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?
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 all relevant committees (APC, GFEC) within the two years that follow.
The final 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. Finally, all programs considered "low-award" are required to engage in review, in the event that program reorganization, revision, or other changes can remediate low-award status.
- 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 usually 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 all L&S programs can 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 conduct a review of its programs three to five years after implementation of the changes, to evaluate the impact the administrative changes may have had on academic programs. Or, the department/program may have recently experienced significant changes in leadership, membership, resources, or mission - all circumstances that might prompt an inquiry into the general 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 "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 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 - as well as issues like 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.