The following guidance was generated by discussions held among divisional AVP's, directors, associate directors and assistant directors on January 22, 2013.

Program Review Tips: Best Practices to Consider

  • While AVP’s have overall responsibility for their unit program reviews, they depend on the committee co-chairs to keep the review on schedule.
  • If a director looks at the current program review schedule and sees that it may be difficult in terms of the calendar, he/she should let the program review coordinator know right away rather than waiting for the program review to begin.
  • Subcommittee members should understand that not all subcommittee work can be done electronically. There will need to be physical subcommittee meetings.
  • Divide review into sub-tasks and create subcommittees--assign work evenly across subcommittees.
  • Provide chairs with access to a foundation of knowledge that impacts the department (i.e., laws, limitations, best practices, etc.).
  • Provide the committee with an adequate amount of history from the previous program review.
  • Consider the department's resources as the review is planned.
  • Keep the standards and SWOT at a "Big Picture" level.
  • Consider multiple external reviewers.
  • Overcome communication barriers. Have informal discussions about the process outside of the regularly scheduled meetings.
  • Take time to understand the major functions of the department. Start early.
  • Clarify and communicate roles and responsibilities. (e.g. who schedules the meetings, who drafts the report, etc.). Make sure calendars are appropriately cleared for work.
  • Be sure to include formal constituent feedback.
  • Be sure your committee is large enough to get work done and small enough to work efficiently. (Consider basing committee size on self-study.)
  • The AVP and director should meet prior to the initial meeting. Co-chairs should as well.
  • Forecast elements such as accreditation concerns and external consultants ahead of time.
  • Have a "survey guru" on the committee.
  • Take advantage of resources on campus.
  • Directors should be expert on their own industry standards.
  • Consider starting certain elements of the review (such as the SWOT) before the formal review begins.
  • Ensure every voice is heard.


  • Committee co-chairs and members should access the templates for subcommittee reports as well as the sample reports that have been made available.
  • It’s important that each committee member understands that the AVP and director will have a chance to review the report/recommendations and provide feedback on those. Therefore, not all recommendations made by the committee may end up in the final report.
  • Decide to be enthusiastic about the program review process.
  • Choose committee members who will be fair and willing/able to provide honest, constructive feedback.
  • Avoid "stacking" the committee with friends. ("A program review is not a group hug.")
  • Be clear with expectations on time and content for the committee.
  • Create an accountability structure.
  • Stick to deadlines and timelines.

Program Review Traps to Avoid

  • If the committee needs to focus on entire department as well as identified areas for focus there is the possibility that overall work may not be able to go into appropriate level of depth for study.
  • Students are over-surveyed--use discretion when using a survey/designing a survey.
  • Avoid using too many instruments in assessment.
  • Avoid over-reliance on the internal SWOT. Creates a "we don't know what we don't know" trap.
  • Avoid over-reliance on "external eyes".
  • Avoid focus on one area only. Look at the department overall.
  • Avoid over-reliance on the external standard.
  • Avoid getting bogged down in logistics. Getting everyone together can be a problem.
  • Don't wait too long to contact the external reviewer.
  • Avoid having preconceived outcomes.
  • Don't avoid a paid consultant only because you can't afford it.
  • Don't be quick to discredit committee recommendations.
  • Avoid creating a "forum for complaining" and instead focus on constructive criticism.


  • Avoid selecting committee members who may have a hidden agenda.
  • Avoid becoming defensive or only paying lip service to the process.
  • Establish expectations; don't allow committee members to disengage.
  • Don't let the committee be so large as to become unmanageable or too small to not get all of the work done fairly.
  • Don't be unrealistic about the time and effort a review will take.

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