Conducting a Program Review Part One: Plan the Process

As a consortium of professional associations in higher education, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) creates credible standards, guidelines, and self-assessment guides that help campus leaders design and evaluate programs and services. Through this new six-part series in The Bulletin, a practical process and structure will be outlined for how these CAS tools can be used to conduct a program review, regardless of the varying details of each institution’s internal needs.  

Potential reasons for conducting a CAS review include: 

  • To focus on continuous quality improvement 
  • To identify gaps and/or areas needing improvement 
  • To identify areas of strength and best practices 
  • To provide development for staff 
  • To develop an action plan for program enhancement 
  • To support an accreditation process 


About the Tools 

The CAS standards and the CAS Self-Assessment Guides are tools for conducting a self-study focused on the strengths and deficiencies of programs and services as well as to plan for improvements. Within each standard, CAS develops and incorporates a number of common criteria relevant to each and every functional area, no matter what its primary focus. These common criteria are referred to as “General Standards,” which form the core of all functional area standards.  

CAS standards and guidelines are organized into 12 components: mission; program; organization and leadership; human resources; ethics; law, policy, and governance; diversity, equity, and access; internal and external relations; financial resources; technology; facilities and equipment; and assessment. 

For each set of standards and guidelines, CAS has developed a Self-Assessment Guide that includes a recommended comprehensive self-study process for program evaluation, structured as a workbook using the same 12 sections. 


Getting Organized 

Conducting a self-assessment should be an internally driven, systematic process that provides useful information and results in an action plan for improvement. The key components of program review include: planning the process, assembling a team, collecting and reviewing evidence, conducting and interpreting ratings, developing an action plan, preparing a report, and closing the loop on the process.  

To begin, map out each of the steps and develop a timeline for the program review process. Here, it is important to explicitly identify desired outcomes of the self-study. This will be different for each unit conducting the review, but develop a plan with the end in mind and that fits the needs of the division or department.  

When planning self-assessment related to student learning and development, consider the fundamental questions:  

  • What is the effect of our work on students?
  • How are they different as a result of interacting with our programs and services? 
  • How do we know?  
  • How do we demonstrate their learning? 
  • What do we measure and how do we measure it?

When evaluating programmatic initiatives, consider questions such as:  

  • Is the program or service functioning effectively to achieve its mission? 
  • What evidence is available to support the determination? 
  • What learning and development outcomes are part of this evidence?
  • How is evidence used to make program decisions? 

Finally, the planning phase of program review is an important time to build buy-in with stakeholders. Ensure that the process is designed to support staff development, provides recognition and rewards for areas of success, and intentionally relies on the honesty, feedback, and shared vision of constituents.  

In Part 2, the process of assembling and educating a team of stakeholders will be described.  

ACUI members have access to relevant functional area standards at

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