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Important Indicators for Assessing Graduate Programs

Student Learning OutcomesTo what extent did students learn what faculty wanted them to learn?

Graduate programs typically require a range of assessments that measure learning outcomes prompting students to demonstrate their mastery of subject matter, quality of thought, dispositions toward clients and colleagues, etc. These measurement points can be course-based and/or centered in a thesis or culminating project, as appropriate to the learning outcomes. Measures should be linked directly to stated outcomes goals and objectives (e.g. students will be able to...) in order to identify students' strengths and weaknesses and provide useful information for program improvement. Course grades in general, and especially in graduate courses, do not typically provide a level of information that can be used to make such improvements.

Graduate Rates/Ratio

At what rate did the students who entered the program complete it? Calculated as the percentage of students entering the program in a given academic year who complete the program within five years (for master's programs). For smaller programs, it will likely make sense to track 3-year moving averages for degree completions.

Time to Degree

How long did it take students to complete the program? Calculated for degree completers only as the time from entry into the program until degree completion. Some universities will track time to degree from first entry into any graduate program; this is the statistic tracked in the Survey of Earned Doctorates.

Scores or Pass Rates on Professional or Licensure Exams

How do the program's student compare to those at other institutions? Such data are most useful when scores (raw or scaled) can be obtained for students in the graduate program and compared to national benchmarks or more specific comparison groups. Pass rates can provide an indicator of quality, although often do not helpfully indicate where energy should be best directed to improve the program.

Job Placement

Where do program graduates find employment and to what extent were they prepared for these positions? There is little consistency in how job placement is tracked across higher education. Most programs use this data as a marketing tool rather than an assessment tool. There are ways to improve the usefulness of this type of information, but the study but be thoughtfully designed with significant faculty participation. Some national accreditors have guidelines about collecting these data.

Alumni Satisfaction

What do program graduates think about the program? These data can be hard to collect systematically; nevertheless, they typically provide some insight into what the most satisfied graduates of the program thought. Some of these testimonies can be useful in promoting the program, although they can at times provide some insight into broad areas that may need improvement. Some national accreditors have guidelines about collecting these data.