Departmental External Reviews

Procedures for External Review of Academic Departments/Programs

The goal of our external review program at Colorado College is to continue to improve the quality of the academic program and to strengthen conditions for teaching and learning.

There are three phases to an external review: 1) Preparing for the review, 2) The visit of the external reviewers, 3) The follow-up after the visit.

Phase One: Preparing for the Review

Requests for external reviews may be initiated either by the Dean or by the department. Under current practice all departments and programs undergo a review every eight to ten years. It is wise to schedule reviews when all or nearly all department members are on campus. Faculty on sabbatical are expected to contribute to the materials sent to reviewers and to make themselves available to meet with the reviewers (this can be done by zoom). Faculty on sabbatical are not expected to attend all external review events or contribute to the hosting of the review team.

The department chair should contact the Dean's Office the year before the department wants the external review to occur to let the Dean know what the department is planning. The Dean and the department chair begin conversation about the goals for the review.

Preparation for an external review should begin well in advance, preferably a full year before the review visit. The department arranges for a special meeting, or series of meetings, and/or a retreat to discuss what they hope to get out of a review. At this point, the department should begin collecting the information and creating the materials it intends to provide for the reviewers. This process usually includes working with the Director of Assessment and Program Review, who can help departments think through their goals for the review and can assist with the collection of certain kinds of information.

Preparation for an external review entails a careful internal review of the department's program(s):

  • Goal Setting: What are the program's goals and its approach to teaching and learning? Where does the department want to be in five to ten years? Include the department's mission statement.
  • Implementation: : How does the program seek to achieve those goals (curriculum, sequencing of courses, teaching practices)? How does it evaluate whether it meets the goals?
  • Data Collection:The department should begin assembling evidence and collecting data. How are the goals and initiatives evaluated? How is the curriculum evaluated? How is student learning assessed? If sufficient data are not available, what data should be collected? The department should begin assembling evidence and collecting data.
  • Self-Study Conclusions:What is the department's own “pre-review” assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of its program(s), especially in regards to curriculum, sequencing of courses, teaching practices and scholarship?
  • Agenda for External Review:What general and specific issues or questions does the department wish the external reviewers to examine? What does the department hope to gain from the external review? How does the department compare to other departments at similar colleges? At this point, the department should identify the significant issues with respect to curriculum, major requirements, interdisciplinary commitments, personnel issues, philosophical disputes, future directions for the department, scholarship, and other issues it would like the external review to address. These issues will be covered in the summary essay at the beginning of the self-study documents and will be supported by a wide range of evidentiary appendices.

These items are to be shared with the Dean and the external reviewers. The Chair reviews the goals, materials, and schedule and timeline for the review and the review process. 


The chair assembles materials to be sent to external reviewers for their study prior to the formal visit. The Director of Assessment and Program Review has developed a document (contact that provides a wide range of suggestions for information to collect, including detailed suggestions for surveys (of current students, alums, faculty, and staff as desired), Banner data, and web benchmarking information on departments at peer or aspirant institutions, all of which the Director of Assessment and Program Review can support.

Information about the block plan and its impact on how teaching and learning occur also needs to be supplied to reviewers. 

We then choose external reviewers. The department will create a roster larger than the number actually needed in case someone cannot come. The composition of the team should be wide enough to cover the span of the department's offerings and outlooks. At least one member should be from a comparable liberal arts college. Some department may choose to include someone from a research university. 

Usually, there will be a team of three. The department consults with the Dean to choose the reviewers.

Occasionally a team of two is sufficient, occasionally four might be asked, depending on the size, complexity and particular needs of the department. The department chair issues invitations to reviewers after their approval by the Dean.

A date mutually agreeable to the Dean and department is set. Visits last two to three days, any day of the working week. Departments should try to schedule an in person exit interview between the team and the Dean prior to their departure, but this could also be accomplished with zoom soon after their departure.

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Phase Two: The Visit

The department creates a detailed schedule which includes meetings with the Dean of the Faculty, all regular members of the department faculty, and students from the department. Many departments also include meetings with the divisional executive committee, colleagues from cognate departments or programs, and others. Each member of the review team should visit a class for a sustained period of time (hour or more). 

While it is ideal for department members to meet in person with the team during the visit, on occasion (e.g., sabbatical, abroad courses), meetings could be conducted by zoom prior to or during the campus visit.

The Dean has an exit interview with the entire review team to find out their first reactions. This is often done in person on the final day of visit, but zoom will also work. Sometimes reviewers have specific questions arising from the visit. 

The reviewers are expected to provide a comprehensive written report in a timely fashion-no more than a month after the visit. Typically, the reviewers will consult with one another after their campus visit and will submit a joint report; occasionally, reviewers will submit separate reports. The report comes to the Dean and is then distributed to all members of the department.

The reviewers are offered $1,000 plus expenses (economy ticket, accommodation and meals). The Dean's Office pays for this. The total cost for a review averages $7,500. Departments should submit a budget to the Dean's Office before the visit.

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Phase Three: The Follow-up

A complete and candid written evaluation with constructive recommendations for improvements is required of each review team. Once the written report is received, the Dean discusses the report with the department.

The department may wish to hold a second retreat or on-campus meeting to 'debrief' and plan for the future after the external review has been completed. The department should produce a written response to the report; this response may form the basis for the development of a departmental plan for the future.

The department and the Dean discuss the recommendations in the report, and plan a course of action in light of them. How often meetings between the Dean and the department occur will depend on how much agreement or disagreement there may be among all concerned about what to do. Sometimes recommendations involve both short and long term plans. 

Overall, a department must assume that this process can take the better part of a year and a half from start to finish. There is much more to a successful review than the actual visit by the reviewers. A significant proportion of the success of the review depends BOTH on the quality of the preparation for the visit and the dialogue among colleagues that takes place after the visit.

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Report an issue - Last updated: 08/29/2023