Beyond Program Review: Using CAS Standards at CU Boulder

In the Office of Assessment and Planning for the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Director Leslie Kavanaugh and Assessment Specialist Kim Kruchen have identified several ways to use the CAS Standards for mission, goal, and learning outcome development - even if you're not conducting a complete program review process.
CAS standards provide excellent value and content for a variety of assessment and planning initiatives. One common initiative is using CAS Standards for program review. If your unit or division is not currently planning for or engaged in program review, however, there are other meaningful, productive ways to use the CAS Standards. 

In our Student Affairs assessment unit, we work with Division staff to develop, revise, and implement outcomes-based assessment plans. We assist them in mission and goal development and revision and guide them through writing outcomes for their programs and services. CAS Standards serve as a useful resource in our assessment planning as we consider:
  1. •    What are the current mission and goals of this unit? To what extent do they resonate with the suggested mission components for that particular functional area's CAS Standards? 
    1. o    If there are gaps or significant differences, what does that tell us about the role of our unit compared to similar units across the country? What questions do we need to explore based on those differences? Are there other CAS functional area standards we can draw from to inform our mission and goals, particularly if we are a cross-functional unit?
  2. •    In reviewing existing outcomes and writing new outcomes: how do our outcomes align with the scope of the CAS Standards for that specific functional area? Are we capturing the work that we do and roles that we play in a comprehensive way? In addition to establishing student learning outcomes, have we also articulated and measured process outcomes for HR, law/policy/governance, and facilities?
  3. •    To what extent are we articulating and measuring outcomes that reflect the “Student Learning and Development Domains” listed for our functional area? Do our programs and services offer intentional opportunities for students to learn and develop in the domains? Where are the gaps, what are the intended outcomes we are not currently facilitating for students? How can we improve our programs and services accordingly? 

Another approach to using the CAS Standards is by ensuring units align their assessment activities with individual program standards. For example, units that have existing assessment activities in place can use the CAS Standards “Part 2: Programs” as a framework to inventory their activities. We often ask units:
  1. •    Are the assessment instruments and items aligned to measure specific, relevant outcomes? Does the unit have written outcomes in place, or only instruments like surveys with unwritten or assumed outcomes? Have existing activities provided evidence of impact, used data to identify contributions to the student experience, or led to strategic improvement actions in the unit's programs and services?

Referring to the CAS Standards for a specific functional area can also help when units are planning for high-importance, high-profile topics like “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” CAS Standards provide research-based, national best practices that all units should work to achieve and provides framing and language to use in articulating desired outcomes. A Campus Activities unit working on student learning outcomes might adapt standards such as “promote respect for commonalities and differences among people within their historical and cultural contexts” into a specific student learning outcome for their student employees (or professional staff). The unit can then connect intentionally structured opportunities to develop these skills through training and experiential learning. Instead of re-inventing the wheel in terms of key competencies and values, CAS Standards provide a solid starting point and adaptable language to consider when articulating learning outcomes and assessment methods to assess those outcomes. 

The CAS Standards can be used in a variety of ways outside of or in addition to program reviews. In the work we do with units in our Division, we are able to use the standards to inform our mission and goal development and our outcomes-based assessment. The CAS Standards can provide valuable language to support alignment of assessment activities with high quality, research-based standards. The CAS Standards have proven to be an invaluable resource in our Student Affairs assessment work.

Leslie Kavanaugh is the Director of Assessment for the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She previously held assessment roles at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Georgia. Leslie has a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and a master's in College Student Affairs Administration from UGA.

Kimberly Kruchen is the Assessment Specialist for the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Prior to returning to CU Boulder - where she completed her bachelor's degree and worked as Coordinator for Student Involvement - Kim completed her master's degree in Higher Education at the University of Virginia and served as a staff assistant for the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.