Academic Program Review: Guidelines for Self-Study and Review Foci

Hallmarks of an Effective Self-Study Process

In the past, program review often focused on the "status" of a program: did the program make efficient use of resources, was course content appropriate, did faculty efforts in research represent sufficient quality and quantity? While such concerns are still addressed, academic program reviews should be forward-looking, inform strategic directions and changes to improve the academic program and student success. Self-study committees and review teams are encouraged to focus the program review process toward eliciting well-designed and agreed-upon action plans for the future development of the academic program.

An effective self-study process:

  • Promises to have an impact beyond the review team visit. Highly effective self-study processes produce findings and recommendations that the unit, department, college, or university should address.
  • Focuses on the purpose of improving teaching and learning
  • Builds on existing and ongoing self-evaluation processes. A well-designed self-study builds on what is already in place and makes use of data that already exists. (See "Data to Support Self Study" below.)
  • Will clearly and concisely demonstrate achievement of the three core criteria. The length of the document (excluding appendices) should not be more than 20 pages. Examples of appendices would include a roster of faculty and staff, a one-page vita summary for faculty members, and existing reports (e.g., strategic plan, student outcomes assessment reports).
  • Explicitly addresses strengths and weaknesses to promote a focus on needed changes.
  • Is a joint effort of all program members and participants – faculty, students, staff, and others contributing to the program.

Core Criteria

All programs should address the following core criteria in their self-study and review process: Mission, Program Quality, and Preparing for the Future.


The self-study should describe how the program is fulfilling its mission. There is a clear philosophy and focus on instructional, research, and outreach programs. The program self-study discusses how goals and objectives are linked to the university mission and strategic priorities, and includes strategies for further developing the program.

The following statements serve as specific examples that a program might present in addressing this criterion:

  • The program mission is clearly articulated and aligns with the college and university missions and strategic priorities.
  • The program's decisions are mission-driven (e.g., curriculum, enrollment, faculty activity, research).
  • The program meets university-wide curricular needs.
  • The program strives to improve its standing within the discipline and in national standing.

Program Quality

The self-study should detail the program's efforts to develop and offer a high-quality education for students through a curriculum that is relevant, rigorous, current, and coherent. The report may reference the department’s assessment plan or other materials that demonstrate that the department systematically examines the quality of the curriculum, instruction, and support services to enable students achieve intended learning outcomes.

To comply with HLC accreditation standards, departments must develop and implement plans to assess student learning. Self-study reports must specify program learning outcomes, summarize the direct assessment data collected since the mid-cycle review, and describe curricular action(s) taken in response to the data that has been collected. To help structure the assessment process, programs should draft a curriculum map that indicates at what point in the curriculum the intended learning outcomes are achieved. While indirect evidence, such as student surveys, may be included in a program’s assessment plan, academic programs must have in place a plan to continuously gather direct evidence of each program learning outcome over a three-to-five-year cycle. Finally, the self-study should describe how department faculty use assessment data to evaluate and reform teaching methods/content when necessary to improve student performance. Ideally, the self-study report would contain specific examples of how faculty have used data to improve teaching practices.  

Program Learning Outcomes (DOC, 19KB)
Curriculum Map (DOC, 20KB)
Assessment Plan (DOC, 31KB)
Mid-Cycle Report (DOC, 24KB)

Specific examples of how a program addresses this criterion might include the following:

  • The program's student learning outcomes and assessment results that inform changes in curriculum, pedagogy, instructional resources, and student services. (Required)
  • The program's efforts to enhance student learning, promote research excellence, and serve constituents' needs.
  • Innovations that enhance research and teaching effectiveness.
  • Peer comparison that offers quality benchmarks.
  • Interrelationships of the instructional program with other programs at ISU and perceptions of quality outside of program.
  • Activities and ways the program contributes to making the university a desirable place to learn and work.
  • Descriptions of faculty contributions to quality, including teaching, research, and outreach excellence. 
  • Possible indicators of quality include
    • Teaching, research, and outreach awards
    • Refereed publications, citations, and patents
    • Juried exhibitions, invited lectures, shows, and recitals
    • Prestigious positions and invited memberships
    • Productivity indicators such as SCH/FTE, publications/FTE
    • Placement of graduates
    • Student retention, average time to completion, and graduation rates
    • Results of student exit interviews, alumni surveys, and employer surveys
    • Results of faculty-designed and other assessments of student learning

Planning for the Future

The self-study should articulate ways in which instructional, research, and outreach programs might be changed or improved within currently available university resources. The allocation of resources and processes for planning should be applied to the mission, improve the quality of education, and respond to future challenges. The self-study should include information on how the program seeks to maximize the use of its human and material resources.

The following examples could be included to address this criterion:

  • Program planning documents in order to reflect current and future trends
  • Program processes that address effective environmental scanning
  • Program efforts to maintain effective systems for collecting, analyzing, and using institutional information
  • Feedback loops that are used to support continuous improvement of learning
  • Planning processes that are linked to budgeting processes

Optional Foci

While programs should address the same core evaluation criteria (i.e., Mission, Program Quality, and Preparing for the Future), the program review guidelines also encourage a review process that addresses the specific needs of a program. Examples from previous reviews include reviewing organizational structure, reviewing curriculum to determine currency and relevance, examining capacity and commitment to engage with constituencies, and exploring the feasibility of new program development.

Departments have also included within their self-study, efforts associated with departmental change, such as issues identified and progress made through the NSF ADVANCE Collaborative Transformation process.

These optional foci are shared in advance of the visit with teams, via email/memo from the Dean to the team chair.

Self-Study Steering Committee

After determining the emphasis of the external review, the program Chair may appoint a self-study steering committee. The responsibility of the steering committee is to develop an effective self-study document that addresses the stated purposes and criteria. Once a draft document is forwarded to the Chair and shared with the faculty, the committee will respond to suggestions for changes and finalize the self-study document. Following the program review visit and the submission of the external report, the steering committee may serve as a resource for developing the program response.

Data to Support Self-Study

The Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost, in collaboration with Institutional Research and the E-data team, has developed a web portal and Cybox folder system (PDF, 199KB) to provide departments developing their self-study with easy access to some common data sets.




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