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 - if visitors to this site have others, please 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?
The selection of programs to be reviewed is made by the Dean, upon consultation with the L&S Academic Planning Council and/or Associate Deans. The following factors (not in priority order) are considered in scheduling programs for review: elapsed time since last review, relationship of the program to other programs under review, accreditation cycles (for programs with specialized accreditation), 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. Programs may also "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. Effective Fall 2016, reviews will be 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 all relevant committees (APC, GFEC) within the two years that follow.
- What are the stages of the review process?
The review consists of a systematic appraisal of the performance and direction of the program. The review process has three major stages: self-study, committee review, and Academic Planning Council Review. If circumstances warrant, the Dean or the program may recommend review by an external committee.
- 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. Recent changes in the L&S guidelines for review focus attention more narrowly on academic programs or focused questions about the programs, which should allow L&S to maintain a schedule for review such that programs managed by our 5 professional schools, 40 departments, and 11 non-departmental programs can all 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 may have recently undertaken restructuring, which generally offers reason to check-in on the impact on academic programs. Or, the department/program may have recently experienced significant changes in leadership, membership, resources, or mission - all circumstances that would reasonably prompt an inquiry into the general health of the program. Finally, recent revisions to campus-wide program review policy express the expectation that reviews be convened 8 years after completion of the previous review, to better afford completion within the mandated 10 year time frame. L&S is working to implement this expectation.
- How does "Assessment of Student Learning" fit into "Program Review"?
There is substantial overlap, but they are different. Assessment is the systematic examination of student learning in the program, with respect to program-wide learning outcomes. The information obtained through this systematic inquiry provides important information for program review - but it is not the complete picture. Assessment only looks at what students should be learning at the level of the whole academic program; program review looks at the program more broadly, and may include examination of such issues as the administrative structures and processes that support (or impede) student learning. 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.
- 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. In the past, departments/programs could work with their Associate Dean to identify better timing for a particular review; however, stricter implementation of review timelines limits this flexibility. All programs must be reviewed regularly, without exception.