Program outcomes are the knowledge, skills, and abilities students should possess when they graduate from a program. They are answers to the question, "What should program graduates know and be able to do at the time of program completion?"
When thinking about program outcomes, it might be helpful to consider where program graduates should be within three to five years of graduation. Should they be practitioners in the profession of the discipline? Should they have entered the work force prepared for entry-level jobs? Should they be in a graduate or professional degree program? Should they have passed a licensure or certification exam in the field? The answers to questions such as these can help program faculty focus on the knowledge, skills, and abilities that will best prepare students for their next educational or professional endeavors.
Guidelines for writing program outcomes
- A program outcome must flow directly from, and support, the college and division/school/department mission. The connection between the mission and the outcome should be clear.
A program outcome must be directly related to the academic discipline of the program. Focus on program outcomes that reflect the specific knowledge and skills you expect students to acquire as part of their educational experience in the program. Avoid program outcomes that are more related to the general education component of an education. Writing and critical thinking, for example, are important educational outcomes, but it is unlikely that your program can demonstrate that your graduates acquired their writing or critical thinking skills through their coursework in the program. You may, however, incorporate writing and critical thinking into program outcomes directly linked to the academic discipline of the program. Consider these examples:
- General: Graduates of the Criminal Justice program will be critical thinkers.
- Program-specific: Graduates of the Criminal Justice program will analyze a current issue in criminal justice, evaluate evidence, and construct an argument.
A program outcome must be observable and measurable. Write outcomes that are focused on demonstrable behaviors rather than what students know, think, understand, appreciate, etc. What someone knows, thinks, understands, or appreciates is invisible and cannot be directly measured. It is impossible to measure an invisible mental quality like a student's knowledge or understanding. It is possible to measure how well a student solves a problem, presents an argument, or gives a dance performance.
- Not observable: Graduates of the BA program will think critically.
- Observable: Graduates of the BA program will interpret, analyze, evaluate and construct arguments.
A program outcome must be focused on learning outcomes rather than curricular inputs. Be sure to focus on the knowledge and skills that program graduates should possess. Resist the temptation to write outcomes about curricular inputs, department resources, faculty characteristics, or instructional methods. Program outcomes are related to demonstrated behaviors of the students who graduate -- not characteristics of the program or its faculty.
- Input focused: Program faculty will improve their content knowledge through participation in professional development activities.
- Input focused: All department labs will be equipped with state-of-the-art instruments.
- Outcome focused: Graduates of the Art History program will analyze the religious and political influences on 18th century European artists.
A program outcome must communicate a single outcome rather than combine multiple outcomes into a single statement.
- Multiple outcomes: Graduates of the psychology program will be lifelong learners who understand the concepts of psychology and can apply those concepts to the design and application of real research problems.
- Single outcome: Graduates of the psychology program will be able to design a research study.
We have collected examples of program outcomes from a variety of academic disciplines. The outcomes presented were collected from the web sites of institutions throughout the U.S. and from ASU departments. In some cases, the examples have been revised to make them consistent with the guidelines presented on this page. The presence of an outcome on this site does mean that we consider the outcome to be appropriate for your program. The examples are intended only to provide you with some ideas as you develop your own outcomes.