academic program review

Academic Program Review

Overview of APR

Academic Program Review is a multi-year process in which an academic unit identifies the mission, goals, and learning outcomes of its degree programs. The unit, with help from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning, uses a variety of data sources to measure whether program goals and learning outcomes are being achieved. These results are used to create action plans for the ultimate purpose of improving student learning and student success. At the end of the process, the unit submits an APR report, which is reviewed by an external review team as well as OIEP and Provost staff.

The Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning requires most units to submit an Academic Program Review report every seven years. Time between reports should be spent making the recommended improvements or changes. Programs are also encouraged to routinely discuss the educational goals of the program and the program’s learning outcomes and curriculum map during the years between APR reporting.

Benefits of APR

APR can be a very rewarding process. It not only identifies areas in which a program can be improved, it illuminates successes as well. Many of the activities involved in APR, such as delineating student learning outcomes and creating a curriculum map, can enhance communication and collaboration among faculty within a program. These activities clarify how each course and educational activity offered by the program contributes to the program’s learning outcomes and educational goals.

Institutionally, APR and related assessment practices are important for accreditation purposes. Regional and state accreditation agencies review APR data to ensure that Mason students are meeting their degree program’s student learning outcomes.

APR External Review Process

In 2019, Mason piloted a revised Academic Program Review process that, among other modifications, replaced Mason peer reviewers with external review teams.  Given overwhelmingly positive feedback from all stakeholders, the improvements were implemented for all programs beginning the APR review process starting Fall 2021.  All APR self-studies going forward will be reviewed by external review teams of 2-4 disciplinary faculty from departmental peer or aspirant institutions.


APR is an 18-month process allowing for training, comprehensive assessment within the unit, self-study preparation, external review team member identification, site visit and extensive engagement with leadership including department chairs, school/college deans, the provost and other administrative personnel including the associate provosts for both undergraduate and graduate education.

Selection of external review team members should be identified and confirmed early in the spring term following the initiation of the process, e.g. for units who start APR in Fall 20XX, selection of external review team members should be completed in Spring 20XX+1 with the culminating visit scheduled to happen in Spring 20XX+2.

  • Prior to extending an invitation to serve on the external review team, units must seek approval of their selected team members from the dean of their school/college.
  • Once approval is received, the unit will send a formal invitation and list of responsibilities to each external review team member.
  • External review team members will receive the self-study from the unit in January 20XX+2.
  • During the site visit in spring 20XX+2 (either virtual or on-site), external review team members will meet with faculty, staff, and administrators, students currently enrolled in the unit’s programs, alumni, academic leadership, and representatives from OIEP.
  • Within 3 weeks of the visit, the external review team members will complete a final report and submit it to OIEP, the unit, and the appropriate dean.
  • The unit will have 2 weeks to respond to the external team report prior to a final meeting with the dean, academic leadership, and OIEP.
  • The final meeting will ensure the unit and dean are in agreement on the unit goals and actions plans outlined for the next seven years

Conflict of Interest Policy

Mason relies on the professional integrity of those serving as external evaluators for Academic Program Review, as well as the academic units inviting potential evaluators.  Sensitivity to potential conflicts of interest must be addressed to ensure evaluators can serve objectively. As a result, the following guidelines are provided to negate potential conflicts of interest   Persons who fall into any of the following categories should NOT participate at external reviewers.

  • Former Mason employees 
  • Mason graduates 
  • Anyone who has been a candidate for employment at Mason within the last 10 years 
  • Anyone who served as a consultant for Mason or the academic unit within the last 10 years 
  • Former or current advisory board members to the academic unit at Mason 
  • Anyone with an active professional partnership (e.g., co-authors, co-presenters) with a member(s) of the academic unit being reviewed 
  • Anyone with close personal or familial relationships with a member(s) of the academic unit being reviewed 
  • Anyone having any other relationship that could serve to jeopardize objectivity regarding the evaluation of the academic unit being reviewed 

Academic units should consult with their school/college dean’s office and/or OIEP regarding potential conflicts of interest for all potential external evaluators. School/college leadership reserves the final responsibility for determining the suitability of external evaluators for Academic Program Review. 

If you have questions about Academic Program Review, please contact the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning at or 703-993-8834.