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L&S Academic Program Review - Frequently Asked Questions
Even though program review is part of the ordinary work of university life, many faculty and staff have questions about the process and purpose for review. This page attempts to address some of the more frequently asked questions about the program review process in the College of Letters & Science. If visitors to this site have other questions, please reach out to the Associate Dean for Academic Planning or use the "comments" feature to bring them to our attention.
- What is the purpose of program review?
An academic program review affords a department or program the opportunity to do meaningful planning for the purpose of improving quality. It provides a background for setting goals both in terms of identifying available resources and directions for change. The review process can generate documents for evaluating alternative courses of action since resources are always limited and program needs often change. It also provides a mechanism for assessing the feasibility of planned growth, redirection, or contraction of a program. Finally, reviews satisfy external requirements (set by the UW Board of Regents and the Higher Learning Commission) that the institution monitor student learning and use that information in periodic evaluations of UW-Madison's academic programs.
- How are programs selected for review?
Reviews are generally convened eight years after completion of the previous review, with the expectation that the review will complete all stages of self-study, interactions with review committee, and discussion by oversight committees (APC, GFEC) within the two years that follow.
The final selection of programs to be reviewed is made by the Dean, often in consultation with the L&S Academic Planning Council and academic Associate Deans. The following factors (not in priority order) are considered in scheduling programs for review: elapsed time since the last review was convened (not completed), relationship of the program to other programs under review, accreditation cycles (for programs with specialized accreditation), recent or planned changes in the program, marked changes in the program profile (e.g., numbers of faculty, student credit hours, majors), indications of difficulties in addressing problems concerning the mission and goals of the program, "low award" status that seems to be resistant to improvement. Programs may "self-nominate" for review in cases where the faculty would like to engage in substantial programmatic changes - inquiries undertaken to revise program requirements may also serve the purpose of program review, since questions asked in both processes are similar.
- What are the stages of the review process?
The review requires a systematic appraisal of the performance and direction of the program. The process usually has three major stages: internal self-study, review by a committee comprised primarily of UW-Madison faculty, and L&S Academic Planning Council Review. Graduate programs under review are also discussed by the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee. If circumstances warrant, the Dean or the program may recommend review by a committee of faculty experts outside UW-Madison.
- How long does it take?
Ideally, reviews convened at the beginning of the Fall semester will be completed by the end of the Spring semester. L&S guidelines for review focus attention narrowly on academic programs and focused questions about the academic programs, the better to maintain a schedule for review that allows all L&S programs to be reviewed within the mandated ten-year period.
- It seems like our review was convened early; why would that happen?
There are a few reasons a review might be convened early. A department/program that has recently been restructured is usually asked to review programs three to five years after implementation of the changes, to evaluate the impact the administrative changes may have had on the academic programs. Or, the department/program may have experienced significant changes in leadership and difficulty identifying new leadership, or substantial changes in faculty profile, resources, or mission - all circumstances that could provoke interest in the health of the program. Finally, revisions to campus-wide program review policy express the expectation that reviews must be convened 8 years after completion of the previous review, to ensure completion within the mandated 10 year time frame.
- How does "Assessment of Student Learning" fit into "Academic Program Review"?
There is substantial overlap, but they are different. Assessment is the systematic examination of student learning in the program, with regular and careful evaluation of student learning relative to program-wide learning outcomes. These annual processes provide important information for program review - but detailed and episodic information does not step away enough to allow reflection on the whole program. Assessment looks at what students are learning at the course and requirement level; program review looks at the program more broadly. The latter can include study of administrative structures and processes that support (or impede) student learning, student demand, completion rates, time to degree, etc.
In essence, assessment provides evidence that the faculty knows what they're requiring of students has the desired effect - and if not, it gives them the information they need to make changes. Program review complements that information by examining administrative and other factors related to program quality and effectiveness.
- How can we get out of doing this?
No academic program, and no unit that sponsors academic programs that require review, is "exempt" from review. All programs must be reviewed regularly, without exception.