduate School.


The responsibility for program review rests primarily with the deans, as the school/college chief executive and chief academic officer (FPP Ch 3.01, 3.08). The Board of Regents requires that UW institutions conduct program review on a regular basis and provide annual reports to the UW System Administration. UW–Madison’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, requires institutions to maintain a regular practice of program reviews (HLC Criterion 4.A.). Program review is coordinated by the office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research (APIR) acting for the Office of the Provost. In partnership with the Office of the Provost, the Graduate School contributes to the coordination of graduate programs (degrees, named options, graduate/professional certificates, capstone certificates, and doctoral minors), while the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee (GFEC) holds an oversight governance role (FPP Ch 3.07.B). The University Academic Planning Council (UAPC) is the shared governance committee charged with setting policy related to program review (FPP Ch 6.52).

Review Cycle

Annual Reports on Program Review

The director of Academic Planning and Institutional Research asks deans to provide an annual update on program review activity in their school/college. This request typically is sent is late spring. The provided information is used for reports to the UAPC, to the UW System Board of Regents (to meet the UW System mandate), and to meet a requirement for institutional accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. Annual reports on program review and policy are also reviewed by UAPC.

The annual dean’s program review report to APIR includes the following:

  • A list of program reviews that were completed in the prior year,
  • A status report on the review of any programs that were identified as low-award producing in the prior year, 
  • A status report on program reviews that are at the eight-year mark or later in the ten-year cycle, including confirmation that the review has been charged, a status update on the self-study, the review committee’s progress, the expected submission date for the review committee’s report to the dean, and the timeline for the dean’s final summary, and 
  • Any additional information that may be requested

The university’s required review cycle is as follows:

Five-Year Reviews for New Programs

The first review for new academic programs (i.e., degrees/majors, certificates, and named options) is required approximately five years after implementation. The date for the five-year review is set at the time of initial program approval and implementation. The Office of the Provost will prompt the dean to conduct five-year reviews of new degrees/majors, certificates, and named options.

The general purposes of the five‐year review are to:

  • Determine whether the goals and objectives as stated in the original program proposal are being met and evaluate if the program is meeting standards of quality based on the original proposal,
  • Confirm that the program is important to be delivered at UW–Madison and understand the program’s relationship to other programs at the university. For example, are other programs positively or negatively impacted, are connections with other programs as planned in the original proposal developing as envisioned, etc.,
  • Determine if the resource implications of continuing the program are appropriate, and
  • Offer the program faculty, the dean(s), and/or provost any advice for program improvement and summarize any actions for follow‐up or attention

Ten-Year Reviews for Continuing Programs

UAPC policy at UW-Madison requires that a program review for each academic program (i.e., degrees/majors and certificates) must be completed at least once every ten years. (Note: After the initial five-year review, named options are reviewed with their corresponding degree/major on the ten-year cycle.) Annually, the Provost’s Office will notify the dean’s offices about which programs are in the eighth year of the ten-year cycle and due to be charged with program review. Expectations are that program review will be initiated with charging of the self-study at the eight-year mark to assure that reviews are completed within ten years. Deans may convene additional reviews at any time within the ten-year cycle.

While the steps and process for five- and ten-year program reviews are quite similar, some details within vary. For complete details, refer to the KnowledgeBase documents with the Guidelines for Conducting Five-Year Reviews of New Programs or the Guidelines for Conducting Ten-Year Reviews of Continuing Programs accordingly.

Note for Graduate Programs: New graduate programs will also be contacted by the Graduate School three years after program implementation and asked to complete a Three-Year Check-In document to be reviewed by the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee (GFEC) at a regularly scheduled meeting. The Graduate School also has additional and specific expectations and criteria. Refer to the Supplementary Graduate Program Review Guidelines for more details and to ensure the program address all expectations.

Note for Programs with Specialized Accreditation: Specialized accreditation reviews are conducted by professional organizations and typically require a self-study and an outside evaluation team. For undergraduate and professional programs, the accreditation review meets the requirement for the five-year review for most new programs and the ten-year review for most continuing programs. However, for graduate programs, accreditation reviews are often not sufficient to meet program review standards, specifically the additional requirements of the Graduate School (refer to the Supplementary Graduate Program Review Guidelines for more details). Examples of programs that have specialized accreditation include Business (BBA and MBA), Engineering, Medicine (MD), Nursing (BSN and DNP), Pharmacy (PharmD), Law, and Veterinary Medicine (DVM). For a full listing of UW-Madison accredited programs, refer to the Data Digest.

Note for Certificate Programs in the College of Letters & Science: Certificate programs offered through the College of Letters and Science (L&S) are reviewed every five years. This is an internal L&S review.

See Also:

Keywords:program review, self-study, report, governance,   Doc ID:97505
Owner:Karen M.Group:Academic Planning and Institutional Research
Created:2020-01-30 15:59 CDTUpdated:2020-09-23 11:45 CDT
Sites:Academic Planning and Institutional Research
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