Using a Capstone Case Study to Assess Student Learning on NASPAA Competencies

The 2009 NASPAA standards have the potential to fundamentally change the assessment systems used by graduate public affairs programs. These standards require programs to focus on creating systematic processes for assessing student learning on the five universal required competencies as well as on applicable mission-specific, required, or elective competencies. The assessment mechanisms that programs use in these processes typically involve direct and/or indirect assessment methods. We examine the use of a specific direct assessment technique, the capstone case study, and its utility in effectively measuring student learning on the universal competency “to analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems and make decisions.” We report the results of an analysis of research methods case studies in a large NASPAA-accredited MPA program. The analysis illustrates a practical approach to identifying areas of deficiency in student acquisition of the chosen universal required competency and taking steps to improve the program in those areas.