10 Cohort Report

Upcycling External Program Review Data to Strengthen Institutional Planning

We believe that reporting findings from academic program reviews to the university community demonstrates the institution’s public commitment to improving program outcomes through transparent and evidenced-based decision-making.

While program reviews have utility at the program and departmental level, we also see the potential for program reviews to have significant impact at the institutional level; however, sufficient evidence for institutional change “requires accumulation of reviews” (Conrad & Wilson, 1985, p. 77).

During our time managing program review we saw great value in the data being collected and, given the richness and breadth of data available, we noticed an opportunity to link program review data to educational planning at the institutional level by creating an aggregate report summarizing themes from the departments participating in the Program Review Course that reflects both an internal and external lens. By strengthening the linkage between program reviews and educational planning, we aim to address Sauve’s (2024) call for both meaningful and manageable program review practices. We provide a detailed methodology for analyzing external program reviews to inform educational planning in a recent publication in the Journal of Educational Planning (Hoare et al., 2024).

We also see value in conducting a qualitative and quantitative meta-analysis or meta-synthesis of the Cohort Reports once every five to seven years. At that point in time, institutions may be able to pull data from upwards of 40 program reviews, thus offering significant opportunities to illuminate patterns and trends across the institution.

Internal data used to inform institutional planning

  • A thematic analysis of the cohort’s SOAR results aims to illuminate common strengths, opportunities, and barriers for academic planning and program improvement.
  • Common core questions from student and faculty surveys provide information about the learning environment, adequacy and accessibility of student support services, student achievement of program learning outcomes, and program strengths and opportunities, just to name a few.


External data used to inform institutional planning

  • A thematic analysis of the cohort’s external reviewer recommendations and commendations offers a comparative review and perspective from disciplinary experts external to the university.
  • Common core questions from alumni and employer surveys provide information about program relevancy to societal, economic, and industry needs; students’ academic preparedness for further studies; and program strengths and opportunities, just to name a few.

We believe that the Cohort Report provides a comprehensive assessment and recommendations for academic planning that spans disciplinary boundaries and may offer a solution to Coombs’ (2017) call for direct linkages between program reviews and institutional strategic planning. A benefit of sharing aggregate findings is the potential to identify needs for faculty learning and development programming offered through the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching; similarly, findings may inform improvements to academic advising, student support services; and illuminate systemic barriers to student success.


Conrad, C. F. & Wilson, R. F. (1985). Academic program review. Institutional approaches, expectations, and controversies. Association for the Study of Higher Education. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED264806   

Coombs, V. (2017, February 7). Institutions should link program reviews to strategic plans. Inside Higher Education. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/call-action-marketing-and-communications-higher-education/institutions-should-link-program  

Hoare, A., Wagner, S., & Dishke Hondzel, C. (2024, accepted Spring Issue). Description of an approach for analyzing external program reviews to inform educational planning. Educational Planning Journal, 31(2), 39-50. https://isep.info/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/Vol-31-No-2-Web-Version.pdf

Sauve, C. (2024). Exploring faculty members’ experience of program review. [Master’s thesis]. Thompson Rivers University. https://tru.arcabc.ca/islandora/search/sauve?type=dismax


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Program Review Handbook Copyright © by Alana Hoare; Catharine Dishke Hondzel; and Shannon Wagner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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