Standard 4. The Academic Program - Appraisal
Stonehill has just completed its first cycle of academic program review, and it is working well. Sporadic attempts at program review in the 1990s were highly decentralized and less consistent than the program we now have in place. In addition, our academic governance changed significantly since the last self-study, with the addition of a number of supporting roles below the level of the Chief Academic Officer. The Dean of the Faculty offers greater assistance to faculty chairs and greater procedural oversight of the program review process than was previously available. And the Director of General Education continually monitors the Cornerstone Program to propose improvements and to ensure that we meet the mission of the programs and avoid "curricular drift." In addition, the Faculty Senate created a Curriculum Committee to review all major changes to departmental curricula.
In general, this system of program "ownership" works reasonably well. Several programs (Chemistry, Education, Healthcare Administration, and Business Administration) use external program accreditation standards to further ensure that they meet best practices. Academic administration participates in all program reviews to ensure reasonable consistency in quality among the programs, and the academic administration uses program reviews to generate budget requests for program improvements. Funds are set aside for improvements, but such funds allow primarily for incremental improvements rather than for dramatic program changes or extraordinary enhancements. Departments have, for example, argued successfully for new or renovated facilities (a language lab, theatre enhancements,) or for equipment (an NMR, a DNA sequencer, a portable dance floor, musical instruments) or for new personnel.
We had originally envisioned program review on a 5-year cycle, but having completed the first full cycle for all programs, it seems clear that this would be onerous for departments and would hardly leave time to implement changes before the next self-study would be due. Thus, we have decided on a 7-year program review cycle. Program evaluation follows the program review process. This review includes a self-study by the department followed by a visit from external evaluators who undertake a rigorous review of departmental needs, goals, and accomplishments.
Looking forward, we will not seek to add graduate programs, and changes to the undergraduate program will involve strengthening existing programs, seeking synergies across disciplinary boundaries and possibly developing programs that build on current strengths. Additions and deletions of programs are always measured against institutional mission and capacity and the extent to which our resources-both human and financial-can support the new endeavor. In some cases (such as the recent elimination of the MSA program), removing a program strengthens the college-both within the individual program and in overall college mission. Eliminating the MSA program allowed Stonehill to reallocate resources back to the undergraduate accounting program and to reinforce our identity as a baccalaureate college.
Stonehill's international programs are almost all hosted by third-party providers. Thus, another institution has vetted the program for quality. We do further assessment of the provider's curriculum through a review of course syllabi and through site visits, where our own faculty observe the programs and ask questions of the faculty teaching in it. Our Office of Academic Services evaluates all courses for transfer credit, and students receive credits but not grades for courses abroad. We are currently reviewing these arrangements and developing future plans for enriching our international program opportunities.
Overall, assessment of student learning still needs development at Stonehill. Some opportunities for developing more robust learning assessment will come with the implementation of the credit model. The implementation plan recognizes the need for rigorous assessment at all levels. The results of this assessment will inform future decisions of Departments and the Curriculum Committee. The specific credit-model implementation plan involves a series of assessment reports. The Departments will submit to the Curriculum Committee a report on all new courses or courses with altered credit values after such courses have been offered for the second time. This report will include information from student course evaluations including data about student time‐on‐task, relative difficulty of the course, and, in the case of courses with an experiential component, integration of this component with the rest of the course.
As part of its ongoing oversight of the curriculum, the Curriculum Committee will review these Departmental reports. Special attention will be given to courses not matching existing templates. The Curriculum Committee will prepare an assessment report for the Faculty Senate and the Provost after the first two years of implementation of this plan. This report will address the impact of the credit model on a number of issues including: student schedules, academic achievement, faculty and student workloads, curricular flexibility, percentage of courses taught as 1-, 2-, 3-, or 4-credit courses, major requirements and Cornerstone requirements. The Faculty Senate and the Provost may identify other issues to be addressed in this report.
The Provost will review the assessment reports and recommendations of the faculty members, Academic Departments, Curriculum Committee and Faculty Senate on an annual basis and will report the findings to the President and the Board of Trustees. The Provost and Dean of Faculty will review and confirm the learning outcomes identified in the course design and implementation process.