Using CAS Standards for Self-Assessment and Improvement
by Eric R. White
Founded in 1979, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) is a consortium of more than 43 professional associations. The goal of CAS is to promote standards for various aspects of the higher education endeavor that foster student learning and development, quality assurance, and professional integrity. A list of the CAS member organizations is available at http://cas.edu/
Of significance to the profession of academic advising are the Standards and Guidelines for Academic Advising that have been developed by CAS and endorsed by the National Academic Advising Association. These Standards and Guidelines are available at the NACADA web site https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/tabid/3318/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/1172/article.aspx. The Standards and their accompanying Guidelines cover thirteen areas from Mission to Assessment. The current Standards and Guidelines were last updated in 2005.
Of what value are these Standards and Guidelines?
There are many uses but principally CAS Standards are used as a template for establishing or assessing an academic advising program on a campus or in a particular department. For those seeking to establish an academic advising program the CAS Standards and Guidelines provide a template for implementing and addressing the necessary components to run a quality academic advising program. These standards often serve as the primary mechanism to attain acceptable standards of practice or to self assess either for self-initiated improvement or to meet requirements for various accrediting agencies, be they discipline or regionally-based.
The Standards and Guidelines, along with the complementary document, the Self-Assessment Guide http://www.cas.edu/store_home.asp can be used to determine whether or not one's academic advising program meets the established standards. Such an approach can be used as part of professional development or as a routine process to determine movement toward meeting acceptable standards. In some cases, states, discipline-based accrediting agencies, or regional accrediting agencies may ask for assessments of academic advising programs. While these accrediting agencies typically do not endorse a particular approach toward assessment, these agencies recognize the CAS Self-Assessment Guide as a viable assessment vehicle.
The CAS Standards and Guidelines for Academic Advising contain the following twelve standards: Mission, Program; Organization and Leadership; Human Resources; Ethics; Law, Policy and Government; Diversity, Equity, and Access; Institutional and External Relations; Financial Resources; Technology; Facilities and Equipment; and Assessment and Evaluation. Each standard establishes the criteria that every institution of higher education is expected and able to reach with reasonable effort and diligence. For example, one of the Mission standards is that an institution must have a clearly written statement of philosophy pertaining to academic advising, including program goals and advisor and advisee responsibilities. Each Standard also includes Guidelines which either further elaborate on a particular Standard or provide additional suggestions for the continued improvement of a program. While these guidelines do not carry the weight of a Standard, those completing a Self-Assessment have the option of whether or not to include Guidelines in their analysis.
Relatively new to the Standards and Guidelines for Academic Advising are the Student Learning and Development Outcome Domains. The domains are: Intellectual Growth, Effective Communication, Enhanced Self-Esteem, Realistic Self-Appraisal, Clarified Values, Career Choices, Leadership Development, Healthy Behavior, Meaningful Interpersonal Relationships, Independence, Collaboration, Social Responsibility, Satisfying and Productive Lifestyle, Appreciating Diversity, Spiritual Awareness, Personal and Educational Goals. These learning domains also include examples of specific measurable outcomes that can be considered when assessing an academic advising program.
An example of a specific domain and its achievement indicators (learning outcomes) is:
Intellectual Growth: Produces personal and educational goals statement; Employs critical thinking in problem solving: Uses complex information from a variety of sources including personal experience and observation to form a decision or opinion; Obtains an degree: Applies previous understood information and concepts to a new situation or setting; Expressions appreciation for literature, the fine arts, mathematics, sciences and the social sciences.
CAS Standards and Guidelines are an invaluable tool in preparing for a visit from an accrediting agency. Likewise they can be used to restructure an academic advising program when there is a sense that the current operation is not functioning effectively. From the point of view of a regional accrediting agency, having the capacity to both define specific learning outcomes for academic advising and provide assessment of how well these outcomes are achieved is one of the central tenets to twenty-first century regional accreditation. In addition, discipline-based accrediting agencies also call for the assessment of learning outcomes and often want to know how academic advising in a particular department or discipline is responsive to the issue of learning outcomes just as they are asking about the learning outcomes in traditional classroom/laboratory curriculum.
Being able to address learning outcomes (even though not all outcomes may be achieved) shows that an advising program is responsive to the directive of accrediting agencies. Further, while the achievement of all outcomes is not de rigueur, agencies are particularly interested in what is learned from such an assessment exercise and how it can be used to improve learning, in this case, within the academic advising context.
This is precisely what the CAS Standards are all about. Understanding the Standards is Step 1. Step 2 is assessing where a particular advising program is in relationship to meeting the Standards. Step 3 is developing an Action Plan to attempt to move the particular status of a Standard closer to full compliance. Step 4 is returning to assess the effectiveness of the Action Plan (once implemented) in terms of achieving the stated goals. With this continual round of assessment and action, the goals of quality assurance are met, thus guaranteeing that the academic advising needs of students are fully addressed by an institution, a department, or an advising unit.
One should not, however, take on the task of self-assessment lightly. The process requires significant commitment, especially to determine whether a particular Standard has been met or how much more needs to be done to achieve a desired level of compliance. In addition, typically the assessment process requires a group effort with a level of consensus reached; such self-assessments are rarely done alone. Likewise determining priorities for an Action Plan may required input from many sources and may require some compromise.
The CAS Standards have existed for well over a quarter of a century. While better known in student affairs and student support services circles, the Standards for Academic Advising readily cross over into the academic realm. The Standards are designed for use by anyone providing academic advising on a campus, including advising delivery models that involve only faculty advising.
The focus, in addition, is on self-assessment rather than external assessment with the underlying assumption that those who deliver advising programs are the best ones to chart their own improvement and the ways to make such improvements. Such are the hallmarks of a profession.
Those attempting to use the CAS Standards as a self-assessment vehicle will find that Council for the Advancement of Standards provides much assistance. Each edition of the CAS Professional Standards in Higher Education contains a detailed account of the history of CAS along with an explanation of the CAS approach to self-regulation and self-assessment. Likewise the Self-Assessment Guides provide step-by-step directions on how the process works. CAS also maintains a list of programs nationwide that have engaged in the self-assessment process.
The ultimate value of using the CAS Standards and Guidelines is for self-assessment and consequent improvement. It should be quite clear that professionals must monitor their own behaviors and that they should constantly examine their assumptions, practices, and outcomes. Likewise, in an era where accountability is often the final word, it makes sense that professionals should monitor their own practices, set their own standards, seek to achieve these standards and alter them when necessary. For if we as academic advising professionals do not do this, it is quite certain that some one else will seek to do it for us. But beyond this notion of self-assessment is the final responsibility to our clientele...the students. We owe it to our students to provide the highest quality of academic advising programs that we possibly can. Few will doubt that quality academic advising leads to better educated students and citizens. By using the CAS Standards and Guidelines, we are demonstrating our commitment to this ideal.
Eric R. White
Executive Director - Division of Undergraduate Studies
Associate Dean for Academic Advising
The Pennsylvania State University
2005 NACADA President
Cite this using APA style as:
White, E. R. (2006).Using CAS Standards for Self-Assessment and Improvement.Retrieved from theNACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: