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Academic Program Review Guiding Template

University Council on Learning Assessment
Office of the Provost

The following processes and recommendations are guidelines for the divisions to create their own program review processes. The University Council on Learning Assessment evaluated the elements of program reviews and categorized them as either Recommended or Required when conducting a review. Consult Appendix A for an abbreviated list of recommendations.

The following guidelines apply to academic programs that lead to a degree.

What is an Academic Program Review?

The purpose of an academic program review is to evaluate the effectiveness, quality, rigor, relevancy, and viability of a program for the purpose of improvement and accountability. Assessment of student learning outcomes should be a major part of data collected and analyzed as part of periodic improvement and as part of the program reviews.

  1. Program Reviews should be periodic and typically follow a 5, 7, or 10-year cycle.
  2. Program Reviews address the following questions:
    1. How well is the academic program executing its mission?
    2. What is the quality and rigor of the academic program under review?
    3. How relevant is the program for the intended audience?
    4. What data are informing decisions?
    5. How can the program be improved?

Elements of an Academic Program Review

The Program Review process includes 3 phases: the Self-Study, evaluation by an External Review Team, and planning of Next Steps.

  1. Establish a Cycle for Reviews for each program – typically, 5, 7 or 10-year cycle.
  2. Establish an internal self-study committee. The committee typically includes the department chair, program director, faculty, and staff administrators. The self-study committee should:
    1. Establish guidelines for the review process.
    2. Create a program review timeline.
    3. Set date for completion of the self-study.
    4. Discuss data sources needed including, graduation rate, time to graduation, enrollment, learning assessment data, etc.
    5. Schedule the review process activities.
    6. Establish the process to identify external reviewers (Appendix B).
    7. Include students and alumni as part of the review team.
    8. Optional: You may want to identify a facilitator from the university who may be able to guide the process.
  3. Create a mid-cycle check-in period during which a self-study report is completed for the upcoming review.
  4. Follow the self-study with a plan for improvement (Appendices C & D).
  5. Plan and conduct external review.
  6. Follow external review evaluation with a plan for improvement (Appendices C & D).


An effective self-study process:

  1. Is designed to have an impact on program health and performance beyond the team visit.
  2. Has a specific focus on teaching and learning and optimal student learning outcomes.
  3. Is an extension of an existing program evaluation process that is already in place and designed to monitor program performance and apply improvements as needed (Appendices C & D).
  4. Makes use of data collected annually to evaluate program performance and attainment of stated program learning outcomes.
  5. Addresses strengths and weaknesses of the program.
  6. Addresses the following criteria: Mission, Program Quality, Future Direction.
  7. Reflects efforts of all stakeholders: faculty, students, staff, and administrators.
  8. Includes:
    1. Document not to exceed 20 pages.
    2. Additional appendices (List of faculty and staff, faculty CVs, strategic plan, student learning outcomes assessment reports, etc.).

The self-study follows established academic standards:

  1. Identify goals and learning objectives of the program.
  2. Conceptualize the process with input from stakeholders.
  3. Collect data as part of regular program evaluation.
  4. Learning assessment data should be a major part of data analysis.
  5. Analyze data and develop recommendations.
  6. Implement changes as needed.
  7. Evaluate the impact of the changes as a result of the review.

Self-Study Components


State the program mission and align it with divisional and institutional mission and strategic direction. Describe how the program is fulfilling its mission and outline the focus on instruction and research. Discuss how program goals and objectives are linked to the university and divisional strategic priorities, and outline plans for continual development of the program.

Program Quality

Describe the curriculum and emphasize the following about the program:

  1. Delivers a high-quality education.
  2. Offers a curriculum that is relevant, rigorous, current, and coherent.
  3. Includes program and divisional assessment plan.
  4. Shows evidence that the division systematically examines the quality of the curriculum, instruction, and support services to enable students to achieve intended learning outcomes.

In the report include program learning outcomes, course learning outcomes, curriculum mapping and learning outcomes mapping to assessment (Test Blueprint).

  1. Include data collected since the mid-cycle self-evaluation and describe curricular actions and improvements applied using the evidence collected.
  2. Curriculum map should include the stated learning outcomes, when they should be achieved, and show evidence of student growth through multiple measures of the stated outcomes.
  3. You may include indirect evidence, such as student surveys, student course evaluations, exit surveys etc. However, direct evidence of each program learning outcome must be gathered at different periods to show that the students are achieving the outcomes stated by the program.
  4. Evidence that data collected, especially learning assessment data are analyzed and improvements are applied informing teaching methods, content, and relevancy to improve student performance.
  5. Include examples of how faculty have used data to improve teaching and learning.
Program Future Direction

Describe how resources are supporting the program and outline plans for sustainability for the future. The allocation of resources and processes are informed by evidence. The self-study should include information on how the program continues to maximize the use of its human and material resources, and finally outline a program improvement plan for a sustained process.


  1. Program planning documents and how the program will address future trends in the field.
  2. Program processes, policies, guidelines etc.
  3. Systems for collecting, analyzing, and using institutional information.
  4. Describe the feedback loops and assessment plans used to support continuous quality improvement of learning.
  5. Budgeting processes.
  6. Address any specific issues raised by faculty, students, alumni, and administrators and how they will be handled.
  7. Include an evaluation of program relevancy to the field and any advancements in the specific content area.
  8. Include a plan for the next review in the next 5, 7, or 10-year cycle, including staffing, resources, enrollment caps etc.
  9. Use the template in Appendix D to highlight goals and actions that need to be taken for improvement based on evidence outlined in the self-study.

Program Evaluation by Internal and External Reviewers

Programs may pursue internal or external evaluations or a combination of both. The process is the same for both forms of evaluation.


Internal evaluation teams are usually composed of individuals from the program, the division, or the institution. They usually focus on a formative assessment process to monitor continuous quality improvement. Drawbacks of internal evaluation can be that there is subjectivity or bias in the program evaluation.


External evaluations are conducted by experts in the field from outside of the institution. A benefit of using external evaluators is that the process is broader and may include views that internal reviewers may not possess. Additionally, external reviews carry more credibility if reviewers are well positioned in their field. It also reinforces accountability for those being evaluated.

Review Process

The department and program administrators will identify 1 to 3 external reviewers (Consult Appendix B for guidelines identifying and choosing external reviewers).

  1. Reviewers should be well known experts in the field.
  2. Additional reviewers will be identified from an internal pool and may include faculty and experts from around the university.
  3. Program reviewers study the submitted documents and interview stakeholders connected with the program, including students and alumni.
  4. The committee produces a report with recommendations: Findings about the program strengths, areas for improvement, and recommendations.

Next Steps

  1. Program leads create an action plan, with timeline for deliverables of recommendations and improvements.
  2. See Appendix C for a Program Improvement Plan Guide.
  3. See Appendix D for a Program Improvement Plan Template.
  4. The process is iterative and program evaluations should occur yearly until the next review.

Download this page and appendices.

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