VFA: An Accountability Framework for Community Colleges

By AACC Staff

Resource offers metrics for assessing the progress of institutions committed to serving nontraditional students.

In the quest to improve higher education completion rates, there is broad consensus, both in Washington and on the nation’s two- and four-year college campuses, that educators must do a better job of measuring student and institutional progress.

College leaders need to clearly assess whether students are achieving the educational goals they set for themselves, and whether those goals connect to positive employment outcomes. Metrics such as how many students are receiving certifications or degrees, transferring or dropping out — as well as when those milestones are reached — are among the most critical gauges of college success.

But how those goals are measured and interpreted varies depending on the type of higher education institution.

The federal government provides guidelines of measurement for graduation, transfer and dropout rates that colleges can use, such as the Postsecondary Institution Rating System, or PIRS. But these guidelines have been written largely with traditional four-year colleges and their students in mind. They do not effectively consider the many different ways that nontraditional community college students define success.

Our colleges serve students who do not fit the mold of the traditional college experience, either due to age, family commitments, economic standing or other circumstances. Many of these students are enrolled part-time or in noncredit career or technical programs.

Unlike existing federal guidelines, AACC’s Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) is the only set of student success metrics created by community college leaders for the nation’s community colleges.

An article in the April/May issue of Community College Journal, explains it this way: “The VFA’s aim is to create a system that community college staff and students can use to compare performance at similar institutions. The benchmarks can also be used by participating colleges to identify areas in need of improvement. Metrics include retention rates from term to term, the percentage of students who started in developmental education courses, their progress toward college-level work, the number of students who received associate degrees, how many students transferred to four-year programs, workforce education outcomes and job placement rates.

In addition to high-level student performance data, the VFA also enables educators to slice and dice performance variations by race, gender, age, full- or part-time status, and other factors to determine if any groups require special attention.”

As part of its 21st Century Initiative, AACC encourages the nation’s community colleges to adopt the VFA as a means of improving rigor and accountability across their campuses.

So, why is the VFA right for your college?

  • More than 60 community college leaders helped develop the VFA over the course of 18 months.
  • In addition to measuring the progress of students enrolled in traditional for-credit programs, the VFA also measures the progress of students in career and technical education training and adult basic education programs
  • AACC plans to implement an annual evaluation of the VFA. This evaluation will ensure the system consistently suits the needs of community colleges.

The VFA is one of several resources that AACC provides its member colleges to ensure institutions are positioned to help reclaim the American Dream. Learn more about the VFA and see what other tools and resources are available by visiting the 21st Century Center Resources section.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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