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:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.