Glossary of CAS Terms

accreditation. A “process of external quality review created and used by higher education to scrutinize colleges, universities and programs for quality improvement” (Eaton, 2011, p. 3). Accreditation is divided into two types - institutional and specialized. Although both are designed to assure fundamental levels of quality, the former focuses on the institution as a whole while the latter focuses on academic pre-professional or specialty professional programs such as law, business, psychology, and education, or services such as counseling centers within the institution. Campus communities typically use a self-assessment process to prepare for accreditation team visits. Although the CAS standards can provide a foundation for accreditation self-study, CAS is not an accrediting body.

administrators of programs and services. Individuals with oversight or responsibility for implementing functional area programs and services.

assessment. “Actions taken to gather, analyze, and interpret information and evidence to support the effectiveness of institutions, departments, divisions, or agencies” (Timm, Davis Barham, McKinney, & Knerr, 2013, p. 86) and to use data gathered through the process to improve overall quality, practice, and decision-making.

assessment plan. An “intentionally developed sequence of activities that ensures coherence from program planning through implementation and assessment of outcomes” (Davis Barham & Dean, 2013, p. 7).

benchmark. A criterion used for comparison to measure and evaluate a program or service; a reference point.

best practice. A phrase used to refer to a method, approach, or program that is thought to represent an aspirational level of achievement; in informal usage, the determination often has no assessment or vetting associated with it. CAS standards are not intended to represent best practices except in the sense that they are identified through a widely-informed development and consensus process; they instead represent a threshold of good practice that is meant to be essential and achievable across settings.

Blue Book. The informal name for the printed publication entitled CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education that presents the CAS General Standards and standards and guidelines for functional areas and preparation programs. The first iteration of the CAS Blue Book was published in 1986; in recent years a new edition has been published every three years.

boilerplate. Informal term used by CAS referring to the General Standards when they appear within individual functional area standards.

CAS. The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) is a consortium of over 40 higher education professional associations representing over 100,000 professionals, many with international constituencies. CAS promotes the use of its professional standards for the development, assessment, and improvement of quality student learning, programs, and services. CAS was established in 1979 with the purpose of helping to foster and enhance student learning, development, and achievement at institutions of higher education through the development and promulgation of professional standards of practice. Prior to 1992, the consortium’s name was the Council for the Advancement of Standards for Student Services/Development Programs.

CAS Board of Directors. The body of representatives from professional higher education associations in the U.S. and Canada that have joined the CAS consortium, pay annual dues, and keep their memberships informed about CAS standards and related initiatives. Although each member association may designate two official representatives (Director and Alternate) to act on its behalf at CAS Board meetings, each association has only one vote during Board meetings. All new or revised standards must have the approval of the full Board, generally by consensus.

CAS Executive Committee. The body of CAS officers, including president, past-president, president-elect, secretary, treasurer, and members at large elected by the CAS Board of Directors. The Executive Director and Editor serve ex-officio. This body is responsible for specific leadership and business operations of CAS, including managing finances and keeping records of all meetings. The CAS Executive Committee meets periodically to address CAS governance issues, consider standards drafts prior to Board review, and manage the business of the Council between Board meetings.

CAS member association. One of the 42 (2015) higher education professional associations that has joined CAS and contributes to the work of the Board through its representatives.

CAS Public Director. An individual elected by the CAS Board of Directors to represent the public at large. CAS by-laws call for the appointment of public directors who do not represent a specific functional area or professional association but rather view higher education from a broader perspective.

CAS standards and guidelines. Published criteria and related statements and information designed to provide personnel within college and university programs and services with established practices against which to benchmark, build, evaluate, and self-assess programs and services within a specific unit. The CAS standards and guidelines are made up of all functional area standards, the Masters Level Student Affairs Professional Preparation Program Standards, and the General Standards.

certification. Official recognition by a governmental or professional body attesting that an individual practitioner demonstrates knowledge and can apply learned skills to meet established standards or criteria. Criteria most often include formal academic preparation in prescribed content areas and a period of supervised practice with successful completion of a standardized test of the practitioner’s knowledge. CAS does not offer individual credentials of any kind.

compliance. Adherence to a standard of practice or preparation. Compliance with the CAS standards implies that an institution or program meets or exceeds the fundamental essential criteria established for a functional area program, service, or masters level professional preparation program.

constituents. Those who benefit from or are affected by programs and services. Constituents may include prospective and current students, parents, alumni, faculty, other institution personnel, visitors to the institution, members of the community, employers, and government officials.

criterion categories. Functional area standards are divided into twelve criterion categories (i.e., parts) that help focus assessment efforts. The twelve criterion categories include: mission; program; organization and leadership; human resources; ethics; law, policy, and governance; diversity, equity, and access; internal and external relations; financial resources; technology; facilities and equipment; and assessment.

dimensions. See student learning and development domains and dimensions.

domains. See student learning and development domains and dimensions.

evaluation. A process that “applies judgment to data that are gathered and interpreted through assessment” (Palomba & Banta, 1999, p. 4). The terms assessment and evaluation are often used in tandem to represent the process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data that is then used to judge the outcome of a process or achievement of a goal.

functional area. A distinct grouping of activities, programs, and services within higher education that can be differentiated from other groups (e.g., departments) by its purpose, mission, focus, policies, practices, staff, budget, and the professional interests and backgrounds of its practitioners. In many cases, functional areas are what are often referred to as offices or departments, but CAS uses the term functional area to indicate a program or service that may not have the separate organizational structure typically associated with a department. Examples of functional areas include academic advising, housing and residential life, leadership, and internships. Typically, one or more professional associations represent a functional area on the CAS Board.

functional area standards and guidelines. The set of specific standards and guidelines, with the embedded general standards, that apply to one functional area program or service. Often referred to as the CAS Standards for (insert functional area name). In 2015, there are 45 sets of CAS functional area Standards.

General Standards. The essential level of practice agreed on by the profession at large, as represented by CAS, which applies to all functional area programs and services. The General Standards are a core, global set of standards that articulate common expectations (e.g., expectations that are relevant across all higher education institutions and their programs and services regardless of their specialties). The General Standards espouse student learning and development as fundamental to mission and program. Each general standard is embedded in every set of functional area standards. These boilerplate criteria are presented in bold type and use the auxiliary verb “must,” as do all CAS standards. Note: General Standards are capitalized when referring to the document that lists all general standard statements. The term general standards is not capitalized when referring to a specific general standard statement embedded within functional area standards.

guideline. A statement used to clarify or amplify professional standards. Although not essential for acceptable practice, a guideline provides institutions with a description of enhanced practice that can assist in establishing, assessing, and improving programs and services. Guidelines help programs and services move beyond the essential standards to more fully address the needs of students or the institution. CAS guidelines use the auxiliary verbs "should" and "may" and appear in regular (i.e., not bold) typeface.

institutional programs and services. Refers to the higher education functional areas and the professional preparation programs that CAS supports with standards and guidelines. These institutional programs and services may reside in student affairs, academic affairs, academic units, auxiliary services, enrollment services, and other higher education operational units. A key component of their mission is the provision of programs and services to students in support of learning and development.

learning and development outcomes. Statements that describe significant and measurable change occurring in students as a direct result of their interaction with an educational institution and its programs and services. Learning and development outcomes identify what the learners will know, appreciate, and/or be able to do as a result of engaging with the program or service (UCONN, para. 10). The CAS standards identify six broad student learning and development domains, as well as related dimensions, or elements of the domains, that students should accomplish as a result of their higher education experiences. Institutional programs and services must assess achievement of learning and development outcomes.

outcomes, student learning. See learning and development outcomes.

outcomes, program/programmatic. See program outcomes.

personnel. Refers to all individuals who are involved in the functional area, inclusive of employees across structures of pay (i.e., salaried, stipend, hourly staff); unpaid academic and non-academic interns and volunteers; part-time and full-time; permanent and limited term. Replaces the term faculty and staff which appeared in earlier editions of the standards.

Professional Preparation Program Standards. A set of standards developed and promulgated for purposes of providing master’s level student affairs administration programs with criteria to guide the professional education and preparation of entry-level practitioners in student affairs.

program. Refers to either: (a) organizational, a departmental level administrative unit or sub-unit (e.g., the orientation program); or (b) activity, such as an invited lecture, a workshop, a social event, or a series of organized presentations over time (e.g., a “lunch and learn” program).

program outcome. A measure of the results of a program or service-level goal (e.g., increased satisfaction); often used to include operational outcomes, which represent elements of the program’s functioning (e.g., cost per student).

quality assurance. Activities, processes, and initiatives that are intended to ensure that those accessing available programs and services will benefit from them and achieve intended outcomes. The CAS self-assessment approach is a form of quality assurance.

Self-Assessment Guide (SAG). An operational version of the CAS standards and guidelines designed to provide users with an assessment tool that can be used for self-study or self-assessment purposes. A SAG is available for each functional area for which a CAS standard exists.

self-study. An internal process by which institutions and programs evaluate their quality and effectiveness in reference to established criteria such as the CAS standards and guidelines. This process, often used to prepare for institutional and specialty accreditation, results in a formal report presenting the findings of the internal evaluation implemented by institutional employees. For accreditation purposes, this report is then validated by an external committee of peers from comparable institutions or programs.

self-regulation. The recommended process by which the CAS standards and guidelines can best be used to assess and evaluate institutional programs and services. This approach calls for institutions and programs to establish, maintain, and enhance the quality of their offerings and environments by using the standards to evaluate themselves. CAS believes that each institution and its programs can and should seek to assess, evaluate, and identify ways to improve its own practices rather than relying on external agencies to do so.

standard. A statement framed within the context of a functional area or professional preparation program designed to provide practitioners with criteria against which to judge the quality of the programs and services offered. Each individual criterion statement, or standard, reflects an essential level of practice that, when met, represents quality practice and performance that any college or university could reasonably achieve. Each CAS standard statement (e.g., Programs and services must develop, disseminate, implement, and regularly review their missions) uses an auxiliary verb (i.e., "must"), is presented in bold print, and is agreed upon by the CAS Board of Directors, representing higher education at large.

standards. The generic term used for a set of CAS standards and guidelines designed for a functional area or professional preparation program (e.g., Career Services Standards). The term standards is also applied to the compilation of all sets of functional area and professional preparation program standards and guidelines that are published as CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education (i.e., the Blue Book).

student learning and development. Individual growth that is an intended outcome of engaging with functional area programs and services. Student learning and development refers to the changes that result when students are exposed to new experiences, concepts, information, and ideas; the knowledge, understanding, and personal growth are generated, in this context, from interactions with higher education learning environments.

student learning and development domains and dimensions. Known as “CAS domains,” they represent six broad categories of student learning and development outcomes: knowledge acquisition, construction, integration, and application; cognitive complexity; intrapersonal development; interpersonal competence; humanitarianism and civic engagement; and practical competence. To comply with CAS standards, institutional programs and services must identify relevant and desirable outcomes from these domains, assess their achievement, and articulate how the programs or services contribute to each of the domains. Each domain includes a number of more specific outcome dimensions, and CAS also provides examples of outcome statements.

universal access/design. Application of principles, theories, research, and practices intended to make products, communications, facilities, campus grounds, environments, learning (in and out of the classroom), programs, and services accessible and usable by people of all ages and abilities.

Davis Barham, J, & Dean, L. A. (2013). Introduction: The foundation. In D. Timm, J. Davis Barham, K. McKinney, & A. R. Knerr (Eds.), Assessment in practice: A companion guide to the ASK standards (pp. 3-8). Washington, DC: ACPA-College Student Educators International. Available from

Eaton, J. S. (2011, August). An overview of U.S. accreditation. Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Retrieved from

Palomba, C. A., & Banta, T. W. (1999). Assessment essentials: Planning, implementing, and improving assessment in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Timm, D. M., Davis Barham. J., McKinney, K., & Knerr, A. R. (2013). Assessment in practice: A companion guide to the ASK standards. Washington, DC: ACPA-College Student Educators International. Available from

UCONN. (2014). Assessment primer: Goals, objectives and outcomes. Retrieved from