Lessons from a VFA journey

For years, Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC) observed, noted and raised concerns regarding the mismatch between the community college mission to impact a diverse range of students and communities, and the ill-fitting standards used to measure college efficacy.

Under the existing traditional measures, the community college story is at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate — but how could we navigate a longstanding approach? Local reporting or state-specific metrics were considered, but quickly dismissed as we recognized the limitations of measures without national context or support.

At the same time, other colleges and organizations were raising similar concerns. With the support of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) was under development in response to the need for more appropriate community college measures.

In 2011, WITCC eagerly accepted the opportunity to participate in the VFA as one of 40 pilot colleges. Today, WITCC is part of a centralized state system of VFA reporting in Iowa and as we reflect back on the journey, we’re recognizing the value of not only the end product of a more comprehensive community college story, but also of the lessons learned throughout this six-year process.

Strength (and quality) in numbers

Early on, WITCC recognized the benefits of VFA participation and shared this enthusiasm with in-state peers. By 2013, the 15 Iowa community college presidents, in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Education, agreed to adopt the VFA as statewide system of measure. Together, we built upon the existing state data collection system in Iowa to accommodate VFA requirements.

Along the way, teams of community college institutional researchers, subject matter experts and Iowa Department of Education consultants discussed each VFA metric in detail, and from these challenging conversations, a singular approach emerged.

All Iowa community colleges include VFA data elements as part of the Management Information System (MIS) reporting to the state education department, where the data are processed, calculated and submitted. This approach has yielded consistent calculations across the state and has also made VFA participation feasible for all colleges in Iowa, including those who may lack the resources required to report VFA data individually.

Furthermore, this collaborative approach has created a heightened awareness of all reporting, for the VFA and other purposes, which has resulted in more accurate data entering the state system.

Read the full article in the AACC 21st-Century Center.

Help for overburdened IR offices: When the community colleges in Michigan decided to join the VFA, one objective shared by the colleges’ presidents was to relieve the strain on overburdened institutional research offices and streamline reporting.

About the Author

Erin Volk
is director of institutional research at Western Iowa Technical Community College.