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Program Goals and Competencies


A program goal is a general statement about the expected learning outcome of students completing a program. A competency is a more specific statement of expected learning outcome that is measurable. Each program at the college should have well-defined goals and student competencies that make an effective assessment program possible.

There are dozens of programs at the college, each with its own set of program goals and student competencies. It would be difficult to list all of the goals and competencies from every program at the college because a healthy assessment program should lead to changes; therefore, goals and competencies should be continually reviewed and revised.


Writing Goal and Competency Statements

Goal statements should be relatively broad descriptions of long-range outcomes related to student learning. Well-written goal statements will function as a driving force for decision making within the program, including the development of more specific learning outcomes for students. Programs usually have four or five goals for student learning, but the actual number depends upon the nature of the program.

The process of constructing student learning goals is relatively simple, including these important steps:

  1. Review college mission and goals
    • How does the program help the college to fulfill its mission?
    • How is the college mission statement embodied by the program goals?
    • Review applicable professional standards for the program
      • What are the expectations for graduates in this field?
      • What are the expectations of accrediting bodies (e.g., Nursing, Physical Therapy Assistant)?
      • Collect input from faculty members teaching in the program
        • What should students know by the end of their program?
        • What should students be able to do by the end of their program?
        • What characteristics exemplify an ideal graduate of the program?
        • Review drafted goals with constituent groups
          • What do advisory committees think about the goals?
          • What do students think about the goals?
          • What do employers or transfer institutions think about the goals?
          • Submit proposed goals to the Academic Affairs and Standards Council
            • Are the goals appropriate to the College Mission?
            • Were the goals developed in an inclusive process?

            Table 3—Examples of Goal Statements

            Goal Statements Comments Possible Revisions

            Students should be able to use appropriate formatting for business communications.

            The outcome is fairly narrow.

            Students should be able to demonstrate effective business communication skills.

            Students should know how to think critically and should be able to exercise civic responsibility.

            The statement seems to reflect two distinct goal areas.

            Students should know how to think critically.

            Students should be able to exercise civic responsibility.

            Once goals for student learning are developed, the program can turn its attention to writing student competency statements. A competency is a specific, measurable student learning outcome. An ideal competency statement will identify one specific ability or skill that can be measured in a fairly straightforward way. The number of competencies will depend upon the number of skills and abilities that need to be measured in order to assess the overall goal area. Collectively, the competency statements should provide comprehensive coverage of the associated program goal.

            Competency statements will help to direct the actual assessment that takes place within a program. If a competency statement is important enough to state, it should be important enough to assess. Good competency statements would have the following characteristics:

            • Straightforward
            • Specific
            • Measurable
            • Realistic

            Table 4—Examples of Competency Statements

            Competency Statement Comments Possible Revision
            Students should be knowledgeable about history. The outcome is too broad and will be difficult to assess. Students will be able to use historical examples to propose solutions to modern problems.
            Students should be able to communicate effectively in writing and in oral presentations. The statement is describing two distinct outcomes which should be stated and assessed separately.

            Students should be able to write effective papers

            Students should be able to deliver effective oral presentations.

            Students should be able to use the concatenate function in Microsoft Excel 2003. The outcome is too narrowly defined. This might be an outcome for a particular section of a course, but a program outcome should be more broadly stated. Students should be able to use software tools effectively to manage business information.

            Next Topic: Competency Maps