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Pa. colleges first to adopt VFA statewide

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​Pennsylvania’s 14 public community colleges will adopt the Voluntary Framework of Accountability ​(VFA) as their accountability metrics, thus becoming the first statewide system to publicly endorse the framework launched last year by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus said the move signifies that colleges are stepping up and responding to challenges identified in the national association’s recently released report.

“The VFA provides, for the first time, metrics that are appropriate to the unique community college mission and will provide a significantly higher level of transparency in institutional performance,” Bumphus said in a news release. “Adoption of the VFA is an AACC priority and is a cornerstone of our strategy to meet national completion goals.”

According to AACC, the VFA metrics—which the association unveiled last fall—give community colleges what has long been lacking in reporting their successes to the public and policymakers: specific, nationally defined metrics that assess how colleges do in areas such as student progress, student achievement and transparency in reporting learning outcomes.

Historically, community colleges have been assessed using the same measures as four-year institutions, even though two-year colleges serve a more diverse student population and have a broader operational mission.

AACC expects to make the VFA data system fully operational in 2013 and is developing the tool to allow colleges to upload and share their VFA data. Once the system is online, participating colleges will be able to benchmark their own institutional data against data from similar community colleges to gauge themselves better.

Growing interest—and use

Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, said the VFA metrics will help two-year colleges in his state provide the best possible education.

“The VFA is, ultimately, a focus on student success,” said Johnson, who also serves on the AACC board of directors.

Data collected through VFA will enable Pennsylvania community colleges to better advocate for advancing policy issues to improve student access and success, noted Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College—one of 40 community colleges across the U.S. that tested the VFA in 2011—and member of the VFA working group on student outcomes and progression.

Following the pilot phase last year, the VFA program published a comprehensive metrics manual that community colleges in several state are already using. In response to calls to develop accountability metrics for performance funding or a college “report card,” community college leaders in Arizona, Ohio, Nebraska, New York and Illinois are using the VFA to inform their work. Arizona recently released its Long-Term Strategic Vision’s 2012 Technical Guide and adopted many cohort and metrics definitions from the VFA.

AACC is working with higher education organizations, accrediting bodies, and public entities to leverage VFA implementation with related accountability initiatives. Several national initiatives, such as proposals from the U.S. Education Department, have worked to align their efforts with VFA. Data from the VFA will also feed into a new Completion Arch, an online tool announced this week that aims to serve as a one-stop for data on community colleges.

Over the coming months, AACC will urge ado​ption of the VFA among member colleges, as well as college boards and state accountability offices.

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