Program Review and Assessment

Program Review and Assessment Guidelines

Program review requires departments to assess the effectiveness of their curriculum, teaching effectiveness of the faculty, and student learning outcomes. How this review is conducted varies from institution to institution. Some institutions provide departments with a specific set of review questions to be used in a self-study, while others are more “gestalt” in their requirements for a departmental self-study. Still other institutions follow guidelines that are prescribed by their regional accrediting association.

A thoughtful program review can be very helpful in improving a program and creating better student learning outcomes overall.

NCA has a list of guidelines to provide chairs with a framework for structuring program review and assessing departmental effectiveness. These guidelines, known as NCA's Guidelines for Undergraduate Communication Programs, were initially approved by the Legislative Assembly in November 2004. In 2009, the Guidelines were updated to reflect current assessment language. Because Communication programs vary in size, scope, and mission, these guidelines should be used as recommendations, rather than as a single set of requirements to which all Communication programs must adhere.

NCA’s Guidelines in Comparison with Regional Accrediting Associations 

In 2009, a Presidential Task Force was convened to review the guidelines, and they were updated in light of accreditation standards for each regional accrediting association. 

Sample Program Review Using the Guidelines 

The NCA Guidelines were used to conduct a program review at Columbia College, a comprehensive college in Columbia, S.C. The Columbia faculty have allowed us to post their self-study, their reviewers’ comments, and their response to the reviewers as a sample for chairs and department heads.

About Columbia College 

Columbia College is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Founded in 1854 “to educate young women for fruitful service to church, state and nation,” the college is one of 84 remaining women’s colleges in the United States. It also offers co-educational undergraduate and graduate programs in the evening. The college boasts a diverse student population of 1,500 students, approximately 40 percent of whom are African American. It has been recognized as one of the top comprehensive undergraduate colleges in the South and is unique in its emphasis on women’s leadership development. 

In 2002, the college added a Communication major to the curriculum. The Communication program grew quickly from a handful of students to what has become a relatively stable number of about 60 majors. In 1998, the college established the Pearce Communication Center, which is dedicated to advancing written and oral communication skills among students and faculty. 

Department Self-Study 

This 28-page document is the department’s self-assessment of its curriculum, teaching effectiveness, and student learning outcomes.

External Review 

Look here to read the external program review, conducted by Task Force member Claire Procopio. She used the NCA Guidelines for Undergraduate Communication Courses to frame her review of the department.

Department Response to External Review 

Many universities and colleges allow (if not require) programs to provide a response and action plan to follow up on the program review. 

Chairs’ Handbook and Guide for Program Review 

A guidebook, Preparing for an External Program Review: A Handbook for Department Chairs, was developed to accompany the revised 2009 Guidelines. Whether or not you choose to use the guidelines, the guidebook contains information on preparing a department self-study, locating and hosting external reviewers, scheduling the visit, and determining what to do after program review.  

NCA's Program Review Teleconference 

Pages could be devoted to the listing of articles and books on program review and assessment. The information listed here, albeit somewhat dated, is still relevant to assessment in our field. Moreover, both the Arnold and Rosenbaum articles provide an excellent overview of the history of the assessment movement and how regional accreditation can be used as an excellent opportunity for departmental assessment.

  • Arnett, R., & Arneson, P. (1997). Educational assessment as an invitation for dialogue. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 1, 81-94
  • Arneson, P., & Backlund, P. (2000). Educational assessment grows up: Looking towards the future. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 29, 88-102
  • Arnold, J. E. (1994). Using accreditation for assessment. In W.G. Christ & J. E. Arnold (Eds.), Assessing Communication Education: A Handbook for Media, Speech & Theatre Educators (pp. 333-349). Routledge/NCA
  • Higgerson, M. L. (1993). Important components of an effective assessment program. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 2, 1-9
  • Rosenbaum, J. (1994). Assessment: An overview. In W.G. Christ & J. E. Arnold (Eds.), Assessing Communication Education: A Handbook for Media, Speech & Theatre Educators (pp. 3-29). Routledge/NCA
  • Assessment Update, Progress, Trends, and Practices in Higher Education, published  six times a year by Jossey-Bass
  • "Avoiding the Potholes of Program Review," Vitae, March 31, 2017

The focus of these books is on departmental or program assessment, as well as on the understanding and reporting of assessment results.

  • Allen, M. J. (2006). Assessing general education programs. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
  • Backlund, P., & Wakefield, G. (2010).  A communication assessment primer.  Washington, DC:  National Communication Association.
  • Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Nichols, J. O. (1991). The departmental guide and record book for student outcomes assessment and institutional effectiveness. New York: Agathon Press.
  • Walvoord, B. E. (2010). Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments and general education (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons.

Established in 2008, the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) assists institutions and others in discovering and adopting promising practices in the assessment of college student learning outcomes. Documenting what students learn, know, and can do is of growing interest to colleges and universities, accrediting groups, higher education associations, foundations, and others beyond campus, including students, their families, employers, and policy makers.