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Report 81-31: The Commission's Role in the Review of Degree and Certificate Programs

Published by The California Postsecondary Education Commission

December 1981

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The emergence of state-level governing and coordinating boards as participants in the determination of higher education policies is a relatively recent phenomenon, a majority of these agencies having come into existence since 1960. (A notable exception, of course, is the New York Board of Regents, created in 1784.) Given the diverse history and present circumstances of collegiate education in the various states, it is not surprising that these state-level agencies are far from uniform in structure and function. Despite variations in function, however, almost all of them are involved in one way or another with the review of academic and occupational programs.

Approaches to program review are conditioned primarily by whether the agency is a regulatory body or merely an advisory body--whether, in other words, it has authority to approve or veto individual programs or only to recommend for or against them. The number of state-level agencies with regulatory powers in program review has grown dramatically since 1960 when only 19 governing and coordinating boards had such authority. As of 1978, state-level agencies in 39 states had approval or veto authority.

California, therefore, is among a shrinking minority of states in which the state-level coordinating agency remains advisory in matters relating to the review of new or existing degree programs. As usual, however, simple comparisons with practices in other states are difficult and often misleading because of special circumstances in California. Few states, for example, have a blueprint which delineates the functions of public colleges and universities as precisely as does the California Master Plan. No state is comparable to California in the size and scope of its public higher education enterprise. But perhaps most important, the three public segments of higher education in California each operate through a central administration which has program review responsibilities. In most other states, no similar level of administration separates all the public campuses from the statewide governing or coordinating board.

Recognizing these differences and aware that there were few, if any, precedents in other states to be guided by, the Coordinating Council for Higher Education in the late 1960s moved to formalize its involvement in program review by drawing up guidelines which identified goals for the review process and outlined procedures to be followed by the Council in its relationship with segmental offices. When finally adopted in March 1971, these guidelines provided for annual Council review of segmental academic plans and of programs outside the “core” which had not appeared in the academic plan for the previous two years or which required additional staff, equipment, or funds to initiate. (“Core” programs were those which segmental and Council staff agreed in advance were essential to the basic curriculum of a comprehensive campus.) The document did not specify what information academic plans or proposals should contain, nor what criteria were to be applied by the Council in its review, indicating that agreement on these and other essential details was to be reached between Council and segmental staff.

The bill establishing the California Postsecondary Education Commission (AR 770, Statutes of 1974) contained explicit references to a program review responsibility, making clear, however, that the Commission’s role was to “review and comment” on programs. An ad hoc committee of the new Commission, after hearing testimony from a wide range of sources, directed the staff to prepare a statement on guidelines and procedures that would incorporate elements of the existing review process which the committee deemed important.

The new guidelines, adopted by the Commission in 1975, borrowed from the Coordinating Council’s earlier document but shifted its emphasis from the review of individual program proposals to the review of long-range segmental plans that listed programs projected for two to five years hence. The document also established the Intersegmental Program Review Council and assigned it a central role in advising the Commission on all matters relating to program review. Finally, the 1975 guidelines called attention to the importance of campus and segmental review of existing programs and attempted to establish a framework for monitoring such reviews at the state level. Since that time, recognition has grown nationally that insuring rigorous review of existing programs is at least as vital a concern for state agencies as coordinating the growth of new programs. However, the proper role for state agencies, especially advisory bodies, in this activity has been especially difficult to define.

After five year’s experience with the 1975 guidelines, it seemed timely to reexamine their effectiveness and to review their appropriateness to the altered conditions of the l980s. The Commission therefore engaged Frank Bowen and Lyman Glenny to evaluate state-level program review practices in California. Their report, Quality and Accountability: An Evaluation of Statewide Program Review Procedures, presented to the Commission in April 1981, was based on extensive consultation with Commission staff and with administrators and faculty committees in all segments. Their recommendations tended to endorse the directions outlined in the 1975 guidelines: (a) they called for greater attention in the review process to State and segmental master plans, including institutional mission statements, and less attention to individual program proposals; (b) they encouraged continuing efforts to refine the review of existing programs; and (c) they recommended periodic intersegmental reviews of selected program areas. Their study provided an excellent context for Commission reconsideration of the 1975 guidelines and procedures. During mid-1981, several drafts of the revised guidelines were widely reviewed by representatives of the segments of California higher education. The present version was adopted at the December 1981 meeting of the Commission.

The goal of all the discussions and of the following document has been to contribute to a process that will insure, with economy of means, the greatest possible variety of quality higher education programs for Californians.

Related Topics: Program Review

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