By Justin Wier
Youngstown State University is set to undergo its first comprehensive program review process in more than a decade.
In a process laid out by a committee that met over the summer, programs will submit self-evaluations to their respective colleges by Jan. 15. The evaluations will undergo an internal review at the college level by Feb. 15. An external review will be conducted at the university level by seven committees consisting of six faculty members each. Then, the results will be evaluated by an Academic Senate committee and presented to the provost in May.
Provost Martin Abraham said the process has to be faculty driven in order to succeed.
“Nobody knows the program better than them,” Abraham said. “They’re going to find the places they can do better. They’re going to identify the solutions. They’re going to implement the solutions. They’re going to do the assessment to determine that those solutions are effective.”
He said the function of the administration is only to make sure the process continues.
The university comprises more than 100 programs. In the first year, about 20 percent of the programs will undergo a full program review. The rest will undergo what Abraham is calling an abbreviated review process.
“The timeline is the same for everybody, but the level of information within the process is going to be different, with 20 percent doing the full blown process and the rest of them doing only touching on a couple of those items,” Abraham said.
This is due to concerns that having each program go through the entire process could overwhelm the review committees and limit the effectiveness of the procedure.
Kevin Ball, associate provost for academic programs and planning, said the committee also recognized that certain programs could take a few years to get themselves up to speed.
“If there’s a particular kind of data that you’re gathering, it’s hard to just say we’ll do that and we’ll have meaningful results in a month,” Ball said.
Ball said the deans will play a major role in determining which programs are ready to undergo the full process this year and which programs may need to wait a year or two.
“We thought that was appropriate in that the deans and the colleges best know those programs and where they’re at,” Ball said.
Abraham said there will be a five-year cycle with 20 percent of the programs undergoing the full review each year. He said after programs undergo the full review, they will identify places where they can do better and take steps to correct them in the intervening years.
He said at his previous institution they identified a course that students took during their junior year that many struggled with. The faculty determined that students were expected to remember how to use a software package that was taught during the first semester freshman year, and not used again until second semester junior year. They decided to incorporate the package into all the classes, and a few years later they found that students weren’t struggling with that particular course anymore.
“This is what program review is intended to do,” Abraham said.
Abraham said regular program review is standard practice at other universities, and we should have been doing it all along.
“We’ve never done program review in my time at YSU,” Abraham said. “That’s a problem.”
Ball shared this opinion.
“It’s what effective programs and effective universities do, so we need to be doing that,” Ball said.
He said program review is also a critical component of the accreditation process.
“One of the requirements for reaccreditation is that the programs at the university participate in a regular system of program review,” Ball said. “So not only is program review best practice — and that’s why we need to be doing it, because it is best practice — but the added impetus is that the Higher Learning Commission is going to be looking [to see] that we have something in place.”
The University was prepared to conduct a program review in 2007, but Provost Robert Herbert passed away and the plans were put on hold.
Ball said the lack of a permanent provost and turnover in the administration is part of why program review hasn’t happened in the intervening eight years.
“I think a lot of that uncertainty meant that a lot of attention went in other directions,” Ball said. “It’s only been over the last couple years when things have settled down a little bit that we’ve gotten back on track.”