An Update on Learning Outcomes Focusing on the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS)

In 2009, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) celebrated 30 years of inter-associational collaboration in the development of standards of practice for quality programs and services leading to intentional student outcomes. CAS advances the self-assessment process for assessing student outcomes and using that assessment for program improvement. Directors from 36 member associations have developed and regularly revises 40 functional area standards using a consensus model of decision-making (See

In the 1990s, higher education called for the assessment of curriculum, co-curricular programs, and services largely for accountability and comparability. At the same time, accreditation associations uniformly began requiring institutions to designate student outcomes in order to assess their accomplishments on those self-designated outcomes.

But what outcomes should college seek to develop in students? What did educators expect? What did students, their families, employers, and the public need and expect?

The identification and articulation of desirable student outcomes expanded at the turn of the century. Since the first standards were released in the mid 1980s, CAS has advanced specific learning and developmental outcomes. The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) advanced the conversation with the student-centered focus in Greater Expectations (National Panel, 2002). Concurrently in 2003, the fifth edition of the CAS book of standards added a more clear focus on outcomes by specifying achievement indicators for the 16 learning and developmental outcomes that all functions should address. Shortly thereafter, Learning Reconsidered (NASPA/ACPA, 2004) and Learning Reconsidered2 (Keeling, 2006) advanced a taxonomy of seven outcomes. Subsequently, CAS convened a panel of faculty and student affairs experts to weave these Learning Reconsidered outcomes with the CAS set of 16 outcomes into the new set resulting in six broad categories that CAS calls learning and developmental outcome domains (CAS, 2009). Campuses are encouraged to use these 2009 outcomes as the latest best thinking in student affairs.

Each CAS domain contains related dimensions and each dimension links to specific examples. Those using a functional area standard must designate which outcome domains and dimensions their programs are designed to develop. Theprogram section of each CAS General Standard (2009) indicates:

The formal education of students, consisting of the curriculum and the co-curriculum, must promote student learning and development outcomes that are purposeful and holistic and prepare students for satisfying and productive lifestyles, work, and civic participation. The student learning and development outcome domains and their related dimensions are:

• knowledge acquisition, integration, construction, and application [Dimensions: understanding knowledge from a range of disciplines; connecting knowledge to other knowledge, ideas, and experiences; constructing knowledge; and relating knowledge to daily life]

• cognitive complexity [Dimensions: critical thinking; reflective thinking; effective reasoning; and creativity]

• intrapersonal development [Dimensions: realistic self-appraisal, self-understanding, and self-respect; identity development; commitment to ethics and integrity; and spiritual awareness ]

• interpersonal competence [Dimensions: meaningful relationships; interdependence; collaboration; and effective leadership]

• humanitarianism and civic engagement [Dimensions: understanding and appreciation of cultural and human differences; social responsibility; global perspective; and sense of civic responsibility]

• practical competence [Dimensions: pursuing goals; communicating effectively; technical competence; managing personal affairs; managing career development; demonstrating professionalism; maintaining health and wellness; and living a purposeful and satisfying life]. (p. 31)

These outcomes and specific examples can also be found in the 2009 book of standards (pp. 25-28) and at CAS advocates that the mission and purpose of each functional area transparently identify those outcomes it seeks to develop in students who engage in their programs or services. Data from self-assessment on those outcomes must then be used in program improvement and then the assessment cycle continues. Campuses are encouraged to map their environment and ensure that all outcomes are addressed.

National Alignment Update

Slightly before the Spelling’s Commission released their recommendations on accessibility, affordability, quality instruction, and accountability (Commission on the Future of Higher Education, 2006), the “big six” presidential higher education associations (e.g., ACE, AAC&U, CIC) released a letter of commitment indicating that higher education supported assessment of student learning outcomes among other assertions. Several exciting projects have subsequently followed. The growing national conversation seeks to balance assessment for accountability and assessment for improvement. A few of the resources to explore include:

AAC&U: The Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative advances four broad goals [knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and integrative learning] and seven principles of excellence to meet those goals advocating the use of high impact practices largely identified through NSSE research ( The latest AAC&U project, Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) includes a set of rubrics to use as indicators of student attainment publically available at

Voluntary System of Accountability: In a move toward transparency, the VSA was established by Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU) and AAC&U as a site for campuses to publically post their outcome assessments in a college profile. All participating campuses must also agree to assess a core of outcomes (e.g. critical thinking) using the CAAP, MAPP, or CLA for comparability (See

National Institute for Learning Outcome and Assessment: Supported by the Lumina and other foundations, NILOA was launched in 2009 and is co-directed by George Kuh and Stan Ikenberry as a quality clearinghouse for assessment resources and model practices encouraging outcome transparency. Bookmark this site for the latest information on outcomes, high impact practices, and key resources (See

The New Leadership Alliance for Learning Outcomes and Accountability: The Alliance was formed by key associations and members of the Board of Directors of the Alliance include representatives from the American Council on Education (ACE), Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU), Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), Higher Learning Commission, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), and the Teagle Foundation. This group convened an invitation symposium in November to seek alignment among outcomes and assessment practices. I was very pleased to represent CAS at this symposium. Greg Roberts was also in attendance representing ACPA. I was pleased to address the assembly and make the point that students learn and develop across the whole college environment and that the whole environment should be assessed for their contributions to student outcomes. It is indeed very good that student affairs is in this national conversation (

New CAS Standards

The 7th edition of the CAS book was released August of 2009 and contains newly developed standards for Adult Learner Programs, Auxiliary Services, Dining Services, Graduate and Professional Student Programs, and Undergraduate Research Programs. CAS committees are currently developing new standards for Campus Security, Parent and Family Programs, Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence, and Veterans Programs and Services anticipated in 2010 and 2011. The recent CAS Symposium on learning outcomes and assessment featured Carol Geary Schneider, AAC&U President, among the keynote speakers.

We are indeed fortunate that leaders in our field came together 30 years ago seeing the need for standards of practice and advancing self-assessment. You do not have to re-invent any wheels, you can use the wisdom of CAS to advance the work of your programs and services. You can order the 7th edition or a CD with all standards and self-assessment guides from . CAS will also have a booth at the ACPA annual convention and our executive director, former ACPA president and former CAS president, Phyllis Mable looks forward to assisting you.


Commission on the Future of Higher Education (2006). A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2009). CAS professional standards for higher education (7th ed.). Washington, DC: Author

Keeling, R. (Ed.). (2006). Learning reconsidered 2: Implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. American College Personnel Association, Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, Association of College Unions-International, National Academic Advising Association, National Association for Campus Activities, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association.

NASPA/ACPA (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the American College Personnel Association

National Panel (2002). Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. PDF available at

Please send inquiries and feedback to Susan Komives at [email protected].

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