Review Procedures & Guidelines

I. Introduction and Overview

Periodic program reviews provide a mechanism for faculty to evaluate the effectiveness, progress, and status of their academic programs on a continuous basis. It is an opportunity for the department (or program) to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses within the context of the mission of the university and of current and emerging directions in the discipline. For the purposes of program review, a program is defined as a course of study leading to a degree. Academic programs are reviewed at least once every five to seven years. Except for special instances (e.g., interdisciplinary programs), program reviews include evaluation of all undergraduate and graduate programs offered by the unit.

The primary purpose of program review is to improve the program by thoroughly and candidly evaluating:

  • the mission and goals of the program and their relation to the mission and strategic priorities of the institution,
  • the curriculum through which program mission and goals are pursued,
  • the assessment of student learning outcomes, program revisions based upon those outcomes, and plans for future assessment activities,
  • the range and quality of research activities, emphasizing those involving students,
  • the quality and diversity of faculty and staff and their contributions to program mission and goals,
  • the quality of entering students (for graduate programs and others with restricted enrollment),
  • libraries and other educational resources,
  • physical facilities, and
  • service and contributions to the community.

These reviews provide an opportunity for faculty to highlight program strengths and achievements, to identify needed improvements, and to address these needs through long-range plans that will endure through short-term administrative changes or budget crises. Program reviews are integral to planning, resource allocation, and other decision-making within the university. Regular program reviews also allow the university to account publicly for its use of public resources and to develop support among its various constituencies.

At California State University, Fresno, the Dean of the Division of Graduate Studies, or designee, serves as the review officer for graduate programs and the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, or designee, as the review officer for undergraduate programs.

In order to allow for reflection and input, the program review process is long and involved. The department prepares a self-study for each program under review. A review panel examines the self-study, visits the program, and prepares a report. The department and dean are afforded the opportunity to comment on the review panel’s report. The report and comments are forwarded to the appropriate university-level committee for review. After receiving committee recommendations, the department writes a plan that describes actions to be taken in response to recommendations coming out of the reviews. An action plan meeting is held in which the department, dean, and central administration agree upon priorities and resources for a final action plan. Appendix A provides a timeline for completion of program review activities, in the form of a checklist summarizing the responsibilities of the various participating parties.

II. Initial Steps

In September of the academic year before the review is due, the review officer will notify the chair of the academic department and the appropriate dean that a review has been scheduled. By that October, the chair of the academic department will notify the review officer and the appropriate dean of the name of the coordinator of the self-study. In November, the review officer(s) will schedule an orientation session for school or college deans, department chairs, self-study coordinators, and, if desired, additional department faculty, for all departments participating in a self-study.

III. The Self-Study

Appendix B provides a detailed outline of the self-study, which should be submitted to the college/school dean no later than November 1. The self-study is a comprehensive written report that is prepared by the academic program scheduled for a review. If the department undergoing review has multiple degrees, a separate self-study should be prepared for each degree, although a common set of supporting materials may be provided for multiple reports.

Institutional Research, Assessment, and Planning (IRAP) and the program review officer(s) will provide a standard data set to be included in the self-study. IRAP and the Center for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) offer technical assistance in updating the assessment plan and planning and evaluating surveys. The review officer(s) can provide guidance and answer questions about the program review process.

The self-study examines the current status of the academic program based on its activities and achievements since its last program review. The document should identify strengths and weaknesses in curriculum and instruction; student performance; student learning outcomes activities over the period since the prior review and a student outcomes assessment plan (SOAP) for the period until the next review; faculty contributions in teaching, research/creative activities, and service; resource availability and needs; and special features or services provided by the department. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it should serve as a vehicle by which the department, in conjunction with the university, can plan for the future. Goals for program improvement, an action plan to achieve those goals, and strategies for measuring progress towards goal achievement should be included. Thus, the self-study should include mechanisms for solving current problems and avoiding projected problems, for building on existing strengths, and for maximizing opportunities that are likely to develop within the discipline in the near future. The allocation of resources is an important matter to all programs. However, if the self-study report becomes primarily a budget request, the unit misses an excellent opportunity to provide the campus information on its strengths, weaknesses, plans, and goals. Moreover, an unduly self-serving document in some measure loses credibility. The report is likely to have the most favorable impact on readers if the unit seizes the opportunity for creative thinking about plans.

A self-study coordinator, selected from the department faculty by the department faculty, will oversee preparation of the report. Where a department is undergoing both a graduate and an undergraduate program review, separate self-study coordinators should be selected. All program faculty members should be involved in preparation of the self-study and consulted prior to the preparation of the final draft. Since the department chair is responsible for the content, accuracy, and completeness of the self-study, the chair should continually and actively oversee the preparation of the report. It is the responsibility of the self-study coordinator to meet periodically with the college/school dean to review progress on the self-study, to share the content of the self-study as it develops, and to report to the department faculty the comments and recommendations of the dean.

The college/school dean will review the program’s self-study, provide comments to the self-study coordinator, and work with the department to address any concerns that arise. When satisfied with the quality and content of the self-study, the dean will forward the self-study with a memorandum of approval to the review officer(s) normally no later than November 30.

The review officer(s) will review the self-study for conformity with university guidelines. If all required elements of the self-study have been addressed, the review officer will notify the department to submit ten copies of the program self-study.

IV. Site visit and report by a panel of external evaluators

The site visit will be conducted by a team of at least three consultants including an external expert in the discipline under review who has experience with student outcomes assessment in that discipline, a faculty member from within the school or college of the department, and a faculty member from the campus but outside the school or college of the department. The department may elect to include a fourth member of the team representing the alumni, community members, or other accreditation experts. The chair of the academic department, in consultation with the department faculty and the appropriate dean, submits to the program review officer a list of three potential external consultants in each category by the end of September of the review year (Appendix C). The review officer(s) will promptly notify the chair, coordinator, and panel members of those selected. The CETL office will provide suggestions for consultants if needed. The university provides a stipend to the external consultant.

The review officer(s) and the department work together to schedule the review panel site visit to be held preferably prior to spring break. The department will provide the team with an office for use during the visit, as well as a computer and printer. In addition, space should be provided for scheduled meetings of the team with the various groups. It is the unit's responsibility to arrange tours of its facilities; a tour of the library; time for reviewing course syllabi and student work (including randomly selected theses); and to schedule the appropriate meetings with faculty, students, and alumni as appropriate. The site visit should conclude with an exit meeting of the Provost, Associate Provost, School/College Dean, Undergraduate Dean, Graduate Dean, department chair, and/or graduate program coordinator, to be scheduled by the review officers. If only one program is being reviewed, the panel can complete its work in a single day. For review of multiple programs (e.g., undergraduate and graduate), additional time may be needed. Sample site visit agendas are provided below.

A Sample Site Visit

First Day
Time Activity Location
7:45 Designated faculty picks up out-of-town site visitors  
8:00 Department chair and/or self-study coordinator  
9:00 Review officer(s) TAd 130*
10:00 Academic Resources TAd 111*
10:30 Provost/VPAA TAd 110*
11:00 Meeting and lunch with program/departmental faculty  
1:30 Dean  
2:30 Undergraduate Students  
3:30 Graduate Students  
5:00 Alumni/employers/advisory council, etc.  
5:30 Dinner  
Second Day
Time Activity Location
8:00 Additional meetings as needed  
9:00 Tour of facilities and library and facilities  
10:30 Review of course syllabi and student written work  
12:00 Lunch  
1:00 Report preparation  
4:00 Exit meeting TBA*

Description of Site Visit Sessions

1.   Visit with Review Officers

One of the first meetings scheduled for the review panel will be with the review officers. The purpose of this meeting is to orient the Site Visit Team to the purpose of their visit and to answer any questions they might have on the procedures for the Academic Program Review and/or their role in the review.

2.   Visits with students

Some of the most helpful meetings are those with students. Because students often bring up questions for which the site visitors will want to seek answers, these meetings should be set up fairly early in the schedule. Class visits also work well. After the visitors are introduced and the purpose of the visit explained, unit faculty members should leave so that students feel free to discuss issues. Since undergraduate and graduate students may have different concerns, a separate meeting should be arranged for each group. It is important to have a substantial number of students in each group.

3.   Visits with faculty members

Depending on the size of the department, two or three small group meetings (or individual meetings, where possible) might be desirable so that most faculty members will have a chance to express their opinions. In addition, there should probably be a small meeting with the faculty who prepared the report and with the graduate advisory committee or other committees whose work relates to the program review. The department chair should not attend the meetings with faculty.

4.   Visits with the department chairs

At least an hour should be scheduled for the site visitors to meet with the department chair. Because site visitors will usually have questions from their conversations with students and faculty, some time for this visit with department chairs should be saved rather late in the schedule.

5.   Visits with university administrators

As part of an effort to incorporate review results into general university planning, meetings will be scheduled with the Provost, the Associate Provost for Academic Resources, and the dean of the supervising college or school. Since the recommendations of the site visitors will affect planning by the unit and college, the dean’s interaction is crucial. Scheduled times for these visits will be arranged approximately one month prior to the review to allow for planning. These appointments will be arranged by the review officer’s assistant.

6.   Review panel’s report (Appendix D)

Time needs to be reserved during the site visit to allow the consultants to draft a report summarizing their program evaluations and recommendations, to be substantially completed prior to the departure of the external consultant. If necessary, the report can have draft status at that time, subject to final review of team members, but it should be complete in scope. As appropriate, there should be separate reports on undergraduate and graduate programs, delivered, both electronically and in hard copy, to the review officer(s). The report(s) will be distributed to the college/school dean and to the department via the chair and the coordinator.

7.   Exit meeting

Site visits conclude with an exit meeting comprised of the Provost, the review officer(s), the college/school dean, graduate dean (if a graduate program), department chair, the self-study coordinator and/or graduate program coordinator (if a graduate program).

A Note on Hospitality. Please coordinate faculty members to serve as local hosts, who will pick up out-of-town visitors at their hotel, escort them to meetings, arrange return transportation, and lend general assistance. On the second day, please arrange for out-of-town visitors to check out of the hotel before noon so that the university is not charged for an extra day, unless the visitors have asked to stay over a third night. Most local hotels will provide shuttle service to the airport, but if time is tight it may be better for someone in the unit to give the visitor a ride. The Site Visit Team will have two busy days and will likely appreciate a few hours of quiet. Please leave the evening hours free. Also, no funds have been set aside for entertainment. Lavish entertaining is not expected or encouraged. If faculty members wish to go out to dinner or lunch with the visitors, they will be responsible for their own expenses.

V. Responses to the Self-Study

The self-study coordinator and chair work together with the faculty to complete a written response to the review panel’s report. The departmental response should be a good faith effort to address each of the issues raised in the report and may also discuss significant changes or developments that have taken place in the program subsequent to the self-study. The departmental response is to be submitted to the college/school dean and the review officer(s) within two weeks after receipt of the visiting panel’s report.

The college/school dean should address the issues raised in the review panel report and the chair’s response. The dean’s response shall be submitted within one week to the chair and to the review officer(s), and distributed for review by the departmental faculty.

VI. University committee review

The campus program review committees will examine the review panel’s reports and the departmental and dean’s responses. The program review committees will then interview representatives of the program and the administration as appropriate, and provide committee recommendations based on the reports provided. They should also comment on the outcomes assessment process in the department and on the updated Student Outcomes Assessment Plan. The committee report should be completed no less than one month following receipt of the material and should be delivered to the review officer(s). The following are categories for committee recommendations:


University Committee Recommendations to Approve a Program:

1.   Recommendation to Approve a Program with Notation of Exceptional Quality

Approval is recommended without reservation and with a notation of specific areas of program promise and excellence. Programs recommended in this category may be considered for an award for program excellence. These are programs that exhibit special strength in all aspects of the review process and reflect the very best attributes of commitment, quality, and promise.

2.   Recommendation to Approve a Program of Quality and Promise

Program approval is recommended with identification of specific areas that need to be further developed, and a notation of specific areas of achievement. These programs meet all evaluative measures of quality, but nonetheless could improve in substantial ways (e.g., absence of a strong student recruitment plan.)

3.   Recommendation to Approve a Program for Conditional Continuation

Conditional approval is recommended with identification of specific areas requiring significant improvement, including the conditions and a reasonable time frame for such conditions to be met in achieving unconditional approval. Conditional continuation is appropriate for a program that fails to meet expected quality standards and for which additional time and/or implementation of planned actions to address these weaknesses could be expected to eliminate such deficiencies without impairing student progress (e.g., the need to obtain space or equipment.)

Other University Committee Actions

4.   Recommendation to Suspend a Program

A recommendation for suspension of a program is appropriate upon receipt of a conditional continuation in the most recent program review and when two conditions occur: (1) when the program fails to meet established standards of quality that insure an appropriate academic experience for students and (2) when there is evidence that these deficiencies may be corrected over a specified period of time. Those standards of quality include but are not limited to a minimum critical number of faculty, a minimum critical number of students, adequacy and frequency of required courses, adequate library holdings, and appropriate physical facilities. Please note that a recommendation to suspend a program could lead to administrative action. Administrative action to suspend a program: (1) places a moratorium on new student admissions; (2) requires students currently in the program be accommodated so that they may complete the program; (3) places a moratorium on reappointment of faculty to graduate faculty status, if pertinent to a graduate program; and (4) removes program catalog copy. The degree title may be retained on the trustee-approved campus Academic Plan. If evidence suggests that the program may be successfully reconstituted at a later date, then conditions to be fulfilled in order to fully reopen the program should be identified along with a process to support the removal of a recommendation for suspension. Note that discontinuation may result if the program is unable to satisfy the conditions for successful reconstitution as identified.

5.   Recommendation to Discontinue a Program

A recommendation to discontinue a program is appropriate upon receipt of a conditional continuation in the most recent program review and when the program fails to meet established standards of quality that insure an appropriate academic experience for students, and at the same time when there is no evidence that deficiencies have been corrected over a specified period of time. Please note that a recommendation to discontinue a program could lead to administrative action. Administrative action to discontinue a program: (1) places a moratorium on new student admissions; (2) requires students currently in the program be accommodated so that they may complete the program; (3) places a moratorium on reappointment of faculty to graduate faculty status, if pertinent; and (4) removes program catalog copy. A separate process for review of the implications of program termination is implemented. This second and separate level of review follows University policy and includes an assessment of the implications for the University and its service area, faculty, facilities, students, and resources if the program is discontinued.


VII. The Action Plan

In consultation with the dean, the department chair and/or program coordinator will draft an action plan, providing for each issue identified during the review the following: (1) Proposed action and expected outcome, (2) Cost/resource implications, (3) Source of funds or resources, and (4) Timeline for accomplishing the proposed action. This document will be discussed at a Planning and Implementation Meeting called by the Provost and including the chair, college/school dean, review officer(s) and a representative from the site visit team (if requested by the department) to consider all recommendations and comments. The purpose of this meeting is to prioritize the action plan and obtain commitments for any resources needed to achieve the high priority goals. The dean and the Provost may propose additional action items. The minutes of the meeting will document the formal agreement among parties. The department may be requested to revise the action plan and another action plan meeting may be called if needed. The finalized action plan is signed by the chair, the dean, and the provost. Each year a progress report on the items in the action plan will be included in the Department Chair’s Annual Report to the Provost.

All references to chair are meant as the department chair or program coordinator.


Appendix A.  Checklist and Timeline for Program Reviews

Checklist and Timeline for Program Reviews

Recommended Timeline for Review of Academic Programs (pdf format)

Appendix B. Outline for Program Review Self-Study

The following outline is recommended for a self-study prepared for a program review. Additional topics may be included, but the self-study report should not exceed twenty pages, excluding appendices. Departments with programs subject to external accreditation reviews requiring substantial reports may elect to submit the report prepared for accreditation and accreditation review reports as major elements in the self-study. In these instances, a cover memorandum should be provided, clearly indicating, in the order specified below, where the appropriate material may be found, either in the accreditation report or in attachments to the memorandum. Any areas listed below not discussed in the accreditation document should be discussed in a supplement or attachment to the self-study. Note that a separate self-study must be prepared for each degree program.


The description should orient the reader to your program, including items such as degree offerings, general education courses, and service courses. Describe major events in program history, such as administrative affiliations, degrees, faculty composition, mission, etc.


Briefly outline the major findings, recommendations, and action plans of the previous review and the responses to them. What actions were taken as a result of the recommendations?


Data provided to the program from various sources should be summarized in appendices. Supporting documents may be provided by Web reference.

Reminder: Data collected through student outcomes assessment processes do not need to be reported but may be referenced in explaining curricular changes (APM 204).

A. Mission and Goals of the Program

State the mission and goals of your program, noting any changes since the prior review.

  1. Alignment of the Program and the University’s Missions and Goals - How does the program mission statement support the mission(s) and goals of the university?
  2. Alignment of the Program and the College/School Goals - How does the program mission statement support the mission(s) and goals of the college/school?
  3. Reflection of Any Recent Changes in the Discipline - Have there been any significant changes in the broader academic disciplinary area(s) relating to the program that require changes to the program’s structure, focus, or emphasis?

B.  Effectiveness of the Instructional Program

  1. Student Learning Outcomes as Developed in the Program’s Student Outcomes Assessment Plan (SOAP) - While preparing the self-study, program faculty should review and comment on the SOAP and related activities. Note any changes in the learning outcomes since the prior review. What actions have you taken as a result of what you have learned during assessment planning or as a result of assessment data? Consider the following questions and respond to those not answered elsewhere in the self-study: How does your plan authentically address your educational effectiveness with your students? How does your SOAP reflect your effectiveness as educators? What progress have you made in implementing the SOAP? What assessment activities have been conducted since the last program review? What learning outcomes did they assess? How has the evidence you collected affected decisions made about the program or the SOAP?
  2. Curriculum
  • Structure/Coherence of Instructional Program - Assess the structure, currency, comprehensiveness, adequacy, coherence, and delivery of the curriculum as appropriate. Describe any changes made in the program’s curriculum in response to outcomes assessment. Self-studies may report on recognition/awards for innovative curriculum and/or outstanding students, external funding for curricular innovation or reform, or university writing requirements. Include in an appendix to the self-study and comment upon the course offering and enrollment tables provided by the Office of Institutional Research. For graduate programs, include information on the program’s Graduate Writing Requirement, and include the written policy as an appendix. For culminating experiences other than theses, include written guidelines or policies for projects (298) or comprehensive examination as an appendix.
  • Cooperative Efforts with Other Academic Programs-Joint Degrees, Service Courses, General Education Courses - Evaluate your effectiveness in cooperatively offering joint degree programs, service courses, and/or General Education courses.
  • Research on Effectiveness of Teaching and Learning - Please document the scholarly work and creative activities of your faculty and comment on the impact of their scholarly work and creative activities on the curriculum and on student engagement and learning.
  • Recruitment, Retention, and Student Services - Comment on any recruitment, retention, and support services for students (e.g., advising, mentoring of students; career development; student placement). Comment on your efforts in terms of the quality, success, and diversity of your students.
  • Community Interactions (Professional, Disciplinary, Industry/Regional) - Summarize opportunities for student internships, employment, and/or continued educational paths of program graduates, as well as the ways in which external communities interact with students and/or the curriculum. Comment on ways in which program faculty, students and the various communities they serve interact. In specific, of interest are comments on any programmatic interactions with the off-campus regional community, any related professional communities, and/or the broader disciplinary community. Self-studies may report employer satisfaction.

C.  Effectiveness of Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities

Attach Curriculum Vitae of tenure-track and tenured faculty members as an appendix. Summarize your department’s collective strengths in the following areas:

  • Teaching and Advising
  • Scholarship and Research
  • University Service
  • Community Service

D.  Resources

  1. Financial/Budgetary - Include in an appendix to the self-study and comment upon the tables out of the Budget Book provided to you by the Office of Academic Resources.
  2. Faculty/Staff
  • Adequacy and Availability- Using objective evidence, evaluate the quality, currency, match of strengths to program goals, with the diversity of the collective faculty and staff (e.g., evidence of leadership in national and regional organizations in the discipline, awards for outstanding teaching, scholarship and creative activity, external funding either for individuals or collaborative efforts, evidence of success in recruiting faculty and staff from underrepresented groups). Comment on any curricular areas for which the department has difficulty hiring.
  • Professional Development/Travel Support - Comment on the adequacy and availability of institutional support and outside funding for professional development and travel.
  • Implementation and Currency of Technology - Discuss the program’s use of technology in classrooms, faculty offices, and labs, and comment on the adequacy and currency of technological resources in use.
  • Other:
  • Space - Classrooms, Laboratories, Offices - Are the classrooms and laboratories allocated for curricular offerings sufficient and appropriately sized?
  • Library Assets - Comment on library holdings as they support the academic program, its faculty and students.


A. Recommended Changes to Mission and Goals of the Program

B. Effectiveness of Instructional Program

  1. Student Learning Outcomes as Developed in the Program's Student Outcomes Assessment Plan (SOAP) - What changes should be made to your assessment plan? Include an updated student outcomes assessment plan for the next program review cycle.
  2. Curriculum
    • Structure/Coherence of Instructional Program
    • Cooperative Efforts with Other Academic Programs – Joint Degrees, Service Courses, General Education Courses
  • Recruitment, Retention, and Student Services
  • Community Interactions (Professiona, Disciplinary, Industry/Regional)

C. Resources

  1. Financial/Budgetary - Based upon the self-study process, what are your plans within existing resources? What important improvements in your program could be made with additional resources?
  2. Faculty/Staff
    • Adequacy and Availability
    • Professional Development/Travel Support
    • Professional Achievement/Constributions
  3. Implementation and Currency of Technology
  4. Other:
    • Space - Classrooms, Laboratories, Offices
    • Library Assets


This section contains responses to issues that may have been raised by the supervising dean or review officers in the Self-Study Orientation Meeting.


A. Visiting team report/recommendations from prior review

B. Report on assessment activities (information should be available in annual reports since the last review)

C. Standard Data Set

  1. Course Offering and Enrollments Table
  2. Student Data
  3. Grants
  4. Department Data from Budget Book
  5. Faculty Profile (number, tenure/tenure track vs. part-time, ethnicity)
  6. Faculty Teachings Loads and Assinged Time

D. Faculty Vitae

E. Updated Student Outcomes Assessment Plan

F. Other


Appendix C. Review Panel Nomination Form

Review Team Nomination Form (pdf)

Appendix D. Guidelines for Preparing the Review Panel Report(s)

Content and length of review panel’s report typically vary, depending on the nature and size of the program and on personal preferences of the reviewers. Consultants are welcome to comment on any aspect of the program that they consider important to program quality and future development. From an organizational standpoint, it is often useful to begin the report with an overall view of the program and to conclude with a summary and specific recommendations, where appropriate. Please consider whether or not the mission of the unit is clearly stated and whether the activities of the unit are consistent with the stated mission.

The best way to assist an academic unit is to make useful recommendations within the current budget. Thus, if a major initiative is needed, corresponding reductions should be suggested. In addition, it is helpful to suggest what the unit might be able to accomplish with a 3 to 5 percent increase in funds or what might best be eliminated with a 3 to 5 percent decrease in funds.

Outline for the Review panel’s Report

I.    Introductory section

II.  Comments and observations on strengths or weaknesses which need to be addressed in addition to conclusions presented in Self-Study Report.

  • Curriculum design and relevance to university mission
  • Program long-range plans
  • Admissions procedures
  • Classification and advancement procedures, if a graduate program review
  • Faculty quality, achievements, needs, commitment to program
  • Students' quality, achievements, needs
  • Assessment Activities
  • Research and/or professionally related activities
  • Facility adequacy, unique advantages, ancillary units
  • Resource utilization, planning, augmentation
  • Technology implementation and currency
  • Administrative commitment, support, leadership, and concerns for program
  • Service and community interaction
  • Other

III. Summary of Evaluation

  1. Is this program offered at an appropriate degree level? Please elaborate.
  2. Is the current program viable? Please elaborate.
  3. What are the attitudes of faculty, students, and administrators (and possibly alumni and employers) toward this program?
  4. Do resources which support this program ensure that students receive a degree program of quality? Explain.

IV. Recommendations

V.  Signature Page (see Appendix E)


Appendix E. Signature Page for External Consultants

Signature page for External Consultants (pdf)

All references to chair are meant as the department chair or program coordinator. Department heads in the library are not the equivalent to department chairs in instructional units.