L&S Guidelines for Program Review

This document provides an overview of procedures used in L&S that relate to the mandated review of all formally approved academic programs in the College. All programs at UW-Madison are required periodically to engage in formal reviews. These reviews are convened by the Dean, generally prompted by a mandated schedule and sequence for review. Program faculty prepare self-study narrative reports that consider program information (requirements, metrics, administrative structure/processes, assessment and student success, etc.), and then they candidly evaluate the quality, viability, and future of the program. These reports are reviewed by a committee of faculty peers (and other experts); the committee prepares an evaluative report to the Dean and Academic Planning Council. The APC reviews all of these materials and makes recommendations to the Dean. A summary of program review activity is reported annually to the Provost. The program review process often leads to recommendations for program improvements, which may take the form of changes in requirements or courses, revisions to materials used to communicate with students, clarification of policy and procedures, and a wide variety of other actions intended to enhance the student experience and student learning.

Contact Information:  Working with the Associate Deans in each L&S division, Associate Dean Elaine M. Klein supports the program review process in L&S. (elaine.klein<at>wisc.edu)

Update Information: Revised to update and improve references to campus level resources supporting program review, including templates for preparation of self-study and review committee reports. Adjustment to the order of Graduate Faculty Executive Committee and L&S Academic Planning Council discussion of program reviews where graduate programs are involved. 

L&S Academic Program Review - An Overview  

In the College of Letters & Science, documentation requested for academic program review focuses on the academic program(s) under review. (Other processes may be used to review department or unit operations or faculty research.) The program review process involves gathering standard information for all programs under review and using that information as a foundation for faculty discussion, reflection, and evaluation of the programs. This involves drawing evaluative conclusions about the program and proposing future actions to improve quality. This work is captured in a "self-study narrative" that is shared with a review committee that meets with program representatives (including students) to verify the information, validate or expand upon conclusions drawn, amplify or expand upon recommendations, etc.  The self-study narrative and review committee report are reviewed by the L&S Academic Planning Council and, where graduate programs are concerned, by the Graduate School's Graduate Faculty Executive Committee; both of these bodies may endorse particular actions to be taken based on the review.  

Program review activity in the College is reported annually to the Office of the Provost; university-level program review activity is reported annually to the UW System and Board of Regents.

The Self-Study

As a general rule, the faculty responsible for programs and program review will draw upon existing data and standard information to prepare the self-study narrative. This information will generally include:

  1. Current program requirements, as approved and published in the Guide
  2. Official data on the program.  The Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research compiles a useful list of data and standard reports that includes links to data visualizations developed by APIR, the Graduate School, and the Office of the Registrar. These resources include official data on trends in awards for degrees and certificates, information on PhD outcomes, retention and graduation rates and more. Data compiled by the department or program may also be used in review, as long as it is made available to the review committee for evaluation.  
  3. Annual reports on assessment of learning in academic programs (contact the Office of Student Learning Assessment) also provide opportunities for periodic reflection on academic programs.   
  4. Undergraduate programs will also find useful data visualizations created by L&S Academic Information Management (contact AIM@saa.ls.wisc.edu for more information).
  5. For more resources, see L&S Academic Program Review - Resources, Guidelines, Templates, and Advice

The self-study narrative should not exceed 25 pages. Detailed attachments and links to materials referenced above may be included as appendices to the document. Data may also be represented graphically or cited in-line in the document. Detailed and identifiable student information should NOT be included in self-study narratives. 

To support units undergoing review, the Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research provides templates for producing self-studies. These include a comprehensive list of topics that should be considered, with annotations referring to data and other resources. Topics discussed in the self-study narrative should provoke thoughtful and candid evaluation of program quality and lead to useful reflection on program improvement.  

All self-studies should include a section on conclusions and recommendations for the future, enumerating priorities and actions that can be taken.

To ensure that review committees have the information they need about the program, the following attachments are usually included with or linked from the self-study narrative:

  1. Program requirements, as they are conveyed to students via advising materials (including, but not limited to, Guide documentation, program brochures, advising grids/templates, student handbooks, newsletters, etc.)
  2. Current assessment plan (on file with Provost’s Office) and summary reports of assessment activities and recent actions taken as a result of these activities (e.g. changes in requirements, course array, procedures)
  3. A brief description of the review process, which should include consultation with faculty and staff who are responsible for the program; consultation with students; consultation with the faculty; and formal review and approval of the Self-Study by the curriculum, program, and/or executive committee.
Focused Review.  The Dean, Academic Associate Dean, or program faculty may propose to use the program review process to engage in program-wide discussion of issues related to academic strategic planning, departmental restructuring, or comprehensive realignment of curriculum.  If this approach is approved, the standard information and questions found in the Self-Study Template should should be used to inform discussion of the larger issues. In cases where the Focused Review leads to a proposal for change, each program should be discussed in a summary report and a summary of changes (to be submitted via Lumen Programs) should be attached for the committee’s review.

Committee Review

The Associate Dean and Dean convenes a review committee appropriate to the size and disciplinary focus of the program. Wherever possible, committees composed of L&S and UW-Madison faculty will be convened to examine the reports submitted. If deemed necessary by the deans, committee members external to the university will be appointed to provide expert consultation on focused questions related to the program.  When Graduate Programs are reviewed, the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee will appoint a member who serves as its representative on the committee.  Committees are provided with Self-Study and other materials related to the review.  Review committees meet with program faculty, students, and others who may offer insight into how and how well the program is functioning.

Review committees are charged by the Dean and Academic Associate Deans to conduct the review; review committees are empowered to conduct additional inquiries to allow better understanding of the materials.  If the review committee identifies issues requiring the immediate attention of the Associate Dean or other L&S administrators, the committee should contact the Associate Dean.

The committee produces a brief memorandum evaluating the programs and their effectiveness in promoting student learning. Committees may comment on recommendations proposed in the Self-Study, and they are expected to offer additional evaluative commentary, advice, insights, and recommendations.  (APIR also provides a template for review committee reports.) 

Prior to discussion with the GFEC and APC, program faculty are afforded an opportunity to review the committee’s memorandum and correct any factual errors contained in it.

Associate Deans’ Review

The Associate Dean(s) will review the reports will consult with the Dean and Senior Staff.   If necessary, the Associate Dean(s) will meet with the committee and with the department chairs) or program director(s).

GFEC and Academic Planning Council Review

Where graduate programs are involved in review, the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee will review the report of the review committee and offer recommendations related to the graduate programs. The Academic Planning Council will then review the Self-Study, Committee memorandum, corrections offered by the program faculty, and the GFEC recommendations.  In the course of APC discussion, members provide consultation to the Dean and Associate Deans concerning recommendations and future progress for programs. Based on APC recommendation, a review may be considered complete or may be returned for further clarification or revision.

Approved by the L&S Academic Planning Council on September 7, 2021.

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