ACEJMC assessment plan, graduate programs

The assessment programs for the Cronkite School’s master’s programs in Mass Communication (MMC), Sports Journalism (MSJ), and Investigative Journalism (MAIJ) are based on the expectation that students emerge competitive for entry- to mid-level positions in journalism and communications fields upon graduation and will be equipped to assume leadership roles and advance innovation in their chosen fields.

Students are expected to have proficiency in reporting or researching information, writing, producing, storytelling, multiplatform delivery and audience engagement.

For the MAIJ program, the further expectation is that students are proficient in investigative reporting techniques, tools and practices that enable them to launch high-level investigative reporting careers.

As with Cronkite undergraduate programs, emphasis is placed on the time-honored journalistic values of accuracy, responsibility, fairness, balance and integrity that characterize the School’s namesake. Students are expected to master current tools and technologies and be prepared to not only adapt to but lead continual transformation in their chosen fields.

The MMC and MSJ programs use the same assessment measures based on ACEJMC values and competencies, as well as specific learning goals for each program. Learning values and competencies are included in all course syllabi and are posted here. Class syllabi are reviewed before the start of each semester to ensure they include learning outcomes specific to each course and that they reference ACEJMC values and competencies.

Similar assessment measures are used for the MAIJ program, although the capstone project is evaluated somewhat differently due to the distinctive nature of this degree program.

The Cronkite School assesses student learning outcomes at the graduate level in each academic year. Assessment results are evaluated by the Senior Associate Deans and shared with faculty and leadership to determine needed changes in the curriculum or course content to improve student learning.

The School has used the following assessment measures throughout this review period. Revisions and additions are noted by date:

Direct measures

1. Capstone Project Reviews

MMC and MASJ programs: In addition to the coursework required of all students in their immersive professional program, graduate students complete a capstone project that represents nearly a quarter of their final grade. The projects are intended to be a way for students to showcase the journalism skills they have developed or strengthen skills in areas that will help them attain their career goals after graduation. Projects must demonstrate professional-level journalism or communication skills, analytical thinking, and leadership and organizational abilities as well as contribute to the knowledge of the discipline or industry. Innovation and experimentation are encouraged, and team projects are acceptable. At the end of the semester, students present their projects in a public setting, which includes a reflection on the process and the final outcome.

Each project is overseen by multiple faculty members, including the student’s professional program director. Students must pitch their project ideas to their director and receive approval in advance of doing the work.

All capstones in the Cronkite News professional program are formally assessed at the end of each semester. Additional projects are selected for formal assessment among the School’s other professional programs. These include the Television Production and Graphics Lab, Public Relations Lab, New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, and Digital Audiences Lab.

Committee members complete an assessment form that evaluates the project on the basis of project management, leadership, innovation, presentation skills and ACEJMC values and competencies, including contribution to the knowledge of the  discipline or industry. Evaluators also indicate how prepared they believe the student is for employment.

The results are compiled by an assessment coordinator appointed by the School and shared with faculty for analysis and discussion.

Revised: Fall 2022 to include capstone assessments for all professional programs each semester instead of mandatory assessments for Cronkite News and rotating assessments among the other professional programs. 

Revised: Summer 2022 to move capstone project oversight for Cronkite News student reporters to the director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab as a way to encourage more innovation in projects.

Revised: Spring 2022 to update evaluation form to include new ACEJMC values and competencies and realign Cronkite News projects to focus on developing new skills that match students’ career interests.

Revised: Fall 2021 for Cronkite News students to focus on leadership projects and innovative approaches to news.

Revised: Summer 2020 to offer Cronkite News more opportunities to explore other areas of journalism beyond reporting projects.

Revised: Fall 2017 to focus on individual or small group projects in Cronkite News instead of one large group reporting project each semester.

MAIJ program: In their third and final semester of the program, students in the Investigative Master’s program complete a capstone experience in the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. The capstone consists of a deeply reported investigation into a significant regional or national issue, with the goal of informing the public and holding the powerful accountable. Projects utilize data, public records, multiple levels of sourcing and verification, and compelling storytelling across platforms. 

Because students work in teams on one large-scale project over the course of a semester, this capstone assessment is designed to provide an evaluation of the project as a whole rather than the work of individual students. At least one project a year is evaluated by a panel of three professional journalists with experience in investigative reporting. They are asked to review the assigned project on the basis of originality, importance, use of data to support conclusions, and transparency about how the data was collected and analyzed. In addition, ACEJMC values and competencies are incorporated into the instrument and adapted where appropriate for an investigative reporting context. For example, reviewers are asked how well the project demonstrates superior research and critical thinking skills required for investigative reporting. Reviewers also are asked to provide an overall rating of the project and to compare it to the work of other student investigations and to investigative reporting done by professional news outlets. Finally, they are asked for their suggestions on how the project could have been improved. The form is available here.

2. Internship evaluations

Graduate students are not required to do internships, but a number elect to do so. Student performance in internships is evaluated at the end of each semester. Supervisors are asked to rank how well student interns performed on a range of competencies, including journalism skills and professional behavior as well as ACEJMC values and competencies. Students are given an overall rating from unacceptable to excellent. Employers are asked if they believe the student is ready for an entry-level job and whether they would hire the student for an entry-level position. The assessment helps identify strengths and weaknesses that can be addressed in curricula or course content.

Revised: Spring 2022 to include new ACEJMC values & competencies

3. Learning Outcomes 

Graduate students who complete their immersion experience in the Cronkite News professional program are assessed on how well prerequisite courses prepared them for their capstone experience. The assessment is intended to identify needed changes in curriculum and the content of courses to ensure that students have mastered fundamental skills and knowledge required for a professional-level experience. 

Cronkite News faculty directors complete a form assessing the preparedness of students assigned to their teams, based on learning outcomes for prerequisite courses. The assessment is done about six weeks into the semester in order to allow time for directors to become familiar with each student’s capabilities. Students are evaluated on whether they have mastered journalism fundamentals such as sourcing, interviewing and using data, ability to shoot, edit and upload photos, and understanding of and use of SEO and analytics, among other learning outcomes.  Students are evaluated on whether they meet, do not meet or exceed expected competencies in each area. 

The assessment applies to students assigned to news and sports in Cronkite News bureaus in Phoenix, L.A., and Washington D.C., as well as those in Cronkite Noticias, the Spanish-language news program. These include the large majority of student enrollment in the school’s immersive experiences.

Revised: Fall 2022 to implement Learning Outcomes assessments in all professional immersion programs each semester

Revised: Spring 2017 to update instructions on form

Revised: Spring 2018 to update course learning outcomes and break out data on sports majors

Suspended: Summer 2020 due to pandemic

Reinstated: Summer 2022

Indirect measures

1. Graduating Student Exit Survey 

Graduating students are asked to fill out an exit survey, the ASU Graduate & Law Student Report Card (GLSRC), administered by the ASU University Office of Evaluation and Educational Effectiveness. Approximately 70-75% of graduating seniors, graduate students, and law students complete this exit survey each year when they apply for graduation. Questions for graduate students focus on academic experience (courses and professors), professional development, student services, career preparation and overall quality of the program.

Results are shared each year with the department in an Academic Program Profile report. Employment data are shared with career service units at the university and college level. The assessment helps identify needed improvements in curricula, course content, student services, advising and other areas. The survey instrument can be found here

2. Alumni Survey

Alumni are surveyed at appropriate intervals to gather feedback on how they perceive their experiences and the quality of education they received at the Cronkite School. Questions address the quality of courses, faculty, equipment, internships and advising as well as how well the school prepared them on the basis of ACEJMC values and competencies. Alumni also are asked to provide feedback on their experiences at the school and indicate their overall satisfaction with their education and professional preparedness. Responses are broken out by degree program so Cronkite leadership can identify strengths and weaknesses in each program. The survey is a useful tool in assessing whether programs are keeping current with the changing needs of the journalism and communications professions and in guiding decisions on resource allocation, curriculum, student services, technology and more.

Revised: Spring 2022 to develop a new survey instrument, replacing a previous instrument that solicited alumni feedback via a survey included with an alumni e-newsletter that did not break out graduate student responses.

3. Contests/Awards

Student awards are monitored and published annually here. Contests provide important feedback from external judges and reviewers on the quality of Cronkite student work as compared to the work of their peers — and in some cases, as compared to the work of professionals. How well students fare in local, regional and national competitions provides evidence of the competencies they have acquired and is indicative of the level of their preparedness for the profession. 

4. Employment Data

The Cronkite Director of Alumni Services is responsible for tracking graduates as they take their first jobs and advance in their careers. Utilizing LinkedIn, other social media platforms and email, the unit attempts to make contact with every graduate of the school each year. Information is maintained and regularly updated in a database of alumni, which contains the names of all 14,000 of the School’s alumni dating back to 1950. Of those, current information is on file for about 80% of those who received master’s degrees. Alumni are coded by degree program, year of graduation, type of employment and part-time or full-time status.The data is useful in identifying needed improvements in curricula or instruction and in assessing whether the School is meeting its objective of preparing students for the professions. 

5. Course Evaluations

Students evaluate every Cronkite course at the end of each term, and data are used to improve both curriculum and instruction. This tool is particularly important in the graduate programs, which must adapt quickly to changing student profiles and industry needs. 

Students are asked to evaluate instruction based on a range of measures, which includes ACEJMC values and competencies. Scores on two items — overall teaching ability and rigor of class – are extracted and included in annual evaluations of all full-time faculty members, along with a ranking of how each instructor’s rating compares to that of all other Cronkite faculty. An example of instructor rankings data is here. Deans also closely review student comments on courses and instruction and address issues with individual faculty members as needed. Student evaluations figure prominently in the annual performance rating awarded to each faculty member and in decisions about faculty teaching assignments..

6. Publication of Student Work

Most Cronkite graduate students enter the program with minimal or no prior journalism experience. By the time they graduate 12 to 16 months later, they should have portfolios that include published or broadcast work that will help them be competitive in the job market. 

Graduate students have a number of opportunities to get published: through their work in a professional program, such as Cronkite News, the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and the Carnegie-Knight News21 program; through required and elective skills courses; and through internships.

The MAIJ program has a specific publication learning objective: At least 80 percent of students should have investigative reporting projects published or broadcast by professional news outlets. 

Faculty directors for Cronkite News, the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and News21 track placements in professional news outlets as closely as possible as a measure whether students are performing to professional standards. Combined with other feedback from news organizations, this data helps guide a number of decisions, including the creation of elective courses; changes within existing courses, especially the graduate “boot camp;” and selection of coverage areas or topics. It also is useful in pointing to needed changes in policies regarding fact-checking, sourcing attribution and style.Additionally, graduate students may be involved in producing content for the Cronkite News weeknight student newscast, broadcast on Arizona PBS, which has a reach of more than 1 million viewers (1.9 million households) across the state. Directors gather Nielsen ratings for the newscast as an indication of whether student work is resonating with the audiences the program is intended to serve. Similarly, Cronkite News directors measure how many people access and engage with student content online and through social channels. Student work produced in Cronkite News professional programs is published on the Cronkite News website at and shared widely through social media channels that include Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, Snapchat and Facebook. Audience analytics are tracked daily and shared with students and professional program faculty as a measure of how well the work resonates with audiences and helps inform (but does not dictate) decision-making on content, presentation and approach.