As appears obvious in retrospect, CAS was created as a direct response to the emerging profession’s need to establish standards to guide both practice and preparation. By the 1960s, the felt need for a profession-wide entity to speak as one voice for all was very apparent. An initial attempt to establish such a group, the Council of Student Personnel Associations in Higher Education (COSPA), was mounted in the late 1960s by 10 student affairs associations. This consortium is best remembered for its promotion of an enlightened approach to student affairs practice reflected in a statement published in 1972 by its Commission of Professional Development entitled “Student Development Services in Post-Secondary Education” (Rentz, 1994). Unfortunately, COSPA was dissolved in 1976, largely as a result of member disillusionment resulting from unresolved political issues.
CAS was established on a comparable consortial basis to that of the COSPA for an equally important, though less ambitious, purpose. Whereas COSPA was intended to function on a full range of professional issues, from the outset, CAS sought to avoid politicization and be driven by agreed-upon values rather than special interests. Consequently, the purposes and objectives of CAS are highly focused, which tends to protect the Council from internal strife resulting from member disagreement about its designated purpose and the processes used to accomplish its mission.
Although some may question the value of CAS’s existence, it seems certain that without CAS working collaboratively and speaking collectively on behalf of practitioners and their functional area specialties, there would be no profession-wide criteria of good practice such as the CAS standards. In effect, CAS desires to represent every college and university educator and functional area specialist who believes the learning and development of all students to be the essence of higher education.
Although some professional associations or inter-association collectives may work unilaterally to establish standards of good practice for student support services, their products and models will inevitably fail to become part of the educational culture unless viewed as an enhancement to the educational interests of students. In other words, credibility within the whole of higher education is more effectively gained through collective action than through narrowly defined initiatives of individuals or associations. For standards of professional practice to be truly viable, they must reflect the interests and values of multiple professional organizations and the functional areas they champion. CAS strives to provide this collaborative avenue to establishing thoughtful, balanced, and achievable standards upon which all can rely.
The initial full CAS publication, CAS Standards and Guidelines (CAS, 1986), was based on the premise that student support practitioners needed access to a comprehensive and valid set of criteria to judge support program quality and effectiveness. Further, it was viewed as essential that those standards represent best practices that any college or university program can reasonably achieve.
From the CAS perspective, virtually all functional areas of practice, no matter how specialized, have identifiable commonalties with other functions. For example, an institution’s admission, academic advising, campus activities, and career services programs, although established to accomplish clearly different purposes, will each benefit from establishing a written mission statement that is compatible with the mission of the institution. Likewise, the same is true for human, fiscal, physical, and technological resources; legal responsibilities; campus and community relations; ethical considerations; and program evaluation among others. Consequently, CAS has incorporated a number of common criteria that have relevance for each and every functional area, no matter what its primary focus. These common criteria are referred to as “general standards” and will be found embedded in all functional area standards, along with criteria that relate to specialized aspects. These general standards are designed to overcome the “silo effect” so common throughout higher education in which autonomous administrative units, programs, and services function independently and sometimes inconsistently. In effect, the general standards make the CAS standards highly utilitarian and promote inter-departmental, inter-program, and inter-service cooperation and collaboration. Users are encouraged to view the CAS standards and guidelines as vehicles that interconnect administrative units. Because what these various functional units have in common (e.g., educational purpose, student learning and development) often exceeds their differences, the effective practitioner will find that collaboration between and among units can enhance the educational environment in many important ways.
All CAS standards use the auxiliary verbs “must” and “shall” and appear in bold print so that users can quickly identify them. As previously noted, all functional areas have specialty standards in addition to the general standards. Specialty standards are essential to accomplishing a support program’s purpose and appear in bold print as do the general standards.
CAS standards are constructed to represent criteria that every higher education institution and its student support programs should be expected and able to meet with the application of reasonable effort and diligence. Although the standards are carefully worded for easy understanding, it is sometimes helpful to amplify them by providing additional information to facilitate the user’s ability to interpret them accurately. Also, when programs are organizationally mature, there is need to provide users with additional criteria that may be used to make good programs even better. Consequently, as a supplement to its standards, CAS has established “guidelines” designed to clarify and amplify the standards. Guidelines may be used to guide enhanced practice when a program has previously achieved high levels of effectiveness. Guidelines use the auxiliary verbs “should” and “may” and are printed in lightface type to distinguish them from the standards.
In summary, CAS functional area standards and guidelines are basic statements that should be achievable by any program in any higher education institution when adequate and appropriate effort, energy, and resources are applied. Further, standards reflect a level of good practice generally agreed upon by the profession-at-large. In addition to the standards, guidelines are incorporated into each functional area to amplify and explain the standards and to guide enhanced practice. This dual presentation is most helpful because functional area programs in both early and advanced stages of development can use the CAS standards to good purpose. Most important is the fact that the CAS standards have been conceived and developed via a profession-wide process that can assure continuity and consistency of practice among all higher education institutions. In addition, each set of standards is reviewed on a five-year, staggered basis to assure currency and determine need for revision. When found wanting, the standard is submitted to a CAS committee for revision.
The following is a summary of examples of how CAS standards have been applied in practice and for purposes of professional staff development.
Institutional Program Review
From an institutional perspective, many practitioners view the CAS standards as a staple for conducting comprehensive program reviews. One institution’s policy requires that a standard external to the institution be used to implement periodic comprehensive program reviews. Because CAS standards are readily available, easily understood, consistent across functional areas, and simple to use, they are often the standard of choice for administrative unit reviews. The fact that operational versions of the standards in the form of CAS Self-Assessment Guides (SAGs) are also available has increased the ease with which the standards can be used for program review purposes. In addition, the existence of the CAS standards typically informs practitioners that professional practice is not based simply on instinct or history. Rather, it consists of the application of the collective wisdom of the profession and is subject to assessment and regulation.
Program Development and Advocacy
From a programmatic perspective, the CAS standards have special utility for emerging student support areas. For example, educators responsible for guiding programs of learning assistance and developmental education tend to exhibit strong commitment to promoting the use of professional standards in their ranks. Many leaders in this arena literally “invented” their programs and learned from each other what worked best to produce quality outcomes. During the past two decades, the CAS Learning Assistance Programs Standards and Guidelines has become a shared document among learning assistance practitioners. Leaders in this arena have indicated that the CAS standards provided a common ground to unite those responsible for ensuring that students receive the special attention and support they need to be successful.
Two important uses of the standards in addition to the self-assessment function were identified from another program-specific perspective: one as a guide for initiating new programs and the other for advocacy. The National Clearinghouse for Commuter Programs (NCCP) frequently receives requests from institutions desiring to establish on-campus commuter programs. Most practitioners interested in such initiatives fail initially to comprehend the scope of the functions essential to a comprehensive program. Often, the initiator is interested in establishing a particular type of program (e.g., peer mentoring or orientation for commuters) or service (e.g., off-campus housing referral, commuter newsletter). When such requests are made, the CAS standards are readily available as a professionally sanctioned tool that provides guidance to those interested in providing support for such populations.
Advocacy was a second use noted, because it is often helpful when consulting with colleagues about student support programs to make a case for broadening the administrators’ understanding of what is required to meet the basic essentials. All too often, campus administrators tend to limit their initial thinking about a new program to relatively basic issues such as access, and not to think in terms of how a new program could help students become better integrated into the campus community or enhance their learning and development. The CAS standards have great utility for opening institutional leaders’ eyes to the importance of comprehensive programming and helping them to grasp a broader view.
From another professional association perspective, the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors [AFA] discovered that standards can be extremely beneficial in relating association purpose to the broader mission of higher education and those of various institutions. Association leaders determined that when colleagues utilized the CAS standards to establish or reorganize various student support services, those program changes were typically not challenged because the standards provided a recognized level of credibility that did not exist prior to the availability of the CAS standards.
From the vantage point of graduate education, many student affairs preparation programs have integrated the CAS standards into their curricula. Often, the concept of quality assurance is quite vague to graduate students, especially at the master’s level. However, the idea of applying standards to practice is more concrete and students can quickly come to understand the role, function, and utility of professional standards. Thus, students from the outset can begin to internalize the professional interests of self-regulation and improvement. Many college student affairs academic programs have incorporated the CAS standards into their practicum and internship experiential components. Students may complete a “mini-self-study” of the functional areas to which they are assigned as part of their practical field-work experiences. This not only ensures that future practitioners know about the existence of the CAS standards, but also provides them with direct experience that enhances their ability to put the standards into practice as they move into entry level positions.
The professional role of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education has become increasingly important during the past quarter century. The first order of business was to develop and promulgate professional standards of practice and preparation for student affairs and student support programs and services. However, CAS is viewed by many as an important professional development vehicle as well. CAS user surveys designed to determine how CAS influenced professional practice and the use of CAS materials were most revealing and are summarized below.
Many practitioners indicated that CAS standards are important because they speak to the issues of institutional change as practitioners struggle to meet the needs of ever changing student constituent bodies, not only in numbers but in age, gender, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, and long term goals as well. One respondent shared the perspective that “. . . as each campus has examined its own situation, and looked to its peers for ideas, the CAS standards have guided not only implementation but review and evaluation. Most of this work was done in expansionary times. Now as we regroup, downsize, retrench, whatever institutions name it, we need to have some means by which to measure what we do. The CAS standards, in all of the functional areas, serve as an excellent tool to begin that process. They are flexible without being vague, broad without being limitless, and ideal for what we constantly face in higher education, change.”
One comment that reflected the value of the CAS initiative for entry-level professionals was most telling. “I can easily imagine that the standards would provide indispensable guidance for some of our younger or less experienced colleagues in graduate education. It must be like having a consultant’s report at your finger tips that attests, “Do at least this much well, and you will find success in your program.”
The CAS enterprise has led to a number of spin-offs in that some professional groups have expanded on the standards to meet sometimes highly specific professional needs. One example is in the area of learning assistance. As one respondent noted, “No sooner than the first Learning Assistance Program Standards were published, we were already talking about how to build upon that work. Whereas the CAS standards addressed broad basic elements that are essential to a comprehensive learning assistance program, practitioners in the field expressed interest in obtaining similar statements that addressed pedagogical components as well.”
Consequently, the National Association for Developmental Education [NADE] responded to the challenge by creating “NADE Guides”. These documents emulated the CAS standards assessment model and addressed the specific functions of tutoring services, adjunct instructional programs, developmental coursework, and the teaching/learning process. This developmental activity led to inter-association cooperation among learning assistance and developmental education organizations and paved a path for communication and collaboration in the revision of the CAS Learning Assistance Program Standards. A related comment was made by a close observer of CAS initiatives.
“I have two general observations. First, CAS has filled a void that no other organization could accomplish. A network has been established to mutually equip the student affairs profession with standards of performance. Second, the CAS effort has attracted increased attention and offered increased value over the years. A genuine service has been provided to the academy by helping and guiding all students toward achieving holistic development.”
Another CAS-sponsored survey was initiated in Spring 2000 and directed by Jan L. Arminio at Shippensburg University (Arminio & Gochenaur, 2004). CAS surveyed over 5,000 individual members from 22 CAS member associations. Of those responding, 62.5% had heard of CAS (i.e., 85 percent of responding vice presidents; 67% of functional area directors, 66% of new professionals, and 31% of faculty members). Participants in the study were asked if they measured learning outcomes and if so whether there was a connection between CAS standards and positive learning outcomes. Forty-one percent stated that there was a connection, 28% said there was a vague or indirect connection, 2% stated there was no connection, and 19% were unsure. Of those who stated that CAS has positively influenced their programs, 27% believed CAS positively influenced programs through assessing current programs, 22% in expanding current programs, 13% through clarifying mission and goals, 10% by justifying current programs, 8% by emphasizing student and staff training, 5% as a guide for new programs, and 4% to influence budget programs. Eighty-two percent of vice presidents and associate vice presidents for student affairs stated that CAS standards were positively associated with learning outcomes. A member of NACA noted, “CAS has closed the loop in student activities advising to see if student leaders learn or do not.”
Future study is needed to answer other important questions about the influence of CAS and its initiatives. In an article published in the College Student Affairs Journal (2003), Don G. Creamer offers several CAS-related research questions that need to be addressed:
- What is the level of use of CAS Standards by functional area and geographic area?
- What is the type and frequency of use of CAS Standards and Guidelines?
- How do CAS Standards shape professional practice?
- What is the role of CAS in shaping educational programs and services?
- Do practitioners perceive that the use of CAS Standards and Guidelines improves their performance?
- Does CAS benefit professionals’ learning and development?
- Are programs and services that meet CAS Standards and Guidelines more effective in meeting learning goals than those that do not?
- How does professional practice that is influenced by CAS in turn influence student learning?
There can be little doubt that the CAS initiative has been fruitful during its nearly thirty-five- year existence. Although there is much work yet to do, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education has made a professional difference and is prepared to continue its important efforts toward professionalizing programs and services in higher education
While continuing to develop and revise functional area standards, CAS has also continued to explore ways to improve and enhance its work. One of the most significant and influential CAS initiatives was the 2003 revision of the CAS general standards that are incorporated into each functional area standard. This revision included a major emphasis on student learning and development, which was evident primarily in the Program component, Part Two, of each functional area standard. This section includes relevant student learning and development outcome domains designed to guide practitioners in their attempts to both emphasize and assess student learning and development. The example assessment indicators included in the table are intended to help practitioners identify behaviors that reflect student achievement in the various domains.
CAS has also used its collective voice and inter-association collaboration to develop two new statements related to the work of professionals in higher education. The first, the CAS Characteristics of Individual Excellence for Professional Practice in Higher Education, is designed to define a list of necessary attributes for professionals in higher education that is broader than competencies and includes other markers of professionalism. While CAS has historically focused on quality assurance with regard to programs and services, the Characteristics were created to suggest the hallmarks of quality on an individual basis. The second statement, the CAS Statement of Shared Ethical Principles, articulates those values which underlie the ethics statements of CAS member associations. By identifying the themes, the statement is designed to highlight the beliefs shared by professionals working across the range of functional areas in higher education. Like the standards themselves, the Characteristics of Individual Excellence and the Statement of Shared Ethical Principles seek to identify, articulate, and promulgate quality practices in the work that we do.
A standard to guide practice is an essential characteristic of any established profession. It is vital during the evolution of a mature profession that a relevant set of standards be developed and promulgated by and for those working in that arena. The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) was founded in 1979 as a profession-wide entity to establish standards to guide practice by student affairs, student development, and student support service providers employed by institutions of higher learning. Currently, 40 professional associations hold membership in CAS, representing nearly 100,000 higher education service providers. CAS provides 43 functional area standards for use by the profession at large, as well as statements related to individual characteristics of excellence and to ethical principles. The first edition of CAS Professional Standards was published under the auspices of the American College Testing Program (CAS, 1986).
During the twentieth century, college and university student support programs evolved from a few faculty members being assigned part-time to attend to students’ needs beyond the classroom to the establishment of institutional divisions designed to complement the educational goals of academic affairs. Further, contemporary student support programs employ many full-time, well-qualified staff members, most with highly specialized knowledge and skills and with advanced degrees. There is little doubt that the complexity of the student support services enterprise has increased as organizational structures have expanded. It is largely in response to the increased complexity of role, function, and purpose that the CAS standards were developed. As the field matured and the responsibilities of its practitioners expanded, a complementary need for accountability increased. It is no longer feasible, let alone desirable, for practitioners to function on the basis of best guesses or intuition when creating environments conducive to student learning and development. Likewise, practitioners have demanded that standards be developed to guide the quality of practice. The CAS functional area standards and guidelines have been developed to meet these important professional needs. CAS was created as a bellwether for the profession at large. To ensure cross-fertilization of theories, research, and application strategies from the field as a whole, knowledgeable representatives from its member associations bring to the table the most current thinking in the functional areas they represent and champion. This commitment to collaboration among functional area specialties ensures that no single component will dominate the foundations that underlie the generation, revision, and presentation of each CAS standard. Although the standards reflect a broad range of interests, they are clearly values driven. Underlying them is a set of fundamental principles upon which CAS was founded and by which it is guided.
The fundamental principles that undergird the work of CAS and guide its initiatives are organized into five categories. They were derived from theories and conceptual models implicit within human development, group dynamics, student learning, organizational management, and higher education administration that inform the work of student affairs administrators, student development educators, and student support service providers.
These initial eight principles are concerned with how students learn and the environmental conditions that institutions need to emphasize for learning and development to occur. The first four principles were derived from the 1938 and 1949 editions of the Student Personnel Point of View (Miller & Prince, 1976, p.4) and reflect fundamental “truths” upon which the CAS standards and guidelines are based. Principles five through eight reflect institutional perspectives that complement the student-focused viewpoint. When combined, these principles represent the presuppositions upon which student support programs and services are founded.
- The student must be considered as a whole person.
- Each student is a unique person and must be treated as such.
- The student’s total environment is educational and must be used to achieve full development.
- Students seek higher education in responsible ways and will, when encouraged to do so, access appropriate educational resources when they are provided, made known, and relevant to students’ felt educational and developmental needs.
- Institutions of higher learning are purposeful and function as social and cultural resources to provide opportunities for students to learn and develop in holistic ways.
- The primary responsibility for learning and development rests with the student.
- Institutions of higher learning reflect the diversity of the societies and cultures in which they exist.
- Institutions are responsible for creating learning environments that provide a choice of educational opportunities and challenge students to learn and develop while providing support to nurture their development.
Each CAS functional area standard was created to inform practitioners about the criteria that represent fundamental levels of programmatic and organizational quality that must be met if institutions are to be effective in facilitating student learning and development.
In effect, when a college or university provides programs and services that meet or exceed the CAS criteria, the institution will have effectively implemented an intentional educational environment conducive to the learning and development of its students. It is important to note that the CAS standards do not dictate that students, individually or collectively, must conform to a prescribed standard of involvement or behavior. Rather, they call for institutions and student support programs to meet a standard of programmatic and organizational efficiency and effectiveness sufficient to provide opportunity and encouragement for students to grow, develop, and achieve individual potentials. They further call upon institutions and their programs and services to identify the outcomes that they intend students to achieve and to assess those outcomes to determine the extent to which they have been accomplished. The institution and its educational programs are social resources that provide citizens opportunities to expand their horizons and capacities to serve society. The CAS standards have been developed and promulgated from a profession-wide point of view to provide institutions with a relevant, reasonable, and achievable set of voluntary professional standards.
Issues of diversity in institutions of higher education can be fraught with dissension and discord. The CAS standards assert the importance of affirming the existence of diversity and considering its influence when creating and implementing educational and developmental initiatives. In an increasingly complex and shrinking global environment, it is essential that students learn to function effectively and justly when exposed to ideas, beliefs, values, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientations, gender expresssions, and cultures that differ from their own. Two principles in this regard are embedded in the CAS standards.
- Recognizing the ubiquitous nature of human diversity, institutions are committed to eliminating barriers that impede student learning and development, attending especially to establishing and maintaining diverse human relationships essential to survival in a global society.
- Justice and respect for differences bond individuals to community; thus education for multicultural awareness and positive regard for differences is essential to the development and maintenance of a health engendering society.
The CAS standards call for institutions and their student support programs to recognize the increasingly diverse societies to be served and the importance of enhancing students’ capacities to function effectively within the context of constantly shifting environments and opinions. CAS recognizes that the spirit of affirmative action is inherent in the delivery of effective student support services and that discrimination against any student population or employment category is antithetical to belief in the dignity of the individual. This proposition is fundamental to student development theory and its applications to practice. The CAS standards reinforce the fact that those responsible for creating educational environments need to be open to and accepting of differences, and that they must recognize that such environments are important for enhancing the quality of the education provided and the learning achieved. Further, the standards consistently call for staffing with personnel whose demographic characteristics reflect those of the institution’s constituencies. In addition, all students must have access to the educational and co-curricular resources available to the academic community at large; no student, for any reason, should be denied access to them.
The CAS standards reflect the belief that form follows function; consequently, the structure of an organization should mirror the purposes for which it was established. It is essential that institutions, programs, and services be based on a mutually determined, clearly and publicly stated, and well-understood purpose. Without a clearly defined mission, an institution and its programs are virtually rudderless and will ultimately founder. Unmistakably defined lines of authority must be drawn, detailed duties and job responsibilities described, and policies and procedures established to guide the desired processes. Those who lead and administer programs of student support must remember that because theory without practice is empty, and practice without theory is blind, it is essential that the theory embraced be connected to the purposes sought in pursuit of quality practice. Three basic principles concerned with these factors also underlie the CAS standards.
- Capable, credible, knowledgeable, and experienced leadership is essential for institutional success; organizational units are most successful when their missions and outcome expectations are effectively documented and understood by all concerned.
- Effective programs and services require well-qualified staff members who understand and support the student learning and development outcomes the programs are intended to promote.
- Student learning and personal development will be enhanced when staff members at all levels of responsibility possess appropriate, relevant, and adequate educational preparation and practical experience.
CAS standards do not prescribe organizational or administrative structures to which institutions and programs are expected to adhere. CAS is guided by the belief that every institution is unique and must establish the frame of administrative reference most appropriate to its particular mission. Consequently, the standards do not prescribe specific requirements, but rather provide fundamental criteria that practitioners can use to judge the effectiveness of their current or projected structures. For example, certain elements clearly are essential to functional success, including employing leaders who possess viable visions of how and what is to be achieved and are suitably positioned for access to the highest administrative levels. Leaders and staff members alike must possess effective managerial skills, be properly titled, and be well qualified by both education and experience. Under-educated and under-experienced staff members, good intentions notwithstanding, will virtually always fail to accomplish the program’s objectives over the long term.
Institutional environments of quality combine educational philosophies and values in conjunction with adequate physical facilities, human resources, and fiscal support to create positive input on the education and development of students. The establishment of effective, health-generating environments is an important aspect of the CAS standards.
- Student support and developmental programs and services prosper in benevolent environments that provide students with appropriate levels of challenge and support.
The primary purpose of education has always been to promote change, both in individuals and in society. College and university student support programs are primarily educational enterprises. Clearly, the Student Learning Imperative (ACPA, 1996) prevails throughout each CAS functional area standard because an important purpose of the standards is to provide criteria that can be used to judge a program’s capacity and effectiveness in creating learning and development opportunities. The establishment of educational environments conducive to student learning and development is essential if an institution of higher learning is to achieve its educational purposes.
A major component in each CAS standard incorporates the fundamental ethical expectations to which all student support practitioners must adhere to ensure fair and equitable practice. Just as a mission statement is essential to provide programs with direction, ethical standards are essential to guide the behavior of staff members in ways that enhance the overall integrity of both the program and its host institution.
- Because special mentoring relationships exist between students and those who facilitate their learning and development, support service providers must exemplify impeccable ethical behavior in both their professional relationships and their personal lives.
As an essential task of every profession’s emergence, it establishes and codifies ethical standards to guide the behavior of its members. The CAS standards provide the essential ethical foundations upon which to build humane, ethical practice. Without a clearly defined code of ethics, support service staff members would have little or no guidance for establishing and maintaining a reasonable level of effective moral and ethical behavior. The best of intentions are insufficient if they are not founded on a solid ethical base that can be understood and acknowledged by all concerned. Practitioners can be informed by their own association’s ethical codes, the relevant criteria in the CAS standards, and the CAS Statement of Shared Ethical Principles.
CAS standards and guidelines are conceived and crafted with care to be instructive and useful to practitioners and educational leaders. Based upon professional judgment and societal expectations, they include principles that are fundamental to student learning and development and guidelines for practice for particular functional areas.
Because CAS believes in the importance of self-assessment, the standards and guidelines, as well as other CAS-related materials, are offered as criteria that can be used in multiple ways toward the goal of assuring and enhancing quality practice.Â As noted in the CAS Preamble (below), they can be used for design of new programs and services, for determining the efficacy of programs, for staff development, or for programmatic assessment as part of an institutional self-study.Â CAS does not prescribe or proscribe ways of using the standards; rather, they are intended to be tools for practitioners to use to improve practice.
The development of an assessment process is a task that many practitioners are facing today.Â While CAS can be an important tool for part of the plan, it is important to think about the larger picture.Â Upcraft and Schuh (1996, pp. 27-30), in describing a comprehensive assessment model, assert that it should include the following:
- Keeping track of who uses student services, programs, and facilities
- Assessing of student and other clientele needs
- Assessing clientele satisfaction
- Assessing campus environments and student cultures
- Assessing outcomes
- Conducting comparable institutions assessment (i.e., benchmarking)
- Using nationally accepted standards to assess
An institution, division, program, or service with an assessment plan that incorporates all of these elements will have abundant documentation with which to complete a CAS self-study.Â Assessing the separate elements of the program or service supplies the evidence with which to support ratings in the self-study process.
The most thorough and, perhaps, productive use of the standards involves a self-study process for program evaluation. This process involves others at the institution in examining evidence to determine collectively whether the program is in compliance with the standards. Involvement of others serves several purposes; it ensures a broader and more objective perspective, increases knowledge and awareness of the program across the institution, and develops support for implementation of identified improvements.
For each set of standards and guidelines, CAS provides a Self-Assessment Guide (SAG) that includes a recommended comprehensive self-study process for program evaluation. Seven basic steps to using a SAG are suggested for implementing a functional area self-study. The following, in summary form, is the recommended self-study process.
Division and functional area leaders need first to determine the functional area or areas to be evaluated and the reason for the project.Â This may be dictated by institutional program review cycles or planning for accreditation processes, or it may result from internal divisional goals and needs.
It is desirable to involve the full functional area staff in the initial planning stage of the self-study process, including support staff members and knowledgeable students and faculty members when feasible. This approach provides opportunity for shared ownership in the evaluation. For a self-study of a single functional area, a representative group of three to five members, including one or more knowledgeable individuals from outside the area under review, should be selected to compose the primary self-study team.
Initially, the team should familiarize itself with the relevant CAS functional area standard by examining it carefully before making individual or group judgments. It is important that all members come to understand and interpret the standard in similar fashion. Team training should be conducted to ensure that membersâ€™ interpretive differences are resolved before initiating the study. Likewise, ground rules for the study should be established and agreed upon. Team members should realize and accept that disagreement is natural, healthy, and probably inevitable, but the resulting debates will usually strengthen the teamâ€™s understanding and ultimate consensus on the matter.Â Finally, the team should discuss whether any of the guidelines (included with the standards to indicate areas where practice can be enhanced beyond the minimum expectations) should be treated as a standard for self-study purposes.Â For example, a functional area guideline might include the statement â€œfacilities should include a private office where individual consultations can be held.â€ The study team may decide that this guideline statement, which is not a CAS standard compliance requirement, is imperative at their institution and should therefore be treated as a standard for purposes of their self-study. If so decided, a criterion measure statement such as â€œprivate office space is available for staff members to use for consultation purposesâ€ would be inserted as a criterion measure to be rated along with the other criterion measures included in the SAG and evaluated accordingly.
It is helpful to have relevant documents and evidence collected prior to initiating the self-study.Â While the team may identify additional information that is needed to complete the review, having basic documents from the functional area available at the outset will assist them in making progress in their work (see further detail in Identify and Summarize Evaluative Evidence below).
It is suggested that team members use the CAS Functional Area Self-Assessment Guide (SAG) to implement the self-study. When used, the initial steps are for members to review available documentation, to rate the criterion measures individually and then collectively to make judgments about how well the program meets the criteria. The SAG provides a 4-point scale from Not Met to Fully Met for rating the criterion measures, which reflect the essence of the standards.
Judging the program by rating it against the standardâ€™s criterion measures and identifying program strengths and weaknesses does not represent a completed self-study. Rather, the process requires documentation of the evidence that supports each criterion measure rating. The nature of such documentary evidence may be quantitative, qualitative, or, most typically, a combination of the two. For example, quantitative measures might include the staff-to-student ratio for a given activity, an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of a given activity, or the results of a developmental task assessment of student learning and development outcome achievement. Qualitative documentation, on the other hand, might include notes on the process used to develop the programâ€™s mission or outcome objectives or structured interviews with students. Essential documentation includes relevant publications (e.g., student and staff handbooks), program descriptions (e.g., career decision-making workshop outlines), program evaluation data (e.g., program assessment results), institutional data (e.g., student profiles), and self-study initiated research (e.g., student survey or focus group results). No self-study can be considered complete without relevant data and related documentation to support and validate the teamâ€™s judgments. These data can be collected over time and stored in a database for self-study purposes. Such data also have utility for preparing annual reports.
The Program section of the CAS standards for every functional area includes learning and development outcome domains for which programs must demonstrate outcomes.Â It is particularly important that outcomes assessment information be available for review, since assessing the results of our work is a crucial part of determining the effectiveness of the program or service.
Following the rating and review procedure, it is desirable for the study team to invite the full staff to review and discuss the teamâ€™s interim assessment of program compliance with the standards. This approach provides opportunity to inform all staff members of the teamâ€™s evaluation and permits all staff members to explore together how well the program appears to be accomplishing its stated purpose. Through this process, team members may be exposed to alternative interpretations of the study results-to-date and obtain additional insight into the program from the perspective of others.
Study team members should compare their ratings and interpretations of program characteristics, accomplishments, strengths, and shortcomings against the criteria expressed in the standard. Further, the study team should carefully review each criterion measure and related practice that study team members rated as unsatisfactory, or where rated discrepancies of two or more were noted. A specific rationale should be prepared for each shortcoming identified.
When discrepancies are noted between the assessment criteria and actual practice, it is possible to identify existing operational problems that need resolution. For example, each standard calls for the existence of a program mission statement consistent with the nature and goals of the institution. If the program has no written mission statement or an outdated one, then the discrepancy between the standard and actual program practice clearly calls for the creation of a current, relevant program mission statement that is consistent with the institution’s mission.
The self-study team should describe in detail the adjustments that need to be implemented for the program to achieve the quality and effectiveness to which it aspires. For example, returning to the example of the program mission, the action required would call for program staff members to draft a statement delineating the elements they believe are agreed upon, circulate them for review and comment, and then prepare and disseminate a final program mission statement to guide the program and its services.
An important point to note in regard to corrective action is the importance of subdividing the overall task into manageable parts that can be accomplished in step-by-step fashion. Trying to revise a total functional area in one step is neither a desirable nor an effective approach to program development. It is important that the study team list specific actions identified in the self-study that require implementation. It is also desirable to set priorities on the list by order of importance, need, and achievability of the desired change.
Even excellent programs can be further refined to provide more desirable and effective outcomes. Action in this regard is particularly relevant for programs in which self-study team members identified selected guidelines calling for enhanced functioning. Unless staff members are satisfied with meeting basic standards only, additional initiatives can be implemented to enhance program quality and effectiveness. This can be accomplished by listing each specific action identified in the self-study that would enhance and strengthen services and setting priorities among them for follow-up purposes.
As the self-study process comes to closure, it is important for staff members to identify and establish priorities to influence the program’s future directions. This represents a process of comparing past performance with desired outcomes and can best be accomplished by carefully reviewing the actual self-study process that was conducted to ensure that all relevant program issues are addressed. The post-self-assessment action plan should acknowledge the program’s strengths as well as its shortcomings as it moves toward establishing a strategic approach for correcting deficiencies and initiating enhancements. The primary goal of this final step is to identify and set priorities for future actions and directions, after comparing the results of the self-study with the outcomes to which the program aspires.
The process for preparing a final program action plan consists of preparing a comprehensive action plan for implementing program changes, identifying resources (i.e., human, fiscal, physical) that are essential to program enhancement, establishing dates by which specific actions are to be completed, identifying responsible parties to complete the action steps, and setting a tentative start-up date for initiating a subsequent self-study.
For those interested in obtaining additional information and training on the self-assessment process described above, CAS has prepared an e-learning program that is incorporated into the CAS Self-Assessment Guides CD; information is available on the CAS Online Store.
In addition to the model presented for full program self-study, the CAS standards are a resource that can be used for a number of other purposes. The uses outlined below are representative; since the standards and guidelines are tools to be used by practitioners, there are not really “wrong” ways to use them, as long as the values and spirit underlying them are honored.
As student and institutional needs change, the opportunity may arise to develop a new program or service on campus, or to expand or restructure existing areas. In doing so, it is helpful to have criteria to serve as an outline to guide and ground planning. The functional area standards and guidelines can serve as a helpful resource when such planning is needed. The mission and program sections are particularly helpful in specifying important goals and components relevant to the functional area being developed.
Staff members can study the various criteria to determine how well they and their colleagues are implementing the standards in their daily work with students. The relevant functional area standards can be used as an orientation device to assist new professionals in understanding and reviewing their areas, as a point of discussion for supervisors and staff to discuss program strengths and weaknesses, as a resource for educating others at the institution about what is involved in a sound program, or as the format by which annual program reports are prepared. The more the CAS standards are used within a division or institution, the more it will lead to a common language and shared perception of the elements of good practice.
The most comprehensive staff development program, using one of the functional area standards and guidelines, or the General Standards, as a training device, may require from several hours to a full day of meeting time during which staff members share responsibility for leading discussions about the standard’s various components. This approach is particularly valuable when a program or division self-study is in the offing. In such an instance, staff members can both learn how CAS standards can be used to guide and influence good practice and how they can provide a vehicle for implementing a self-study. Training staff members before conducting a self-study typically produces a more comprehensive and valuable program evaluation.
The CAS standards have another valuable educational function when used as a resource in formal academic preparation programs, especially in an introductory course concerned with student support functions common to institutions of higher learning. The 43 CAS functional area standards and their accompanying contextual statements, as well as the statements regarding individual characteristics, shared ethical principles, and learning and development outcomes, provide an excellent primer for those entering the fields of student affairs and higher education administration. The contextual statements summarize the roles and functions of key program and service units, their primary purposes, historical perspectives, and relevant resources available to explore the areas in greater detail. These succinct summary statements provide an introduction for those unfamiliar with the areas under study. The CAS standards provide an in-depth description of the characteristics common to and expected of the various functional areas.
For students who desire to examine a given functional area in greater detail or participate in a practicum, internship, or other field-based experience, the CAS Self-Assessment Guide (SAG) provides a unique resource for obtaining a comprehensive understanding. Each functional area SAG includes the standards, guidelines, and criterion measures that can be used to judge the level of compliance a program exhibits in regard to the standards. Using a SAG, students can readily identify a program’s strengths and shortcomings. Further, the SAG has utility as a vehicle for both students and supervisors to use for examining together and discussing the various components of the area under study. For learning the basics of student support functions, there is no better information available than that provided by the CAS standards and the complementary Self-Assessment Guides that operationalize the various standards.
Any profession, along with its practitioners, must exhibit a reasonable level of credibility if it is to survive. Professional entities lacking user confidence will be at best underutilized and may ultimately disappear. In effect, credibility is essential to the existence of all service agencies, including those associated with higher education. Through publication of and adherence to standards of professional practice, institutions seek to assure potential student users and the general public of their competence and credibility. Both laypersons and professionals alike attribute credibility to programs, professions, and institutions that meet stringent standards; compliance with such standards demonstrates that quality is present.
Various means have been established to ensure accountability and quality assurance. Institutional and academic program credibility is typically established through accreditation, a voluntary process by which agencies encourage and assist institutions and their sub-units (e.g., colleges, schools, departments, and programs) to evaluate and improve their programs and services (Eaton, 2001). Information about the institutions and programs that voluntarily meet or exceed acceptable standards of quality and effectiveness is made public by the accrediting body. It is not uncommon for institutions not possessing accreditation status to be denied federal aid or other resources available to accredited institutions. Graduates of non-accredited institutions may be denied admission to graduate schools or certain employment opportunities. Accreditation is intended to assure the public that an institution and its programs do indeed provide quality education.
However, the general public cannot be assured that individuals who have diplomas, certificates, or degrees from accredited institutions and programs are, in fact, effective practitioners. Consequently, various structures have been established by professional and governmental oversight agencies to judge the professional qualifications of service providers in education, health, and social service areas.
Three primary methods have been established to enable individuals to document their professional qualifications: registry, certification, and licensure. CAS, which is a consortium of higher education professional associations, focuses minimal attention on these credentialing options, although some have encouraged CAS to expand its focus into registry or certification, which are often initiated by non-governmental professional bodies. Licensure, on the other hand, is largely the province of governments. For instance, licenses based on generally comparable criteria are required of physicians, psychologists, and lawyers in all states; counselors and engineers, on the other hand, are judged by diverse criteria from state to state.
As demand for accountability in higher education increases, so too does demand for practitioner accountability. CAS endorses self-regulation as the most viable approach to program accountability, calling for each institution to initiate a program of self-assessment for its student support programs, services, and personnel. Whether student support units are administratively assigned to student affairs, academic affairs, business affairs, or elsewhere in the organizational hierarchy, CAS encourages program review and evaluation on a continuing basis using the CAS standards. From this perspective, self-regulation becomes a preferred strategy to establish and maintain credibility.
When deemed appropriate and desirable, the various functional areas could invite representatives from peer institutions, or professionals with particular expertise in the areas being studied, to review their self-assessment reports as part of the validation process. Self-regulation requires institutions and their leaders to establish their own policies and procedures for institutional assessment and evaluation and to adhere to them when evaluating quality and effectiveness. Thus, through continuing assessment, institutions can compile and maintain in databases the internal documentation required by regional accrediting bodies and governmental oversight agencies. Self-regulation provides institutions and their student support programs with tools to achieve and evidence quality assurance. In effect, if institutions accept responsibility for initiating meaningful and well considered assessment processes and procedures, there is less likelihood that external oversight agencies, governmental or otherwise, will seek to do so.
The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education was established as a profession-wide collaborative body to develop and promulgate professional standards and to inform those responsible for providing higher education with information about how to use standards effectively. CAS functional area standards were created as living, evolving documents. The Council established a periodic review program to ensure that each standard undergoes regular review and updating. Protocols to guide the development of new and the revision of existing standards are in place. These protocols identify the processes, participants, and procedures used by CAS to create and review its standards. Completion of a typical standard review takes approximately one year from initiation to Board adoption. It may take slightly longer to complete a new standard because an initial draft must be written before the CAS review process can be initiated. Historically, by the time a functional area standard has undergone the long and arduous development and review, the CAS Board of Directors has nearly always been unanimous in its decision to adopt a new or revised standard, and in fact, the Board review process is designed to lead to consensus.
In the rich discussions that emerge around the Board table, other issues or needs are sometimes identified. When ideas emerge that are found to be within the scope and purpose of CAS, projects to support and enhance the work of CAS are undertaken. This is the genesis of the projects that have developed into the SAGs, the FALDOs, the Characteristics of Individual Excellence, the Statement of Shared Ethical Principles, and the CAS National Symposium.
In addition to its primary purpose to develop and promulgate professional standards, CAS takes seriously its responsibility to inform and educate the higher education community and the public about the importance of professional standards and their utility for institutional and program self-assessment. Over the years, CAS Board members have represented the Council in numerous conferences, workshops, and instructional activities designed to inform members of the higher education community about CAS initiatives and instruct practitioners in using the standards. Most of the CAS member associations have periodically included CAS-related presentations and training workshops in their conference programs. On several occasions, CAS representatives have made presentations at the annual American Association of Higher Education Assessment Forum, and CAS has been represented internationally at the European Association of Institutional Research in Prague and through an invited series of seminars in South Africa. Likewise, CAS has sponsored a series of assessment workshops designed to instruct higher education personnel in the use of CAS standards in combination with regional accrediting criteria when implementing institutional accreditation self-studies. In 2006, CAS initiated the first CAS National Symposium to further educate participants on the implementation of the CAS approach and materials; the second was held in 2009 in conjunction with the publication of the seventh edition of the CAS Professional Standards and the revised CAS Learning and Development Outcomes.
The CAS standards provide an important tool that expresses to students, faculty, and administrators alike the complex and vital nature of student support programs and services and their relationship to student learning and development. There are ample indications within higher education that there is a lack of understanding about the importance of creating supportive, health engendering environments for students as an important condition that enhances the higher education experiences. Over the years, those providing students with basic educational support services have often been viewed as secondary or supplemental participants in achieving the academic mission, rather than integral to it. The creation of clearly articulated professional standards has gone far to deepen the understanding of faculty and administrative colleagues and to increase their confidence in the valuable educational and developmental role that student support service providers offer students.
Note: The preceding section was adapted from previous editions and was originally authored by Ted K. Miller.
Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.
- George Washington, 1787
The CAS Purpose
The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) develops and promulgates standards that enhance the quality of a student’s total learning experience in higher education. CAS is a consortium of associations in higher education whose representatives achieve consensus on the nature and application of standards that guide the work of practitioners. CAS derives its authority from the prestige and traditional influence of its member associations and from the consensus of those members in establishing requirements for high-quality practice.
The CAS philosophy is grounded in beliefs about excellence in higher education, collaboration between teacher and learner, ethics in educational practice, student development as a major goal of higher education, and student responsibility for learning. Taken together, these beliefs about practice shape the vision for all CAS endeavors.
- The beliefs about excellence require that all programs and services in institutions of higher education function at optimum level.
- The beliefs about collaboration require that learning be accomplished in concert by students and educators.
- The beliefs about ethics require that all programs and services be carried out in an environment of integrity and high ideals.
- The beliefs about student development require that the student be considered as a whole person in the context of a diverse population and a diversity of institutions, that outcomes of education be comprehensive, and that the total environment be structured to create opportunities for student involvement and learning.
- The beliefs about responsibility require that the institution recognize the rights and responsibilities of students as its citizens and that it provide an array of resources and learning opportunities that enable students to exercise their responsibility to take full advantage of them.
CAS collectively develops, examines, and endorses standards and guidelines for program and service areas in higher education. The CAS approach to ensuring quality educational experiences is anchored in the assumption that its standards and guidelines can be used in a variety of ways to enhance institutional quality. They can, for example, be used for design of programs and services, for determination of the efficacy of programs, for staff development designed to enhance the skills of those providing professional services, for programmatic self-assessment to assure institutional effectiveness, and for self-regulation purposes.
The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education was established in 1979 as the Council for the Advancement of Standards for Student Services/Development Programs, a consortium of professional associations representing student affairs practitioners committed to assuring quality programs and services for students. Members of nearly 40 established professional associations have directed their interests, talents, and resources to develop and promulgate professional standards and guidelines based on state-of-the-art thinking about educational programs and services. From the beginning, CAS has employed an open process of consensus-building among the representatives of member associations as the primary tool for producing its standards and guidelines.
The Council published the original set of 16 functional area standards and the academic preparation standards in 1986, with a grant from American College Testing (ACT). In 1988, CAS developed a Self-Assessment Guide (SAG) for each set of functional area standards to facilitate program assessment and evaluation. Each SAG is an operational version of a functional area standard designed to provide practitioners with a detailed instrument for self-assessment.
The Council’s current name and expanded mission were adopted in 1992, to be inclusive of all programs for students in higher education, including those serving undergraduate, graduate, traditional, and nontraditional students. CAS now oversees the development of standards for new service areas and the systematic review and periodic revision of existing standards and guidelines.
The CAS Approach to Self-Regulation and Self-Assessment
Self-regulation is an internally motivated and directed institutional process devoted to the creation, maintenance, and enhancement of high-quality programs and services. CAS believes this approach is preferable to externally motivated regulation, because those within an institution generally have the clearest perceptions of its mission, goals, resources, and capabilities. The essential elements of self-regulation include:
- Institutional culture that values involvement of all its members in decision making,
- Quality indicators that are determined by the institution,
- Use of standards and guidelines in quality assurance,
- Collection and analysis of data on institutionalÂ performance, and
- Commitment to continuing improvement that presupposes freedom to explore and develop alternative directions for the future.
The success of self-regulation depends on mutual respect between an institution and its members. Within the self-regulated institution, individual accomplishments are valued, goals are based on shared vision, systems are open and interactive, processes are carried out in a climate of mutual trust and caring, conflicts are mediated in the best interests of the entire community, and achievements are recognized and rewarded. Such an environment stimulates individual and group initiatives and fosters self-determination of goals. In a self-regulating environment, members identify quality indicators in consultation with a variety of internal and external constituencies and stakeholders, including professional associations.
These indicators may include professionally derived standards, such as those of CAS, which comprise the views of many professional practitioners and professional associations. Self-regulation relies on the willingness and capacity of the organization to examine itself meticulously, faithfully, and reliably, and then to assemble the pertinent results of that examination into coherent reports that constituents can comprehend and use. Such reports are essential for recording the evidence assembled in self-study, for displaying synthesis and analysis of information, for fostering the broad participation of members in the self-regulation process, and for registering benchmark results and conclusions for future reference.
Finally, the self-regulation process relies on the institution’s capacity to modify its own practices as needed. A culture that supports self-regulation must operate in a climate that permits members to make independent choices among reasonable alternatives. These choices constitute a commitment to constant improvement of educational practices and of the health of the organization.
American College Personnel Association (ACPA). (March/April 1996). Special issue: The student learning imperative. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2).
Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS). (1986). CAS standards and guidelines for student service/development programs. Iowa City: American College Testing Program.
Eaton, J. S. (March/April 2001). Regional accreditation reform: Who is served? Change Magazine, 39-45.
Miller, T. K., & Prince, J. S. (1976). The future of student affairs: A guide to student development for tomorrow’s higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
CAS celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2009. This page highlights some of the special presentations and awards presented and received to mark this special time in the history of CAS.
ACPA Contribution to Higher Education Award
Presented to Theodore (Ted) K. Miller on March 30, 2009, at the ACPA 85th Anniversary Convention in National Harbor, Maryland. He remarks highlight the contributions of CAS over the past 30 years.
National Council for Student Development 2009 Achievement of Excellence Award
CAS received the National Council for Student Development 2009 Achievement of Excellence Award. NCSD is a division of the American Association of Community Colleges. The award was presented at the NCSD annual conference in Denver, Colorado, on October 23, 2009. Featured in the picture are Dr. Deb Garrett (NCSD Director on CAS), former NCSD President Dr. Joe Watson (VP at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, NY); receiving the award is then-CAS president Dr. Susan R. Komives.