Using the VFA to develop strategies for student success

Greg Hamann, president of Linn-Benton Community College in Oregon and a member of the American Association of Community Colleges board of directors, joins CCDaily for a brief chat about AACC’s Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA).

Why is the VFA important to community colleges, and especially Linn-Benton Community College, which serves more than 7,000 full-time students?

Greg Hamann

We’ve been focused on making pathways so our students succeed not just in accessing an education, but also in completing that education, and moving on to a career or the next phase in their education. We found that traditional ways of looking at the data were inadequate for us to understand where we were successful and where we needed to make improvements. The Voluntary Framework of Accountability was built around the way in which community colleges work. We were looking at ways to capture measures that better represent our schools to use for student success. The VFA is helping us do that.

One of the other reasons the VFA is important is that over the last decade we have changed the way in which we look at data. Historically, IR [institutional research] departments did a lot of accountability reporting — we’re always talking to an external audience. Now we’re using data more to help inform our policy and strategic planning. VFA does a much better job of giving us milestone data so that we can watch our students’ progress. And where we see that we have problems, we are able to adjust. Things like disaggregating data based on different student populations and different cohorts is important work that under the older forms of data collection really weren’t helpful to us.

VFA also allows you to identify similar schools in the VFA system. We may not be exactly like other schools in Oregon, but there are other schools across the country with which we have similar demographics, opportunities and challenges. VFA allows us to identify those comparative schools and then look at our data as it relates to them in the aggregate. Again, it helps us to focus our strategic efforts on student completion/student success. The VFA has been critical in helping us do that.

While individual colleges are joining the VFA, more states are getting on board. Is that important?

It is. Oregon has, as a state, just moved to the VFA. It is very pragmatic — it’s much easier to submit data to the VFA if you use an existing state data submission process. So, in Oregon, we don’t submit data twice; we submit it to the state and it’s aggregated. We make sure that the data components that are part of the VFA reporting are included in the set that we automatically report to the state. And then the state aggregates that data and uploads it to VFA. That allows us to look at data in ways that look at our schools together as a state and to look at our schools individually. That helps to give us focus on what the state-level policy discussion should be. That’s a little harder to do when if only half the schools are involved. We have all 17 community colleges in this effort.

Participating colleges see several benefits in using the VFA, from accountability to benchmarking. Several colleges will soon begin using it with their Pathways efforts, with Linn-Benton among them. How will it work?

I don’t think it’s completely unintentional. The metrics for Pathways schools have strong similarity to the metrics incorporated into the VFA. As we have been pursuing our work in the first cohort of the Pathways group, we began building our data around those metrics. It’s just opportunistic — the VFA data helps us to answer these questions and to measure our progress in some of the key components of the Pathways model. It’s an intuitive connection.

VFA: Measuring student outcomes in community colleges

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