ACT is playing a role in the development of a new tool that helps prospective college students and their families compare four-year public colleges and universities and that holds these institutions more accountable for student learning outcomes.
The Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) is designed to help young people choose an institution that fits them. If the information provided through VSA improves fit, then attrition will be reduced, graduation probabilities will increase, and the ultimate cost of higher education to the student and family will decrease, said David Shulenburger, vice president for academic affairs, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC).
NASULGC and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) created VSA. ACTs Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) program is one of three instruments chosen to measure core educational outcomes for this project. The others are the Collegiate Learning Assessment and Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress. VSA will incorporate two of CAAPs tests, critical thinking and writing essay, starting this fall.
Accountability is not a new concept; postsecondary institutions already report externally to boards, state entities, and the federal government. What is new is the call for data reported in a way that will permit comparisons of undergraduate education across institutions and the reporting of core educational outcomes for undergraduates in a formal document.
The Voluntary System of Accountability website provides details on this new initiative, which is designed to communicate information on the undergraduate student experience through a Web reporting template, the College Portrait. A prototype of the College Portrait is available on the website.
Across the country, the public is seeking evidence that education pays off. They want clear, accessible information about whether higher education is equipping future generations with the skills they will need to lead the world. As these demands for accountability among public institutions intensify, systems like the VSA will become increasingly essential to the future of public higher education, said Charles Reed, chancellor of the California State University System and an ACT board member who served on a VSA committee.
Developed with a grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education, VSA will be offered at no charge to member institutions starting in the spring of this year. AASCU and NASULGC collectively represent 650 U.S. public colleges and universities. More than half of these are expected to participate. A number of systems and institutions have already joined, including the California State University System, University of North Carolina System, University of Texas System, University of Wisconsin System, The University of Iowa, and University of Tennessee.
A second grant from the U.S. Department of Educations Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education will support an initiative on assessment of student learning.
ACT is also involved in this part of the project, which will validate the three VSA test instruments. Research is expected to begin this fall. The project, Rising to the Challenge: Meaningful Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes, establishes a consortium among AASCU, NASULGC, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities to implement meaningful student learning assessment approaches and use the results to improve student achievement levels.