An effective mission statement concisely states the general values and guiding principles of the curriculum of an academic program. The tone set by the mission statement will guide the program’s goals and objectives. Program mission should be in alignment with the mission of the university, the college and the department/school.

A goal is a statement expressing what a program intends to accomplish. Goal statements tend to be broadly philosophical, global, timeless and not readily amenable to measurement. They capture the knowledge, skills, and values that students should acquire in a program.

This first step in identifying goals requires faculty and others to reflect on questions such as the following:

  • What is the mission of this unit that guides and encapsulates the essence of learning - the knowledge, the skills, the values or attitudes to be achieved by students?
  • Are these mission and goals statements compatible with the mission of the university and its strategic plan?

The characteristics of goal statements should be the same whether the focus is at the level of the undergraduate major or minor, a specialized program, the graduate program, courses, or an entire unit. Several examples of broadly stated, philosophical, and hopeful mission and goal statements follow.

  • “The mission of the School of Architecture and Environmental Design is to encourage development of inquiring, responsible persons who will dedicate themselves to the improvement of the quality of life, the enhancement of the physical environment and the protection of the public welfare as related to architecture and urban design. The values to be developed are spiritual as well as physical, social as well as economic, and aesthetic as well as technical.” (Extrapolated from the Undergraduate Catalog, 2001-2002, pg. 243)

  • “The mission of the English Department is to foster literacy in the broadest sense through appreciation of the written word.” (From the Academic Program Review: Self-Study Report, the B.A. in English, Literature and Creative Writing Options, 1995)

  • “The goal of the School of Art is to provide graduates with the ability to develop works of art that express ideas and personal feelings as well as analyze and interpret works of art made by others.” (Submitted as an example for this guide by a faculty member of the School of Art, 2001)

Learning goals allow us to share with others the ideals of student learning we hope to achieve and to indicate the consistency of these goals with the mission of the university and its strategic planning. The above goal statements reflect the characteristics of such aims: they are general, they are ideals hoped for, they are not time-bound, and, unfortunately, they are not amenable, as stated, to being measured.

Herein lies the rub. Because the intent of academic assessment is to support continuous improvement of student learning, we must derive from these goals elements that can be measured. If this does not occur, we cannot evaluate how well students are learning what we expect of them. For this reason, the second task in the assessment planning requires the redefinition of goal statements as measurable objectives.