How Do We Convince Administrators that Program Assessment is Worth the Effort?

Archie Holmes
University of Virginia-Main Campus
Archie Holmes, University of Virginia
published Dec 5, 2017 12:00pm

In November ASCN Working Group 4: Demonstrating Impact leaders selected a question submitted by the registrants for the ASCN Webinar titled "Launching and Leading Change in STEM Education" - Effective program assessment is hard. How do we convince administrators that it is worth the effort? We thought this question would be of interest to the larger higher education community and asked members of working group 4 to respond to this question.

Share below in the comment section how you are addressing this question at your institution, or to engage in a discussion. In addition, if there are any questions you would like us to address in the coming months, please share them here or email them to Inese, the ASCN Project Manager.

Effective program assessment is hard. How do we convince administrators that it is worth the effort?

Pamela Brown

Pamela Brown
CUNY New York City College of Technology
Maintaining accreditation is a powerful motivator for administrators! Accrediting agencies typically require a cycle of assessment of general education, course and programmatic learning outcomes.

My campus is part of the City University of New York (CUNY). Within CUNY there is a requirement that all degree programs that are not externally accredited undergo a program review at least once every 10 years (, p.82). The program review process involves preparation of a self-study, a site visit, review by an external evaluator, and preparation of a strategic plan after review of all materials. In this case, a requirement of the system-wide Board of Trustees is the motivator for administrators to support the program assessment effort.

In my experience, the program review is most effective if:
  1. The entire department, Dean, and other appropriate constituents are charged with the task and a reasonable timeline is developed
  2. Clear guidelines are provided on the purpose of the program review, the type of information to be provided and evaluated in the self-study, and the potential value to the department of recommendations in the strategic plan.
  3. Recommendations and validation by an external evaluator can provide a strong rationale for the allocation of additional resources.
  4. The dean follows up to assure that goals in the strategic plan are included in annual goals and targets.

The motivation for departmental administration to support program assessment is the opportunity to document the need for resources that intuitively they already felt were needed. Discovering challenges such as low enrollment, retention and graduation rates of underrepresented groups may inspire those within the department to tackle uncovered problems, and can lead to the evidence needed to obtain grant funding. Motivation for the dean is of course seeing that the resources used in the program review have long-term value.

Archie Holmes

Archie Holmes
University of Virginia-Main Campus
Since I am an administrator at my institution, I will answer it from that perspective. To provide you with some background, the relevant roles I play as an administrator are overseeing academic accreditation and compliance, and external program review.

Making a case for program assessment with regard to academic accreditation and compliance is fairly easy and straightforward. Institutions need to maintain accreditation for a wide variety of reasons. Without federal accreditation, we could lose access to important federal sources of funding, without which it would be impossible for our institution to operate. With regard to academic compliance, as a public institution we can only operate programs approved by our state board. The state board requires assessment plans; this argument is also not that hard to make.

Making the case for external program review can be a little more challenging. My experience is that it is not hard at the senior administration level (i.e., president and provost). The challenge comes more at the dean/associate dean level, (and to some extent, the department level since that is where the work is done.

At our institution, we use a RCM (responsibility centered budgeting model) where revenues flow to where the activities are being done, and those units are also responsible for covering their costs. From the dean's perspective, as long as the revenue is there (e.g., students are still taking classes which means tuitions flows), what is the incentive for doing effective program assessment? Where we have started to have traction is in the area of additional investment. For us, it is making the case that evidence needs to be provided in order to get additional funding above what current revenue would provide; this requires an appropriate data driven assessment plan. More information about this can be found at

The bigger challenge is at the department level. In our implementation of RCM, revenues flow to the school and not the department. So how do we convince the department to put in the effort? I have assembled a faculty committee (consisting of former and current department chairs as well as other faculty members) to help advise us on working with departments. What we plan moving forward is this:
  • Making the self-study useful in the normal decision-making processes of the department.
  • "Nudging" departments to consider reallocation of resources as well as additional resources.
  • Closing the loop with the dean/provost on next steps.

Suggested Citation:

Holmes, A., and Brown, P. (2017, December 5). How Do We Convince Administrators that Program Assessment is Worth the Effort?. Retrieved from

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