Viewpoint: Empowering community college leadership through the VFA


Editor’s note: VFA is a product of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) available to community colleges.

In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, community colleges stand at the forefront of providing accessible and diverse learning opportunities. However, accurately measuring their impact and effectiveness has been a persistent challenge.

Enter the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA), a revolutionary data tool carefully designed to redefine how we not only collect, analyze and showcase community college data but also celebrate the unique achievements of these institutions.

Navigating the current landscape

Community colleges, characterized by their distinctive mission and diverse student demographics, frequently encounter limitations with conventional accountability measures.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), although comprehensive in capturing data from diverse educational institutions, lacks the precision needed for a detailed evaluation of community colleges. The VFA intervenes to fill this void, providing customized measures that specifically tackle the unique challenges encountered by these institutions.

Tailored accountability for community colleges

Crafted through collaborative efforts spanning 18 months and drawing from the perspectives of more than 60 community college leaders, the VFA emerges as a direct answer to the demand for more comprehensive measures. It surpasses the limitations of current metrics by incorporating part-time students and non-credit career and technical students, acknowledging their vital contributions to the community college ecosystem.

Key features and measures: A holistic approach

The VFA’s structure revolves around three major categories, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of community college performance:

  • Student Progress and Outcomes (SPO): Encompassing measures such as Developmental Education Progress, One-Year Progress, Two-Year Progress, and Six-Year Outcomes.
  • Career & Technical Education (CTE): Focusing on the unique needs and outcomes of students engaged in credit and non-credit CTE programs.
  • Adult Basic Education Outcomes (ABE): Addressing the progress and achievements of students in adult basic education programs.

Disaggregation: A spotlight on diversity

The VFA recognizes the diversity within community colleges and ensures a granular analysis through disaggregation by:

  • Race/ethnicity
  • Full-time/sart-time status
  • College readiness
  • Pell status
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Pathways key performance indicators (KPIs)

Unlocking insights, empowering institutions

The VFA stands out with its ability to facilitate internal, inter-college and state-wide comparisons and benchmarking. By empowering community colleges to showcase strengths and identify areas for improvement, the VFA enhances transparency. Its sector-appropriate reporting formats enable colleges to communicate outcomes effectively to a broader audience, including policymakers and the public.

More than just a data tool, the VFA Data Tool acts as a catalyst for positive change. It streamlines accountability reporting, equipping colleges with efficient data collection methodologies and processes. This not only facilitates systematic display and benchmarking but also alleviates the burden on Institutional Research (IR) staff, supporting the multifaceted needs of community colleges.

A collaborative journey

Participation in the VFA isn’t just about adopting a data tool; it’s a commitment to advancing the collective voice of community colleges. The structured annual cycle, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, offers colleges a framework for engagement.

With ongoing support from AACC through trainings and user groups, colleges can navigate the data tool effectively and maximize its potential.

By leveraging the power of this framework, institutions can shape improvement strategies, respond to calls for performance funding, influence policy, and contribute to advocacy efforts. The VFA is not just a tool; it’s a community-driven initiative poised to redefine how success is measured in community colleges.

About the Author

Zuri Whitney
Zuri Whitney is the program manager for the Voluntary Framework of Accountability at the American Association of Community Colleges.