Terry Murrell, president of Western Iowa Tech Community College, lauds the VFA.

VFA will become an AACC-member benefit

By Ellie Ashford

The Voluntary Framework of Accountability, a data-collection system, will be more accessible in 2017.

In early 2017, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) will launch a two-tier Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) participation model designed to provide all its member colleges with a robust set of metrics and easy-to-use data tool.

Tier 1 will be a complimentary membership benefit. That means there will be no additional fee to participate in the VFA, although colleges will still have to submit data to AACC to take advantage of it. Colleges can also significantly extend their use of the VFA data analytics tool by purchasing an additional suite of data products (which is Tier 2).

The VFA is a web-based data collection system designed to help participating colleges gauge and compare critical community college student outcomes, with the goal of driving college improvement and accountability.

Colleges report measures in three areas – student progress and outcomes; career and technical education; and developmental progress and outcomes. The measures include data on credential completion, retention, workforce, course success, transfer, students’ progress through developmental courses and developmental students’ success in college-level work.

AACC has continued to improve and streamline the four-year-old VFA, says Bernadette Holloway, who serves as project manager. Colleges only need to input raw data and the VFA system computes the measures for them. That makes it much easier for colleges, especially those that don’t have a large research staff.

AACC led colleges in the development of the VFA to have better measures for community colleges. Particularly, VFA offers an alternative to the U.S. Education Department’s mandatory reporting system known as IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System). Unlike IPEDS, which uses the same measures for all institutions of higher education, the VFA provides accountability measures that are reflective of the community college mission.

IPEDS’ definition of graduation rate, for example, is based on a three-year cohort, which doesn’t take into account the fact that community college students usually take longer to graduate. The VFA, in contrast, considers six years as the timeframe for completing community college.

IPEDS also doesn’t include part-time students or non-first-time students, nor does it count transfer students in graduation rates. As a result, Holloway notes, at some community colleges, only 2 percent of students are counted in IPEDS data.

Colleges can use the data reports they receive from the VFA in many ways. Accurate data on student performance, for example, enables colleges to target services and interventions for specific student populations identified as having a need. It can spur colleges to provide more intense student advising and inform strategic objectives. Benchmarking tools built into the VFA allow colleges to compare their outcomes to other colleges with similar enrollments and institutional characteristics.

VFA data are also useful for external accountability, such as to inform the public and legislators and to report to accreditation bodies. Having accurate data gives colleges an advantage when seeking funding and advocating for correct performance measures, Holloway says.

Get more information about VFA in the Community College Daily article.

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Photo credit: Photo: WITCC. 
Terry Murrell, president of Western Iowa Tech Community College, lauds the VFA. 

Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.