Institutional improvement and accountability

By Kent Phillippe

How the Voluntary Framework of Accountability can be used for external accountability as well as institutional improvement.

For years, community colleges have had to rely on student progress and outcomes measures that were not responsive to the way the colleges operate.  Community colleges are increasingly using data to drive institutional improvement.  At the same time, leaders of community colleges are increasingly called upon to use data to better tell the story of how they are serving the students who attend their colleges.  To effectively do this, data and metrics need to be designed to serve these needs.

The measures developed in the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) were developed by community colleges, for community colleges to directly respond to the need for metrics that are aligned with the mission of community colleges, and acknowledges the range of students who attend them.

In contrast to the limited federally defined measures community colleges must report, The VFA provides a complete accounting of the outcomes of all students who entered the college six years earlier.  It further allows colleges to look at students who are credential seeking separate from all students, and to drill down into the data to understand outcomes for key demographic groups.

Knowing what happened after six years is necessary, but not sufficient for community colleges.  Community college leaders need to have leading indicators of how well they are serving students.  The VFA metrics provide an actionable insight into the how well students are doing in the first term and first few years in the college, as well as their progress through developmental education. These data are critical to help colleges identify where students are less effective in their progress to meet their academic goals, and where to target interventions.

Finally, the VFA defines metrics to show the economic impact of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs on the lives of community college students.  CTE programs are a key component of community college missions, and the VFA provides the ability to quantify the impacts of both credit and noncredit CTE programs on the lives of students who attended community colleges.

Community colleges are not afraid of metrics and accountability, but they demand metrics that measure what they do.  The VFA provides those metrics.

AACC’s DataPoints provides an example of the VFA data.

Kent Phillippe

is associate vice president of research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges.