Community college officials were urged to commit to “beta-testing” the Voluntary Framework of Accountability at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco. The new measure will be introduced in November. The federal data system tracks only full-time students, who make up a fraction of community college students. The AACC, the Association of Community College Trustees and the College Board are designing the VFA to satisfy demands for accountability and give colleges the information they need to improve, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The VFA aims to measure students’ progress not only in terms of who gets a degree, but, for example, if they pass out of developmental courses, how quickly they earn academic credit, and if they transfer to another institution. Beyond credit-bearing academic programs, the tool will track such data as students’ pass rates for licensure examinations and the employment rates among those who enrolled in adult basic education.
“If you’re going to measure us, measure us by what we do,” said Sandra L. Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, which plans to start using the tool in the fall. Sinclair Community College also intends to sign on, said Laura Mercer, director of research, analytics, and reporting at the Ohio institution.
About 80 colleges are testing the VFA. Pennsylvania adopted it last year to assess its 14 community colleges, and other states may follow suit. But some college officials worry about the cost of collecting data — or what the numbers may show.
For now, the development of the VFA has focused on student progress and outcomes. Its two other components, tracking community colleges’ performance on “work-force, economic, and community development” and on “student-learning outcomes,” are in their early stages. Collecting state wage data and defining learning outcomes have proved difficult, presenters at the meeting said.
The VFA will track the progress of all students in credit-bearing courses, not just those who are seeking a degree, said Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, in Pennsylvania, and co-chair of an AACC accountability team. That may depress completion rates, she conceded.
The new federal College Scorecard will let students and parents see “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” said President Obama in his State of the Union speech. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office will launch its own community college scorecard, reports EdSource Today.
The federal scorecard is “very four-year centric data,” explained Patrick Perry, Vice Chancellor for Technology, Research and Information Systems for California Community Colleges. “It tracks first-time, full-time freshmen degree-seeking students. That’s a small percentage of who’s coming to us.”
The community college scorecard, known as AARC 2.0, will track six “momentum points” correlated with student success. These are based on progress over six years.
Persistence Rate – the percentage of students seeking a degree or transfer to a four-year school who remain enrolled for three consecutive terms,
30 Unit Rate – the percentage of first-time students seeking a degree or transfer who earn at least 30 units,
Student Progress and Attainment Rate – the percentage of degree-or-transfer seeking students – separated into cohorts of those who start in basic skills and those who begin in college-level classes – who earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer to a four-year college or university,
Basic Skills Progress Rate – the percentage of students who start out in remedial classes who go on to succeed in college-level courses,
Career Technical Education – the percentage of students who complete a career technical education program and earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer, and
Career Development and College Preparation Rate – the completion rate for students in non-credit career development and non-credit college prep courses, such as English as a second language, which are offered at about a third of the state’s community colleges.
In addition, student progress data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender.
Performance incentives for students, faculty, and staff are catching on, reports Community College Times.
In Washington, where the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges boasts one of the oldest and most publicized incentive programs directed at improving student performance, colleges accrue points and receive funding when more of their students reach any of the following six milestones: Earn basic skills points by making test gains; successfully complete a pre-college math or English course, earn 15 college-level credits, earn 30 college-level credits, complete a college-level math/quantitative reasoning course, or earn a degree or certificate.
“It’s not just monetary incentives, it’s how you structure programs and how you keep track.”, says Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center. “We’re encouraging colleges to make sure students have a plan [for academic progress] and to track students’ progress according to the plan.”
Incentive programs were a key recommendation in Reclaiming the American Dream, a report by the American Association of Community Colleges’ 21st-Century Commission,
Student-based incentives can include tuition discounts that kick in after a student earns a credential or reaches a predetermined credits-earned threshold, says Peter Ewell, vice president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a nonprofit organization in Boulder, Colo., and member of AACC’s 21st-Century Commission. Another option is partial loan forgiveness if these milestones are achieved, he says.
For faculty, bonus pay is one route, Ewell says. But other incentives are also popular. “Some of the best of these ideas are collective rewards—faculty development grants, travel grants—to academic units that achieve higher than predicted success.”
Increasingly, states are offering performance incentives to community colleges that improve student outcomes.
Rewarding colleges for student achievement progress has produced “modest” gains in Washington state’s community and technical colleges since 2007, concludes a Community College Research Center study by Clive Belfield. Under the Student Achievement Initiative (SAI), the state has linked some funding to students’ progress in achieving goals.
Achievement is measured in points, using six metrics: improvement in performance on assessment of basic skills; advancement across levels of developmental education; accumulation of 15 college credits; accumulation of 30 college credits; completion of quantitative reasoning courses; and completion of a degree, certificate, or apprenticeship.
From baseline to 2011, the average college increased its total points by 31 percent. The study found “modest evidence” of progress improvements, known as momentum, “primarily among students in college-level courses who were accumulating credits and making progress toward completion.” However, half of students didn’t earn any progress points. Basic skills students also had little momentum.
“Moving forward, colleges may be more likely to improve student momentum if they focus on the gains that can be made among students when they first enter the institution,” Belfield advises.
A day after a federal panel released its final report on new measures of success for community college students, the American Association of Community Colleges released its Voluntary Framework of Accountability, which tries to persuade community colleges to adopt “rigorous” performance standards and chart students’ progress.
Community colleges are under pressure to raise graduation rates, notes Inside Higher Ed.
The framework calls for colleges to track student cohorts through academic and job-training courses by ethnicity, Pell status and need for remediation.
The student-success task force’s recommendations overlap with the VFA initiative.
. . . both groups recommend including student transfers in graduation rates, which would give a more flattering picture of the sector’s performance — and a more accurate one, colleges say, given the large number of community college students who transfer to other institutions.
However, there are differences in the two efforts. For example, the association’s guidelines do not suggest that lateral transfers – from one community college to another – should be included in graduation rates, while the task force did.
Some community college presidents have worried that “participating in the voluntary accountability project will be labor-intensive and expensive,” notes Inside Higher Ed.
Collecting the data “will be a challenging process, initially,” said Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County, which was a pilot site. But participation will help colleges improve their performance and signal their commitment to accountability, said Johnson, who was on the framework’s steering committee.
Forty community colleges will test a new accountability system designed to measure students’ progress and completion rates. The Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA), developed by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and College Board, “ is designed to provide accurate data, operational transparency and the ability for colleges to benchmark student progress and completion data against peer institutions,” reports Community College Times.
“Many traditional measures of institutional effectiveness don’t work well for community colleges,” said AACC President Walter Bumphus. “For example, most are pegged to full-time students, and the majority of community college students attend part-time. Our overarching goal is to develop measures appropriate to our mission that clearly tell students and policy makers how we’re doing.”
If VFA proves its feasibility and usefulness, the nation’s 1,200 community, junior and technical colleges could begin adoption in early 2012.