For those not familiar with CAS, the Council for the Advancement of Standards is a consortium of 42 higher education associations in the United States and Canada, founded in 1979, that develops and promotes standards for 45 functional areas in higher education. Many people think the CAS Standards are just for assessing programs, but they are actually useful in myriad ways—some of which people may not be aware. The uses for the CAS Standards include:
- Designing new programs and services
- Creating and assessing learning and development outcomes
- Focusing resources
- Directing staff development
- Measuring program and service effectiveness
- Guiding strategic planning
- Validating student affairs work
Design New Programs and Services
The CAS Standards outline the basic elements a program should have. As such, they provide a wonderful blueprint when developing a new program. In addition, since the standards are reviewed and approved by representatives from all 42 higher education associations in the council through a consensus model, they are validated by the field and can be used to advocate for resources for the new program.
Create and Assess Learning and Development Outcomes
There are increasing calls for student affairs staff to demonstrate their contribution to the educational mission of the institution. As a result, the demand for connecting programs and services to student learning has never been greater. Before the impact on student learning and development can be assessed, outcomes must be created to guide implementation of programs and services. CAS has developed a set of learning and development outcomes that provide a practical framework. The CAS outcomes can be used “right off the shelf” or can be adapted to fit the needs of a program. They also provide an accessible structure for assessing student achievement of these outcomes.
Few institutions have all of the resources they could use. With continuing calls to do more with less, the CAS Standards can help focus the use of those limited resources. The program and mission sections in a set of functional area standards outline the most important components of a program. Intentional decisions can be made to allocate resources to those important areas of the program.
Direct Staff Development
Intellectual resources may be the most important resource in a program. If staff members do not have the skills and knowledge to address emerging needs of students, the program will not be effective in achieving its goals. Information is outdated at an astonishing pace, so staff need to develop an ethos of lifelong learning. By outlining the key components of programs and services in higher education, the CAS Standards provide a structure for curricular offerings that can direct staff development.
Measure Program and Service Effectiveness
The most obvious use of the standards is to measure program or service effectiveness. The standards, approved by the field, highlight criteria for success. The accompanying Self-Assessment Guides (SAGs), are tools staff can use to facilitate a self-study. The SAGs provide suggestions regarding data that can be used to assess standards as well a model for the evaluation process. The assessment can then be used to develop a report for improvements to be made.
Guide Strategic Planning
Strategic planning provides direction for a program to identify key foci for the next 3–5 years. A strategic plan is not meant to outline all of the work to be done in that timeframe, but centers on very specific priorities. The CAS Standards can be useful in two ways regarding to strategic planning. First, a program could review CAS Standards for a specific functional area and then select certain areas within that set of standards to serve as strategic priorities. Resources and planning can then support those priorities. Second, strategic planning can be guided by the outcome of a self-study using the CAS Standards. Depending on identified strengths or areas for improvement from the self-study report, a department could choose which ones to prioritized for the near future and build planning and resource allocation around those.
Validate Student Affairs Work
With increased focus on retention and employment preparation coupled with decreasing funding, student affairs staff are compelled to validate the work that they do. No longer are the days where stakeholders “knew” the contributions of student affairs staff. Since there is a price tag on every program and service, student affairs staff can use the CAS Standards to guide and evaluate practice thereby also demonstrating the return on investment for institutional resource allocations. Many of us know that students would not learn and would not graduate if it were not for committed student affairs staff. The CAS Standards and the self-assessment process can help validate that work.
The CAS Standards and SAGs can be utilized in a number of ways. Be sure to check out the CAS website to purchase the standards or SAGs or browse resources to support their use. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
CAS President Elect
A college student educator with a reputation as an organizer, collaborator, and catalyst for educational change.