One Course Fits All: Making Space for Program Evaluation Content in U.S. Higher Education Degree Programs: Teaching Reflections and a Call for Improvement by Brianna P. Lemmons

Hello, everyone! This is Brianna P. Lemmons, an Assistant Professor at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. 

In 2008, the U.S. News and World Report described the occupation of program evaluator as the “Best Kept Secret Career”. The field of program evaluation has grown dramatically over the past decade in the United States and around the globe (American Evaluation Association). The field continues to evolve and the demand for degree and certificate programs, as well as stand-alone courses in evaluation theory and practice, remains high. Over time, several disciplines have begun to incorporate program evaluation content into their curriculum, including public administration, education, public health, and social work. Over the last decade, major government institutions like the Department of State have established policies on program evaluation after increasing calls for accountability and evidence-based programming and practices. The increased attention given to program evaluation has helped to ensure that the nation’s valuable resources are well invested (Michigan State University).

There are many challenges to the teaching of program evaluation. Institutions of higher education play a major role in preparing and educating the next generation of effective and competent program evaluators. Often, one of the greatest challenges to teaching program evaluation is the limited amount of time given to the topic in a number of degree programs.

Although program evaluation is a key skill needed in a variety of fields, content is often limited to one course, and in many instances, to one week within a course. Doing justice to the topic within such a short period of time is essentially impossible. Thus, students frequently walk away from these courses with a highly fragmented view of what program evaluation means and how the theory and techniques can be used to guide and evaluate their own practice.

Within social work education programs, program evaluation content is often subsumed under research methods courses. Rarely have I encountered graduate or undergraduate social work programs that offer stand-alone program evaluation courses. I am often faced with the challenge of tackling the vast field of program evaluation in a very limited amount of time. Given the importance of these skills to my profession, I frequently question why so little time is dedicated to it. While the field continues to grow, we must ensure that we are properly and thoroughly training the next generation of program evaluators. We must be get beyond the “one course fits all” approach that has characterized much of our efforts to date in order to craft the kind of robust training opportunities that promote deep and lasting learning experiences, develop competent professionals, and advance the field for generations to come.

Rad Resources:

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4 thoughts on “One Course Fits All: Making Space for Program Evaluation Content in U.S. Higher Education Degree Programs: Teaching Reflections and a Call for Improvement by Brianna P. Lemmons”

  1. Hi there Brianna,

    What a great post and one that I found myself nodding in agreement throughout reading your words of support in higher education integrating greater programming surrounding program evaluation and evaluators. I work in a higher education department at a university in Canada where we are continually faced with increasing amounts of competition in the marketplace, and it has become incredibly difficult to stand out from the crowd as the provider of choice. With that being said, one of our most valuable assets is our client base, and because of this, we routinely evaluate our programming in order to be better able to identify changing trends in the reasoning for why participants are attending our programming over others, and for some, why they have chosen to return for a second, third or fourth program.

    One point that you touched on is the time factor. With the general understanding of evaluations aiding in improving attributes such as attitudes, behaviours, impacts, and goal attainment, it is difficult to understand why so little time is given to actually teaching how to evaluate a program to ensure its continued success and course correct, if need be.

    I am currently enrolled in a program evaluation course where each student choose a social program to evaluate and it has been extremely eye opening. I have since recognized a dire need for my department to reconsider our program intentions and fundamental reasoning for why we evaluating our programs if the results are not being effectively utilized. I am curious to know if you have worked with any groups who have struggled to re-identify the purpose of their program evaluation or if you have any resources that could aid in this process? Re-engaging and exciting stakeholders in the process is key to effecting and inciting change.


    Rad Resource:
    CDC’s Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health (page 82 has a great checklist for on-boarding stakeholders in the program evaluation) found here:

  2. Hello Brianna, I am a graduate student in the PME program at Queens University. One of the courses I am taking now is Program evaluation. I really enjoyed your post as it generated a lot of questions for me. I teach in a 4 year BSN program in BC and your suggestion of integrating education regarding program evaluation into post secondary curriculum made me pause and think. I had never thought of this being part of our programs curriculum before, however, after learning what I have through this course, I believe it would be beneficial. I agree that it should be its own course, there is much valuable learning and providing “pieces” at a time throughout different courses would lose these elements. I like how you wrote it is “the best kept career secret”, I am beginning to see the truth in that. Individuals gaining this knowledge in their undergraduate studies would be able to be more aware of the language and hopefully be more engaged in this process wherever they may end up in their career journey.
    I am curious, do you see students playing a role with the evaluation process within their educational studies with this knowledge? Maybe helping design questions? As well, this may help them see the relevance of evaluation and be more receptive and engaging in the process. Thank you for your thought provoking post.

  3. Arielle Rodriguez

    After completing the Program Evaluation course, I have deep appreciation for those that must teach the course, as this post describes. It does seem impossible to fit all its essential components into a short course. It is not surprising that program evaluation has grown so much over time since more people are looking for the best ways or practices to help their business or program succeed. Training the next generation, as mentioned, should include preparing them for the jobs that are necessary. Even if students turn to other fields for their career it is very likely they will experience evaluation in that area. Being familiar and knowledgeable in the practice of evaluation will only serve to benefit them in their career.

  4. Hello Brianna! I am a student at Texas A&M Central Texas. I knew someone many years ago that claimed to be a program evaluator. They talked about policies, funding, training, and employment. It sounded like a mixed bag or some sort of administrator. Now revisiting the subject years later, I see that program evaluation is much more than that. I am currently taking a class on psychology program evaluation. The involvement, work, and time needed to learn the different aspects of program evaluation would take more than a week-long training course in my opinion. Perhaps there should be multiple classes in program evaluation to receive certification.

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