Revising or creating program educational goals module 1: Understanding the context

Part of a series of modules supporting UD faculty who are revising or developing program educational goals.

Module goals

After successfully completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Understand and explain the institutional context for program educational goal (PEG) development, collection, approval, and publication
  • Begin collecting necessary and helpful resources
  • Determine how to begin revising or developing PEGs for your academic program(s)
  • Develop and implement a plan to collect resources and materials to inform this process e.g., academic catalog program description, accreditation standards, examples of PEGs from other institutions, scholarly materials

Steps and recommended actions

1. Review the background and context for the collection and publication of program educational goals (PEGs) in the UD academic catalog

Recommended action: Ensure you are clear on the institutional context and expectations for program educational goals at UD.

Each degree-granting academic program has a unique curriculum and corresponding set of program educational goals. These goals are defined and assessed by the faculty in each program. In 2019, as we began working on what would become our 2021 Middle States Self-Study, we realized that these goals and assessments are not being systematically documented across the university. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education specifically requires that accredited institutions have “clearly stated educational goals at the institution and degree/program levels, which are interrelated with one another, with relevant educational experiences, and with the institution’s mission” (Standard V – Educational Effectiveness Assessment, criterion 1).

To help the university figure out a reasonable and responsible way to better comply with this standard – these goals do exist but they are not available in any one centralized or consistent location – the Provost charged a Task Force on Learning Goals & Assessment to examine these issues and make recommendations. The task force published a final report in January of 2020 that made several recommendations. One recommendation was that the goals for each program be collected by the Faculty Senate and published in the academic catalog. Several committees of the Faculty Senate agreed with this recommendation and approved a resolution in the spring of 2020 requiring that accredited programs submit their educational goals to the senate.

These goals are being published in the academic catalog and the faculty control the contents of the catalog so these goals are being submitted to the relevant Faculty Senate committee – Undergraduate or Graduate Studies – via Curriculog for senate approval prior to publication. CTAL is assisting the committee in reviewing the submitted goals and working with programs who need or request help or advice. Full details about these processes have been shared with chairs and directors. This is a two-year process that began in the fall of 2021 and is intended to be complete by the spring of 2023. Goals approved by the Faculty Senate in 2021-2022 have been published in the current academic catalog.

2. Begin collecting and reviewing materials helpful in revising or creating goals for your specific program

Recommended action: Fill out “Program Educational Goals Resources for …” template and ensure that it is available to all members of your team.

Even when creating educational goals for a brand new program, you are not starting from scratch. There is information that you should use and expectations that inform the revision or development of program educational goals. Some of these are internal to UD – department or school goals, existing program curricula, university requirements or expectations, etc. Some come from outside of UD – disciplinary norms,  guidance from scholarly organizations, accreditation standards, licensure requirements, etc.

It is very helpful to locate and collect this information before beginning revising or creating goals. Our “Program Educational Goals Resources for …” template will help you and your colleagues do that. We recommend collecting this information before writing new or revised goals. It is very plausible to assign different parts of document to different colleagues who can work independently to fill out the template. You can also view an example of a completed version of this document if that would be helpful.

One section of the template – “Disciplinary resources” – often requires more time and work to complete. We have included one link to the Tuning Academy that might provide helpful resources but otherwise you will need to explore the literature in your discipline to find relevant, useful materials. Here are some tips that we’ve learned in our experience looking for these resources:

  • Begin by looking for appropriate resources from your scholarly and professional organizations. They may have charged committees, sponsored workshops, or commissioned reports that explicitly describe the knowledge and skills that those in the discipline should possess. They may have also done similar work to explicitly describe the curricula that programs at different level should possess.
  • Search scholarly databases – Google Scholar is often a reasonable place to start – for keywords such as “program goals” and “curriculum” combined with your specific discipline or the name of your program. Try using synonyms, too, e.g., “program outcomes,” “learning goals,” “learning objectives.”
  • “Signature pedagogy” may also be a helpful search term, particularly if you are not finding much in terms of program goals.
  • In some cases, there may be little or no relevant literature in your specific discipline, particularly if it is a relatively young discipline. In those cases, it may be helpful to look for materials in related disciplines.
3. Review the typical approaches to refining or developing PEGs and determine which approach(es) will work best for your program(s)

Recommended actions: Determine which approach, or which mix of approaches, will work best for you. If necessary, collect and make available the additional relevant materials e.g., current department goals. (It may be most appropriate to add these to the “Program Educational Goals Resources for …” document you created in the previous step.)

There are four broad approaches to revising or creating program educational goals:

Reverse engineer goals from your curriculum. If you are working with a program that already exists then you already have a curriculum for that program i.e., courses that are required, courses that are recommended or commonly taken, learning experiences such as an internship or dissertation. The formal curriculum for each program is published in the academic catalog by selecting the specific program (you can view all available programs by selecting the “Programs” link on the left in the table of contents; the link to the catalog defaults to the undergraduate catalog so be sure to change to the graduate catalog using the dropdown menu in the top right if you’re looking for a graduate program). In most instances, it is possible to discern the intent or purpose of portions of the curriculum e.g., if multiple research methods courses are required then it’s likely that learning how to perform research or interpret research results is a goal of the program. Sometimes the curriculum includes labels for requirements or recommendations that illuminate their intent or purpose e.g., the Fashion Merchandising and Management BS program has groups of required courses titled “Accounting,” “Business Electives,” and “Finance.”

When analyzing an existing curriculum to determine the educational goals of that program, it may be helpful to ask:

  • Why does this program include these courses?
  • Why are specific, individual courses required or recommended?
  • Why are groups of courses required or recommended?
  • If there are required credits in specific areas outside the department, why?
  • Do the required or recommended courses act as “gatekeeping” courses? This can be explicit (e.g., prerequisite courses, demonstrated prior knowledge or experience) or implicit (e.g., assumptions of prior knowledge or experience, assumption of access to or ownership of specialized tools or equipment?).

Follow standards or recommendations of your discipline e.g., accreditation standards, scholarly organization recommendations. Many disciplines – but not all! – have developed an  explicit consensus about what constitutes the core knowledge, skills, and attitudes that degree programs should include. For some disciplines, this is expressed in their accreditation standards e.g., ABET accreditation criteria for engineering programs, CAEP accreditation standards for teacher education programs. Some disciplines have conducted work through their scholarly organizations e.g., NCA’s Learning Outcomes in Communication Project, MAA Committee on the Undergradute Program in Mathematics, MLA reports about English and Foreign Language programs. In other cases, individual scholars or small groups have conducted research into the curricular commonalities of their own discipline e.g., undergraduate neuroscience programs, undergraduate political science programs.

CTAL also maintains a list of discipline-specific materials and has developed some experience in searching scholarly literature for this information; please contact us if you would like assistance or advice in locating this information in your own discipline.

Transform existing (departmental, college, university, etc.) goals into program-specific educational goals. Academic units at UD – colleges, departments, schools, etc. – have goals. In many cases these goals are published on the relevant webpage and in other documents. Those goals often extend beyond the academic program and student learning to encompass other appropriate goals such as research output or relevance, unit culture, hiring and mentoring, etc. But some goals may provide helpful guidance in updating or formalizing the educational goals of the specific degree programs in the unit.

Create them from scratch. It is possible and sometimes necessary to create or revise program educational goals without explicit reference to an existing curriculum, disciplinary standards, and unit goals. This occurs most often when creating a brand new program in a field that is new and developing. The most extensive work in this area has occured in the context of “tuning,” a process that began in Europe as part of the Bologna Process that sought to bring coherence to European higher education in large part to support the movement of people, including students and alumni, between partipating countries. This process of defining the educational goals of degree programs has been adopted in the United States in the “Tuning USA” project funded by the Lumina Foundation. Tuning American Higher Education: The Process describes how tuning projects were carried out in the United States. In brief, this process involved:

  1. Defining the discipline core
  2. Mapping career pathways
  3. Consulting stakeholders
  4. Honing core competencies and learning outcomes
  5. Implementing results locally & writing degree specifications.

This same work is described in the context of a specific discipline in the August 2016 issue (volume 49, number 4) of The History Teacher that focused on the tuning work supported by the American Historical Association to understand and define the goals of history programs. The first article, The American Historical Association’s Tuning Project: An Introduction by Daniel J. McInerney, provides a particularly helpful description of the tuning process with its multiple steps e.g., defining a discipline core, mapping career pathways, consulting with stakeholders. Of course, even when a degree program is brand new it is still being developed and will be taught in the broader context of a UD unit so there are existing goals and priorities that need to be included and referenced e.g., all undergraduate programs at the University of Delaware are expected to support the university’s general education purposes and objectives.

In most cases, the approach that you select will be a combination of some or all of these approaches. You will need to work to explicitly organize and rationalize your existing curriculum, remain true to your disciplinary standards and expectations, meet the goals of the university and your unit(s), and incorporate new goals and expectations from relevant stakeholders such as employers. Exactly how you balance these approaches will depend on several factors, including:

  • If the program already exists, how satisfied are you and your colleagues with the curriculum? How much, if any, flexibility do you have to change the curriculum if the process of refining the educational goals motivates changes to the curriculum? (If you are proposing changes to a program curriculum, you can submit your new educational goals in Curriculog using a program revision proposal instead of using the form that only accepts program educational goals.)
  • Is there a published, available consensus in your discipline about the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that graduates should have at this level? Are there relevant accreditation standards, licensure guidelines, or similar professional expectations or requirements? Has anyone conducted scholarly research to determine the level of implicit agreement in your discipline and the overlap between degree programs?
  • How well defined, up-to-date, and available are your unit (college, department/school, etc.) goals? How much guidance do they provide for program educational goals?
  • What resources and desire is there to go beyond the available materials to collect and incorporate additional information e.g., interview employers, survey alumni?

We have created a list of discipline-specific program educational goal resources and examples that may also be helpful; the final section lists several colleges and universities that make complete directories of program educational goals publicly available on their website so you may be able to find examples specific to your program(s).

4. Use the available planning materials to develop a practical plan for successfully developing and submitting PEGs for your program

Recommended action: Complete the Timeline for developing and submitting program educational goals worksheet.

The Timeline for Developing and Submitting Program Educational Goals worksheet is an excellent tool for helping you develop a practical plan for revising or creating your program educational goals. This includes many of the common, major steps involved in this process with space available for you to document who will work on it and when you plan to have it completed. These steps include:

Action Deliverable
Create plan for drafting & submitting PEGs Plan for who will do what and when regarding drafting, revision, and submission of PEGs
Draft aspirational goals Aspirational goals
Create/update curriculum map Curriculum map
Draft PEGs Draft PEGs

Solicit feedback


– Using the PEGs rubric

– Inviting feedback from key partner units and collaborators

Feedback on goals

Implement feedback


– Using PEGs rubric

– Reaching out to CTAL if additional support is needed

Updated PEGs incorporating feedback
Seek final approval from appropriate units prior to Faculty Senate/Curriculog submission Final approval from program stakeholders e.g., program faculty, chair/director
Submit goals Goals submitted via Curriculog by March 1, 2023


  • Discipline-specific program educational goal resources and examples: The final section of this document, “College and university websites,” is a listing of publicly available college and university websites listing all of their program educational goals; this is particularly helpful in trying to find examples of goals for specific programs.
  • Report of the Task Force for Learning Goals & Assessment: This is the final report, published in January of 2020, of the task force whose recommendations spurred the collection of PEGs for publication in the academic catalog. Additional information about the task force, including notes from meetings and its original charge, can be found on the task force website.
  • University of Delaware academic catalog: Educational goals that have been approved by the Faculty Senate are being published in the catalog. You can view the program educational goals as well as the description, curriculum, and other relevant materials for each program by selecting the specific program (you can view all available programs by selecting the “Programs” link on the left in the table of contents; the link to the catalog defaults to the undergraduate catalog so be sure to change to the graduate catalog using the dropdown menu in the top right if you’re looking for a graduate program).
  • Worksheet: Timeline for developing and submitting program educational goals for <program>: This Google Doc lists the common steps involved in revising/developing PEGs with spaces to indicate who will be responsible for carrying out each task and the proposed date of completion for each task. An example of a completed version of this document is also available.