Faculty aim to standardize program reviews

A team of faculty members are developing guidelines for an external program evaluation.

by Hailey Colwell

Students at the University of Minnesota have majored in forest resources for the past 100 years, but they will be able to major in food systems for the first time next year.

Though these two programs are very different in age, faculty members are looking for new ways to assess and compare both of them. 

In an effort to review programs in a more standardized way, a small team of faculty members is developing an assessment process for student experience, faculty productivity and program budget in every academic program at the University.

Because reviewing programs on a set five- or 10-year basis is not conducive to the variety of ages and types of programs in the University, the school may instead look for big departmental changes to trigger reviews, said Assistant Vice Provost for the Graduate School Belinda Cheung.

New leadership or curricula would be among the factors making a review necessary, and the type of change would determine the questions asked in the review, she said.

The review process will be developed at the University but conducted externally, Cheung said. A timeline for this has yet to be set, as the team is currently in the early stages of developing ideas for the process.

Making sure the new review process is collaborative, comprehensive and sensitive to the differences of each program will allow the University to have a common understanding of the program reviews, said Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster in a prepared statement.

“We know a review of the chemical engineering department will be different than that of the philosophy department,” he said.

The process will outline important areas that should be touched on in every review so departments can be compared but will leave it up to individual departments to decide how to conduct their reviews.

Cheung said the loose set of guidelines will make it easier to assess courses of various ages and types.

“If you’ve built in enough flexibility in how you approach program review,” she said, “then you can be much more accommodating … whether you are new or old.”

Some of the University’s oldest majors are in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. Many, like forest resources, have been available for more than 100 years, said CFANS Student Services Director Bill Ganzlin.

Because agricultural education was an important part of the University’s roots, Ganzlin said he wouldn’t be surprised if a third of the programs have existed since the University began in the mid-1800s.

At the same time, the college also houses the University’s two newest majors:  food systems and plant science.

The programs were approved in May and will be fully reviewed in five years, but that process has yet to be established, Ganzlin said. Between now and then, he said the majors will constantly be reviewed and developed, a common practice at the University.

Since the University hasn’t established a centralized process for program reviews, Ganzlin said the faculty involved will develop their own review process for the new majors while they grow.

“We’ll be watching, as well, and developing our own process as we need to,” he said.