Assessing Academic Programs


Since the first technical communication degree was established at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1958, the number of degrees and programs has grown to several hundred. The majority of programs are in North America, but growth is steady in Europe and beginning around the world.

Colleges and universities offer a wide range of programs including certificates (credit or noncredit, undergraduate or graduate), bachelor’s degrees (BA, BS), master’s degrees (MA, MS), and doctoral degrees (Ph.D. and others).

Assessing Academic Programs

Degree-granting programs can be evaluated by potential students, stakeholders, and employers in the following ways:

  • looking at the scope and purpose of instructional requirements
  • evaluating student learning outcomes stated by the program
  • evaluating the success of program graduates

See also: Program Assessment Bibliography

Scope and Purpose of Instructional Requirements

The following list includes questions to ask:

  • What is the title of the degree program (for example, Professional Writing, Technical Communication, Scientific and Technical Writing)?
  • What is the educational program mission (for example, what does the institution say the degree prepares the graduates to know and to do)?
  • What general education requirements support the major program (for example, if the degree title includes the words “technical” or “scientific,” do relevant courses include requirements?)?
  • How comprehensive are the major requirements?
  • Is the focus primarily upon writing? Are there courses in such categories as visual communication, usability, instructional design, multimedia, international communication, etc.?

Evaluating Student Outcomes

If you have access to course syllabi, evaluate whether learning outcomes focus primarily upon knowing, or whether they also include application (doing).

  • Will graduates develop portfolios or collections of hands-on projects, in addition to academic knowledge evaluations such as tests and discussions?
  • Do the course requirements appear to support the claims of the mission or purpose statements?

Evaluating Success of Graduates

Most programs should have some data about the success of their graduates. There may be testimonials on Web pages, or statistical summaries of how many are employed, where, and in what job roles.

Understanding Core Competencies

Every profession has a set of core competencies expected of those who practice in the discipline. Because technical communication is a relatively new academic discipline, these competencies are being developed and defined rapidly. There are certain key competencies, however, that most academic programs should address.

STC Academic Programs Database

The most complete listing is available at the Society for Technical Communication’s Academic Database. Each institution offering a program of study can list all degree and certificate programs under one institutional record, and users can search these listings by program, location, and/or course delivery.