Commentary: Help for overburdened IR offices

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 postsecondary 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 is 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.

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About the Author

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