Overview and Purpose of the Study

This is a description of the results of a comprehensive study of the examination of learning outcomes of 97 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 522 academic programs within 97 academic accrediting organizations 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. Nearly 18000 outcomes were analyzed across 522 academic programs. This new analysis also yielded slight changes in the names of some of the competencies.

Results: Student Leadership Competencies

The findings from this study is 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.

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.

Finally, the researcher has been able to use the data gathered from students during the pilot phases using the Student Leadership Competencies measurements to understand if students are developing the competencies that are intended for the program as well as those deemed important by their academic programs.