The Match Game: Aligning Program Learning Objectives with a University Wide Assessment Strategy

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

How do individual programs align with larger university goals?  This panel will outline how an online leadership program achieved such alignment in the face of impending accreditation.  Specifically, the panel will discuss how individual course assessments provide insight as to how the program is helping the university meet institutional-level goals.


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Extended Abstract

Program assessment is critical to the success of any academic program.  A sound assessment process serves as the foundation for program management and evaluation.  At a basic level, such assessment can be used to understand how well the program is meeting its stated objectives.  Additionally it allows for examination of such factors as program strengths and weaknesses, student needs, faculty needs, course performance, and benchmarking comparisons with other programs (internal and external).

While program assessment is a cornerstone of any successful program, that alone is not enough to guarantee student success or that the larger mission of the university is fulfilled.  Alignment of program objectives with the overarching goals of the institution are critical to ensuring that a program produces the type of students that higher education institutions aim to develop.

In this session we will use the development of an online graduate program as a frame of reference regarding the alignment of program specific objectives with the overall institution’s goals. As part of that discussion, we will briefly discuss the external impetus for the alignment of the institutional goals and program objectives; a Middle States accreditation review and recommendations.  The result of the Middle States review was direction to standardize reporting of graduate program objectives and outcomes.  At the institutional level, an Office for Planning and Assessment was created to help establish the policies and procedures for creating aligned program learning outcomes across the Graduate School.

The panelists are involved with an online graduate program that was mandated by the institution to enact five specific criteria for graduate education (like all other graduate programs at the institution). Several of the presenters are administrators for the program and attended trainings provided by the office of planning and assessment as they were responsible for crafting program objectives as well as operationalizing and measuring those objectives for a report back to the institution. Other presenters are faculty in the program who will be speaking to the influence on their teaching and student learning in the program.  The graduate program, while relatively new, was proposed and the curriculum started before the new assessment alignment procedure. So, many of the courses created for the program were created prior to the new guidance and were aligned with the older assessment procedure, which was much more program specific as opposed to institution-wide.

    This session will be run through addressing several broad questions about developing and aligning program objectives with institutional level goals. After the brief presentation of the context of accreditation and the graduate program itself as an frame of reference, the presenters will address the questions such as the ones below through a dialogue with audience members:


  • How do you create your program’s objectives?

    • Program criteria for successful students

    • Institutional criteria for successful students

  • How can you as a program influence the new process?

    • What conversations do you need to have and with whom?

  • How do you retrofit a new process to existing parts of the program?

    • Avoiding creating “checkboxes” to meet the institution’s request

  • How can a program align its objectives with the institution’s criteria?

  • Being flexible yet rigorous

  • What are some of the the challenges you can expect associated with having to retroactively create program objectives in light of new institutional level goals?

    • Standardization of program assessment

    • Institutional goal criteria in new language

  • How do you assess program objectives?

    • Student level; e.g. is performance on assignments enough?

    • Course and instructor level; e.g. are the pedagogy and instruction aimed at course objectives?

    • Program level; e.g. are courses and instruction aimed at program objectives?

    • University level; eg. are programs producing students that meet institutional goals?

  • What are the implications of this process at different levels?

    • Institutional; e.g., easier to assess programs and report out

    • College; e.g., compare programs easier; simplifies goals so easier to enact

    • Program; e.g. easier to assess whether achieving desired goals

    • Faculty; e.g. easier to assess whether teaching meets goals of program and University

    • Students; e.g., improves learning toward program goals

At the end of the session attendees will walk away with an understanding of the below outcomes through the aforementioned presentation and dialogue:

  • Discuss the purpose and value of aligned institution program assessment (program level to institution level).

  • Discuss the how’s, why’s and value of program assessment as it relates to student learning and engagement.

  • Provide practical advice on how individual programs can create impactful program learning objectives.