Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 ACCT Congress: Progress on Voluntary Framework of Accountability Detailed

ACCT Leadership Congress attendees were updated on the status of the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA), which will release a draft of its proposed initial measures next month, and heard community college leaders explain the value of “defining ourselves to the public.”

Once complete, the VFA will allow community colleges to “speak with one voice about the comprehensiveness of what we do and the unique nature of our students,” said Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.

To be released in a draft technical manual in November, the proposed stage one VFA measures are broken into three major components:

Student progress and outcomes measures. The proposed measures examine student progress at entry and through their time at a college. “One thing we know is that community college students follow a pipeline towards final outcomes,” said Kent A. Phillippe, associate vice president of research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges, which is working with ACCT and The College Board to develop the VFA. “That’s why it’s important to get measures along the way, not just at the end.”

Measures of college readiness include students attempting their first English or math developmental education course; successfully completing developmental courses; and then attempting and successfully completing their first college-level course in the same subject area.

Measures of student progress and persistence include successfully reaching credit milestone thresholds at the end of two years; continued enrollment or lateral transfer to another two-year institution; and a course success rate.

Measures of outcomes and success include a complete degree or certificate; transfer to a four-year institution; or continued enrollment with academic progress.

Workforce, Economic, and Community Development Measures. These include enrollment data and retention rates for workforce measures; awards in Career and Technical Education programs; pass rates on licensure examinations; measures of program graduates employed with livable wages or enrolled in further education; wage growth of graduates; enrollments and credentials from non-credit workforce development courses; and transition from non-credit to credit programs. Additional measures to be added later include metrics involving adult basic education, GED and ESL programs. While not all colleges currently have the ability to collect some of this data, it’s important to say “this is what we should be doing to measure those outcomes,” Phillippe said.

Student Learning Outcomes. Eight potential outcomes proposed by a VFA working group include content/career specific skills and knowledge; global understanding and citizenship; analytical reasoning and critical thinking; information literacy; teamwork and collaborative skills; communication; quantitative literacy; and innovative and creative thinking. During the first stage, the working group will ask colleges to evaluate these outcomes and determine if they align with learning outcomes assessed by their institutions. “We can’t do a lot of work at this point without knowing better what colleges are doing,” Phillippe said.

As much work will go into how to display metrics represented by these measures, according to Phillippe. For example, measures of student outcomes would likely be displayed on a stacked bar, reflecting the cumulative impact of students receiving a degree, transferring to a four-year institution, and continuing to work towards a degree. The metrics will also likely be broken into sub-cohorts, including students who have demonstrated by their course load or other evidence that they intend to pursue a degree. “We need to be accountable for all students, but it’s important to get a sense of student intent,” Phillippe said.

Following the release of the draft measures for feedback, work will continue on developing wireframes to display the data. RFPs have also been issued for colleges willing to serve as pilot sites to test the measures, and working groups are ensuring that the completed framework reflects the needs and capacity of large and small colleges, as well as those in states that currently collect data and those that do not. The VFA working groups have also briefed the U.S. Department of Education and the National Governors Association, which are in the process of developing accountability systems of their own, said Phillippe.

Trustees will be able to use data collected by the VFA to “benchmark against national standards,” said Jeanne-Marie Boylan, board chair of Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts. They will also be able to use the data to benchmark and set policies supporting student completion, according to Carolane Williams, president of Baltimore County Community College in Maryland, which already uses student data to evaluate student intervention programs, including an “early alert” system that has helped retain struggling students. The framework will also allow community colleges to compare “apples to apples” by looking at similar institutions across the country to identify programs that are working, Williams added.

“We have a broad mission, and our mission is to serve people where they are,” she said. “The VFA identifies that, while other measures would lock us into a narrower mission and leave out people on the other end.”

For more information on the VFA, click here.

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