Help for overburdened IR offices

By Bernadette Holloway

AACC’s Voluntary Framework of Accountability can help institutional research offices deal with increasing demands for reporting and data.

When the community colleges in Michigan decided to join the American Association of Community Colleges’ Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA), one objective shared by the colleges’ presidents was to relieve the strain on overburdened institutional research (IR) offices and streamline reporting. At that time, the Michigan Community College Association (MCCA) reported a data taxonomy that consisted of 111 federal, state and local reports each year. Additionally, in Michigan there were seven different initiatives all focusing on post-secondary educational attainment. Local and state entities ranging from the chamber of commerce to the state department of education were all trying to figure out the best ways to raise the educational outcomes of its citizens.

The climate in Michigan is repeated throughout all 50 states where college leadership are focused on completion agendas and student success. Like in Michigan, the demands for reporting and data continue to rise. Accreditation, performance funding, developmental education redesign, pathways, competency-based education, scorecards, success centers and various other initiatives color the community college landscape. In addition to the common goal of raising attainment rates, all of these efforts also have in common a need for actionable data to assess their effectiveness.

IR offices are small—many made-up of only one full-time staff—and data requests are high. College staff are handling hundreds of requests internally and externally, mandated and voluntary, to turn data into information that can support and inform the colleges’ efforts. The institutional value of a common set of metrics that are reflective of the community college mission is why MCCA worked with their presidents to collectively report the VFA as a statewide initiative.

Adriana Rasche Phelan, vice president at the MCCA, said that “in addition to value-added metrics and the ability to benchmark, the opportunity to streamline reporting and relieve IR capacity” was a key factor in participating in the VFA.

The VFA is the first national initiative, designed by our colleges, to have sector-appropriate measures that can be used to establish on-campus performance indicators, benchmark, implement better practices and improve performance. And, key to its aims, the VFA can replace other reporting metrics and reduce the burden on our college’s IR offices by enabling data collection and reporting at the system or state level.

“IR capacity is a significant issue,” Phelan expressed at a presentation at AACC’s convention in 2014. “We can do ‘addition by subtraction’ by using the VFA to replace other reporting metrics, and better serve our students.”

Raw file upload

The Voluntary Framework of Accountability—AACC’s national community college effort for measuring student outcomes and institutional effectiveness—has as its core principles the aims of improving IR capacity and streamlining reporting. To help meet those aims, AACC created a raw file upload for college’s to use in reporting the VFA data. The new data collection process enables colleges to upload student unit record data pulled straight from on-campus databases and the VFA data tool automatically calculates and displays the college’s student outcomes.

Colleges participating in the VFA said that they saw a 70–80 percent reduction in the amount of time it takes to report the VFA measures when using the raw file upload. Additionally, the raw file process and the built-in calculation of the metrics makes the data cleaner and more consistent.

The VFA is an AACC membership benefit. Activate your participation today.

Bernadette Holloway

Bernadette Holloway is project manager for the Voluntary Framework of Accountability at the American Association of Community Colleges.