University of Wisconsin - Stout

Purpose of the Review

This review is conducted in order to assess the program's quality as part of the ongoing seven-year review cycle required of all UW-Stout degree programs.

Master of Science in Risk Control
Program Director
Elbert Sorrell
PRC Consultants
George Smeaton and Sue Foxwell
Date of Review
Spring 2002
Committee Findings
The PRC recommends that this program continue to function as one of UW-Stout's degree programs for the ongoing seven-year cycle, and recommendations made by the committee be implemented. The PRC recommends that a status report be provided in two years regarding classroom climate concerns discussed in the recommendations.


The M.S. in Risk Control is designed to prepare students for management positions in the field of occupational/industrial safety, health and environmental protection (risk control) through advisement, coursework and applied research.  The program has three components. The first two, safety and industrial hygiene/environmental protection are technical in nature and are integrated with a third component, management/applied research, to provide a broad-based technical/ managerial perspective. The degree requires (a) 38 semester hours of graduate credit; a minimum of half the credits must be in 700 or higher level courses, (b) approval for degree candidacy, and (c) a course distribution requiring 17-18 credits in management and applied research, 13 credits in safety engineering, and 8 credits in industrial/environmental affairs. The entire program is offered to full-time, part-time day and evening students simultaneously. Courses are offered on a sequential basis over a three-semester period both during the day and evenings.  As a result, part-time evening students who work in the field are able to utilize the program to further their education or as a source of professional development.

Enrollment in this program has declined steadily over the past 5 years.   In 1996, 55 students were enrolled in the program and, in 2001, 37 students were enrolled.  This decline has contributed to the rising cost per credit of the program.  As of 2000, the cost of the program is $301.00 per credit, up from $145.67 in 1996.  The current cost is 22% higher than the $246.20 average cost per credit for all graduate programs at UW-Stout.

Laboratory facilities utilized by the program have been supported through grants from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), donations from J.J. Keller & Associates, and various other industry donors.  The program has also been a recipient of a training grant from NIOSH and is one of only 15 graduate programs in risk control to have been awarded funding by that agency.  The program’s curriculum meets or exceeds the standards for graduate risk control programs established by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP).  The program has received generally good reviews from its students, faculty, alumni, and employers.  Finally, its graduates have been very successful at obtaining program-related employment.

During the past year there has been a change in the program’s leadership.  Former program director and core faculty member John Olson retired at the completion of the 2000-2001 school year.  In 1997, Bob Meyer, CTEM Dean, selected Dr. Elbert Sorrell to serve as the new director of the Risk Control program and, also in 2001, Dr. Sorrell became the director of the Risk Control Center.
Concerns about the program include the degree to which it promotes an appreciation of diversity, inconsistent and inflated grades, upgrading laboratory equipment, declines in enrollment, a lack of professional accreditation, and student perceptions of a large degree of overlap between two core courses.

Process Followed for the Current Review

Under the guidelines developed by the PRC, information regarding the program was gathered from the Placement Office, Institutional Research, the program director, key instructors, Program Committee, students and one- and three-year graduates. Observations were made by the consultants based on these surveys and institutional data. The findings were reported to and discussed by the PRC. The Program Director presented a summary of his report to the committee and had an opportunity to address concerns.

Previous Review

The last PRC review of this program occurred in the 1994-95 academic year. Richard Tafalla served as the consultant.  The program was recommended for continuation.  The following specific recommendations were made for the program.

  1. Pursue the university guidelines for program advisory committees which is to meet once a semester as per the Curriculum Handbook.
  2. Establish specific graduate-level offerings in safety engineering area instead of undergraduate courses.
  3. Include an introductory course in system safety.
  4. Since the Safety Engineering component is not really engineering, rename the "Safety Engineering" portion of the program to either "Occupational Safety," "Safety Management," "Safety Science" or "Safety."
  5. Fill open faculty line with an engineer.
  6. Upgrade equipment and instrumentation, especially in the areas of industrial hygiene and ergonomics.
  7. Modify writing assignments to reflect the need in industry.
  8. Address staffing needs in relationship to the Industrial Hygiene course and permanent assignment of the staff person teaching this course.

Since the last review of the program, recommendations #1, 2, and 6 have been accomplished.  The Program Committee considered complying with #3, but they concluded that an introductory system safety course was not needed because the information covered in it was already included in several courses required for the program.  According to the response to these recommendations made by Bruce Siebold, CTEM Dean at the time of the last review, “The name ‘Safety Engineering’ is within the context of the risk control field and this is an inappropriate recommendation.”  Dr. Sorrell concurs with this conclusion and also does not consider this recommendation to be appropriate.  The program is currently recruiting for a replacement for John Olson and, consistent with recommendation #5, is attempting to fill that opening with an engineer.  With regard to the last two recommendations, it is the position of Dr. Sorrell that the program was already in compliance with both of them seven years ago when they were first proposed.    

Program Review:

Program Strengths

Quality of coursework

All of the respondents from the most recent one-year follow up survey were “very satisfied” with their course content. When current students were asked to indicate what are the major strengths of the program, eight of the 11 comments mentioned its coursework.  Two of the five Program Committee Survey respondents also indicated that the quality of the program’s courses is its greatest strength.

The curriculum of the program emphasizes direct exposure to the issues examined in classes through laboratory exercises, demonstrations, assessment of hazards in industrial settings, and field trips.  In addition to providing “hands-on” learning, coursework in the program also is designed to foster critical thinking skills by requiring students to prepare papers examining key risk control issues from a variety of perspectives.

Quality of faculty

All the faculty teaching in the program have doctorates and all have had related working experiences prior to being hired by the university.  Further evidence of the quality of the program’s faculty is provided by the fact that all three responses to the open-ended “strengths of the program” item in the Key Instructor Survey pointed to the quality of the program’s faculty.  Finally, in addition to the knowledge and real-world experience the faculty contribute to the program, they are very willing and able to meet with students.  Of those that responded to the one and three-year follow-up surveys of graduates, 100% reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the availability of faculty in the program.

Improved laboratory facilities

As a result of a combination of a NIOSH grant, business donations, and UW-Stout Lab Modification funds, the Risk Control laboratory facilities have been greatly improved since the last evaluation of this program.  The program currently has a dedicated lab equipped with three computer workstations (Internet access), fume hood, personal protective equipment, various safety related devices, and an extensive amount of safety related software and printed matter.

Flexibility of course scheduling

The entire program is offered to full-time, part-time day and evening students simultaneously. Courses are offered on a sequential basis over a three-semester period both during the day and evenings.  This enables students to complete the program while working full-time during the day.  The impact of this approach to scheduling is evident in the 91% "satisfied" to "very satisfied" ratings obtained for “course scheduling” and “course availability” in the most recent one-year follow-up survey.

Marketability of program graduates

In the most recent one-year follow-up survey, 91% of the respondents were employed and 70% were employed in positions directly related to the program.  Although only two graduates responded to the most recent three-year follow-up survey, both were employed in positions directly related to the program.  All three respondents to the employer data survey reported that the graduates they hired received an adequate educational preparation for their positions.

Opportunities for Program Improvement

Appreciation of diversity

Of the 18 “improved competencies” examined in the most recent one-year follow-up survey, “Appreciate Need for Racial Equity” received the second-lowest score (2.7 out of 5).  Several responses indicated that inappropriate language had been used in the instructional setting as related to appreciation for diversity.  (see Student Survey data)

Lab facilities

Despite the fact that the laboratory facilities of the program have significantly improved over the last seven years, additional upgrading is still needed.  According to Dr. Sorrell, the program would be significantly enhanced by the creation of a dedicated Risk Control Laboratory that would contain work stations examining electrical safety, pneumatic energy systems, machine guarding, fire safety, floor slip resistance, and other important safety issues.  The need for updating the program’s lab facilities is documented by the fact that “Old and out-of-date equipment…” was noted by one current student as a major weakness of the course, while another student indicated that the program could be improved if the faculty in it, “Continue to bring updated materials…” Obtaining the financial resources needed to create a new laboratory from the university may not be possible given the state’s current economic climate.  Therefore, faculty in the program should be encouraged to seek additional extramural funding for lab modification.


Enrollment in the program has dropped by 27% over the past seven years. Given that one of the respondents to the Key Instructor Survey indicated that a major weakness of the program was that there were “Too many students in the program…” lower enrollments could be viewed positively by some. This comment, however, may, to some extent, reflect the fact that a retired member of the program has not yet been replaced.  Once the department completes its current search for a new faculty member, overcrowding should be much less of an issue.  Moreover, this decline in enrollments has caused the average cost per credit for the program to increase by 105% during a period when the overall university average cost per credit for graduate programs has increased by only 47%.  If these trends in enrollment and cost per credit were to continue for the next seven years, only 13 students will be enrolled in the program at an average cost of $600 per credit (as compared to a projected university average of $362). It should be noted that the optimal program enrollment numbers are in discussion amongst the program director, the department chair, and the dean.


Currently the program is not accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). According to Dr. Sorrell, “While accreditation is always desirable, the cost/benefit may not be justifiable.” Nevertheless, given the recent decline in the program’s enrollment, being among the 5% of safety related graduate programs accredited by ABET may provide a recruiting edge that ultimately could prove to be cost-beneficial.  Given the fact that the program’s curriculum meets or exceeds the curriculum guidelines for Master of Science in safety degree programs jointly published by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP), the program may already be close to achieving the requirements for ABET accreditation.  This possibility is certainly worth further examination.

Overlap between Risk Management in Loss Control I and II

Two current students listed these two courses in response to the item, “List the courses that you feel have unnecessary repetition or overlap in content.”  In addition, one student reported that a major weakness of the program was that, “The second semester of risk management in loss control was almost the same as the first.”

Recommendations to the Program Director:

  1. Continue to infuse appreciation for diversity throughout the program’s curriculum and assess levels of diversity content in courses during upcoming curriculum review process. Graduates of the program will be employed in organizations comprised of individuals from both genders and from a wide variety of racial and ethnic groups.   A greater appreciation and understanding of individuals from diverse backgrounds will enable graduates to be more effective in their future positions.
  2. Consider adding a required certification exam to the program.  According to the member of the Program Committee who suggested this requirement, an “exam such as the ASP or LM Fundamentals” would serve this purpose.
  3. Improve the recruitment of new students.  The current system of recruitment needs to be re-examined and revised in order to stem future declines in enrollment.
  4. Investigate ABET accreditation.  The program should continue to monitor changes in ABET accreditation requirements to determine the appropriateness for this program.
  5. Assess and minimize overlap between Risk Management in Loss Control I and II.  

Recommendations to Department Chair

  1. Conduct a PRC follow-up survey of students in two years to determine if improvements are being made in the area of diversity awareness, including classroom climate and give a status report indicating findings
  2. Make every effort to maximize the number of qualified women and minorities in the applicant pool for the current faculty position.  In so doing, the program would maximize the likelihood that the most qualified applicant is also a woman and/or an under-represented ethnic minority member.
  3. Continue to develop a state-of-the-art dedicated risk control laboratory.  A more up-to-date laboratory with work stations that give students direct experience with the control of risk stemming from a variety of key industrial processes would greatly enhance the quality of the program.
  4. Continue to pursue extramural funding for the program.  Current lab facilities were made possible by a federal grant and private donations.  Additional funds from sources such as these will be needed to develop a new laboratory.

Recommendations to the Dean

  1. Continue to develop a state-of-the-art dedicated risk control laboratory. A more up-to-date laboratory with work stations that give students direct experience with the control of risk stemming from a variety of key industrial processes would greatly enhance the quality of the program.