The first national accountability system designed for two-year colleges launched last week, reports Community College Times. The Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) uses “measures that encompass the full breadth of the community college mission and the diversity of students’ goals and educational experiences,” according to the American Association of Community Colleges(AACC).

“Many traditional measures of institutional effectiveness produce an incomplete or inaccurate picture of community college performance,” said AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus. “For example, most national assessments are pegged to full-time students, but the majority of community college students attend part-time.”

Community colleges will be able to compare their data to similar colleges to analyze areas of strengths and weaknesses.

The VFA measures gauge student progress and outcomes, including pre-collegiate preparation (such as developmental education and adult basic education), academic progress and momentum points, completion and transfer measures, and workforce outcomes for career and technical education.

Pennsylvania was the first state to adopt the VFA. Michigan and Nebraska are reviewing statewide implementation. Arizona, Texas,  Louisiana and Ohio are using VFA measures in some way.

AACC has “rolled the VFA’s measures into the Student Achievement Measure (SAM) initiative,” a joint project of six national higher education associations, reports Community College Times.

VFA will help colleges tell their story, writes Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.

A few weeks ago, a local reporter called to ask me if I had seen my college’s metrics in the recently released White House scorecard. I had and the metrics were not flattering. But, I also had my college’s data from the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) because we were one of the 40 original pilot colleges to test the American Association of Community Colleges’ VFA metrics and data definitions. I was able to use our VFA data on student progression to paint a much more comprehensive and inclusive picture of student progression and attainment.

All 14 Pennsylvania community colleges now use VFA metrics. The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges was able to show student progress and outcomes during budget testimony, “rebutting invalid comparisons of community college outcomes to selective and four-year college and university outcomes,” writes Stout.

In addition, individual colleges are using the VFA to critically look at student pathways and to identify points where intervention of practice might lead to improvement. At my institution, too many students are transferring before degree completion. As a result, we are working to simplify and tighten (keep credits to 60 to 62) our associate degree pathways and to incentivize students with associate-degree completion in our transfer agreements.

Stout is a member of the VFA Planning Advisory Committee and serves as co-chair of the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges Implementation Team 8, which is focusing on accountability.