Overview and Purpose of the Study

This is a description of the results of a comprehensive study of the examination of learning outcomes of academic accrediting organizations in regard to student leadership development. This study helped inform the creation of the Student Leadership Competencies and their measurements as well as created a common language of leadership development competencies that are translated for nearly every academic discipline.

The purpose in undertaking this study was twofold: to create a set of leadership competencies and measurements based on research that scholars and practitioners could use as learning outcomes for curricular and co-curricular leadership programs and to use these competencies to translate learning outcomes from accredited academic programs to serve as a common language of leadership.



This study began in 2008 with a review of standards set by the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Education and outcomes from the ACPA/NASPA 2004 document, Learning Reconsidered. From these documents, the researchers teased out outcomes related to leadership development to begin the creation of a framework of leadership competencies for individual student leadership development. The next step in the process was to integrate into this framework leadership competencies embedded in contemporary leadership models including the Relational Leadership Model (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 1998), the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996), and the 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Kouzes & Posner, 1995). After this process, this framework became what was version 1.0 of the Student Leadership Competencies. The researchers created initial measurements for each of the competencies and piloted the competencies and measurements in their leadership programs.

During the pilot, the researchers also began the process of analyzing learning outcomes from 413 academic programs from 49 different academic accrediting organizations affiliated with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to compare with the Student Leadership Competencies framework. This process served two purposes, to understand the prevalence and frequency of the competencies from the Student Leadership Competencies framework that may be required outcomes by accrediting organizations as well as shed light on those leadership outcomes set by accrediting organizations that are deemed necessary for professional success that are not included in the framework. This allowed the researchers to analyze for emergent themes of leadership outcomes not initially included in the Student Leadership Competencies. Eleven accrediting organizations were analyzed during this phase. The framework was then expanded to add these emergent themes as competencies. Upon the addition of the new competencies (thus creating version 2.0 of the Student Leadership Competencies), outcomes from all the accrediting organizations were again coded. This document analysis methodology expanded into sequential exploratory design in which the qualitative outcomes listed by the accrediting organizations were coded and analyzed quantitatively using version 2.0 of the Student Leadership Competencies. Phase two of analysis included reanalyzing the 11 initial accrediting organizations as well as analyzing 28 additional organizations. The competencies and measurements of version 2.0 were piloted for 1.5 years in the researchers’ leadership programs.

To expand on the competencies further, the researchers classified the competencies into four dimensions, knowledge, value, ability, and behavior. Upon finding inconsistencies with these dimensions as some competencies from version 2.0 only focused on knowledge of a competency whereas others only focused on the ability to engage in the competency, the researchers consolidated some competencies and expanded others. This resulted in 61 competency clusters with 4 dimensions each, knowledge, value, ability, and behavior, yielding 244 total competencies. This became version 3.0 of the Student Leadership Competencies.

Outcomes from all accrediting organizations (39 that had previously been analyzed plus the final ten organizations from CHEA)  were then coded using the Student Leadership Competencies 3.0 framework to understand the prevalence and frequency of leadership competencies as required by academic accrediting organizations. Finally, 23 additional accrediting organizations from the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors and the U.S. Department of Education were coded using the Student Leadership Competencies 3.0 framework.

In 2013, the study was again completed by reviewing the updated outcomes from previously analyzed accredited programs and adding programs that have been included since the last review. 17,577 outcomes were analyzed across 522 academic programs within 97 accrediting agencies. This analysis also yielded slight changes in the names of some of the competencies.


Between 2013 and 2019, many agencies and programs had been added or removed from the overarching accrediting agencies. And, some agencies had been consolidated. In addition, programmatic accrediting boards had updated the outcomes in their manuals. Thus, it was imperative to literally begin the analysis from the start, looking at each program’s outcomes, and coding for competencies. No changes were made to the names of the competencies, nor were any added or deleted based on the 2019 analysis.

2019 Study 2013 Study
Academic Accrediting Agencies Analyzed 83 97
Academic Programs Analyzed (All Degree Levels) 605 522
Total Learning Outcomes Analyzed 36,327 17,577
Percentage of Agencies with at Least One Program Requiring the Competency of Leadership 55% 41%


Student Leadership Competencies®

The findings from the original study and reinforced by the subsequent study serve as the foundation for the Student Leadership Competencies. There are 60 competency headers, each including a competency for each of the 4 dimensions-knowledge, value, ability, and behavior.

Top 5 Most Prevalent Competencies Across Programs (2019)

Verbal Communication             79.5%
Evaluation                                74.38%
Ethics                                       69.42%
Analysis                                   63.14%
Research                                 55.37%

Rationale of the Results

Being able to code all of the outcomes across organizations and programs using a standard set of competencies (the Student Leadership Competencies 4.0) created one language of leadership development that transcends a variety of academic programs and organizations. This is significant in that using the Student Leadership Competencies® as learning outcomes for curricular and co-curricular programs ensures an easy translation to academic programs on one’s campus. Specific co-curricular programs could be tailored to the outcomes significant to each academic program, students in particular majors could be connected to co-curricular programs that enhance their career readiness for their chosen academic program, and specific co-curricular programs with leadership competencies in alignment with certain academic programs could be strategically marketed to academic units. In addition, being able to quantify the prevalence and frequency of leadership development across a variety of disciplines underscores the importance of curricular and co-curricular leadership development to prepare students to engage and lead in their future careers.

Additional Research

In addition to the research that grounds the Student Leadership Competencies®, two studies, in particular, have been conducted to advance the use of the competencies. The first is the validation study of the Student Leadership Competencies® from the Journal of Leadership Education. The second is a forthcoming publication in the Journal of Leadership Education on the Student Leadership Competencies® Taxonomy, which proposes a developmental ordering of competencies for learning and development.