Strategic Program Assessment

Schedule: Click on this spreadsheet to see when each graduate program will go through SPA. These timings were initially set by each college’s Graduate Assistant/Associate Dean (GAAD).

Current documents: Click on this link to access our Sharepoint site with key documents for this year’s SPA process.


Strategic Program Assessment (SPA) is MSU’s process for reviewing graduate programs, including graduate certificates. Previously graduate programs were reviewed as part of a comprehensive departmental review process. While this comprehensive review process has some advantages such as considering the overall resources and commitments of a department, the graduate programs were often overlooked. Separately, programs had to define and assess student learning outcomes for their graduate programs. In Fall 2020, we piloted the new SPA process where we review graduate programs on their own incorporating the student learning outcomes process as a key component of SPA and officially launched SPA in Fall 2021.

Chart showing Previously there was Comprehensive Department Review which grouped Research, Undergraduate Programs, Graduate Programs, and Outreach together. Now we have Strategic Program Assessment which just contains the Graduate Program.

While program review is important and required for MSU’s accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission, this is not the primary purpose for SPA. Instead, the primary purpose is to ensure all units engage in a regular, ideally continuous, reflective improvement process with their graduate programs. Stated another way, running a graduate program takes a lot of effort where you are constantly dealing with the pressing issues of the day. Engaging in the SPA process gives units a chance to take a step back and think broadly about its programs, where they are working, and where they can be improved.

Diagram showing Input Resources of Data & Materials from Grad School, IR, Colleges, & Programs; Self Assessment Questions from Grad School; and Interaction from Grad School & Colleges. Outcomes from this Self-Study are Data-driven, Values-centered, Co-responsive Strategic Plan Alignment for everyone.

The key audience for SPA is the home department and college because we know the actual work to implement any recommendations from the self-study will be carried out in these units. The Graduate School will conduct a high-level review and provide feedback, and we will also use this process to identify trends across campus and identify potential areas where we need to provide more guidance and support through mechanisms such as adopting MSU wide policies or through our Graduate Handbook update process. Importantly, the Graduate School will not use SPA to decide which programs are terminated or which programs get resources.

In closing, we recognize that going through SPA and completing your self-study will require work. However, we have attempted to make SPA a useful tool where you get a useful result. Anecdotally, those who put in the most effort and engage the unit broadly get the most out of this process.


Each graduate program is scheduled to go through SPA on a regular basis, typically every 7 years. Some programs might go through this more frequently to align with an external accreditation process that has a shorter cycle. Refer to this spreadsheet to see when any program will go through SPA. These timings were initially set by each College’s Graduate Assistant/Associate Dean (GAAD).


Prior Spring

Prior Summer

Fall of SPA Year

Spring of SPA Year

Summer of SPA Year

Confirm program lineup

Initial communication


Data packets generated

August kickoff meeting


Decide college deadline


Grad School SPA workshops


December progress reports due

January SPA check ins


Grad School SPA co-working sessions


GAADs and Chairs submit their commentaries


Full SPA reports due mid-May

Grad School review


Grad School meetings with GAADs


GAAD meetings with programs

Spring semester of the prior academic year:

  • College GAADs confirm which of their programs will go through SPA in the next academic year. A schedule has been established, but some variation might arise due to extenuating circumstances.

Summer Semester of the prior academic year

  • The Graduate School will send initial communications to the Chair, Graduate Program Director (GPD) and GAAD for each program going through SPA; if possible, these will go out in spring semester.
  • The GAADs will fill out a form confirming some basic information and expectations for each program going through SPA. This information will be shared with the GPD and the Graduate School.
  • The Graduate School will create a Teams site to house all the relevant SPA information. You will be added to this Teams site.
  • The Graduate School, in collaboration with Institutional Research, will generate data packets that will be given to each program. This data will include admissions, enrollment, graduation, and time to completion data. When available, we will also include student survey and placement data.

Fall semester

  • In August, the Graduate School will host a virtual kickoff meeting that will be recorded providing basic instructions and advice to all programs going through SPA. The recording will be made available on the Teams site.
  • GAADs and GPDs should decide on the internal deadline by which self-study reports should be submitted to the GAAD so that the GAAD can complete their review and submit their commentary to the Grad School and the program.
  • The Graduate School will host monthly, virtual SPA workshops where we facilitate a discussion on various topics such as how to engage your department, interpreting the data we provide, and resources for health and wellbeing for your graduate student. Recordings of the workshops will be made available on the Teams site.
  • In December, programs will submit a progress report.

Spring semester

  • In January, the Graduate School will meet with each GPD to discuss the progress report and address any outstanding issues.
  • From February through April, the Graduate School will host optional co-working sessions.
  • Programs will submit their self-study reports to their GAADs by their agreed upon internal deadline.
  • GAADs will submit their feedback to the Graduate School and program using the appropriate form.
  • Chairs will submit their acknowledging that they have read and endorse the self-study report and the looking forward priorities.
  • GPDs will submit the final package to the Graduate School including the GAAD and chair forms.

Summer semester

  • The Graduate School will complete a high-level review of all the submitted self-study reports looking for trends, opportunities, and concerns across campus.
  • The Graduate School will meet with GAADs to discuss each program that went through SPA from the given college in the year.

The GAADs will then schedule meetings with the program to convey the feedback from the Graduate School; this might take place in the following fall semester depending on availability of all personnel.