The impact of using the voluntary framework of accountability as a measure of student progress and outcomes at a community college



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The community college mission is to provide open access to higher education for all students. For that reason, accountability measures have focused primarily on student access to their institutions. However, in recent years there was a shift to include student progress and outcomes, in addition to access, as measures of institutional effectiveness. With this shift came concerns by community college leadership on a national level that they were being held accountable with measures that were inappropriate for this sector of higher education. As a result, the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) was created. This framework is unique in that it was designed for and by community colleges and is currently being piloted on a national basis by the American Association of Community Colleges at approximately 100 locations. This qualitative research case study, based upon grounded theory, chronicles the participation process of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in the development and piloting of accountability metrics using the VFA model to measure student progress and outcomes and the resultant impact on policy and practice at the CCAC. In my research, I found a number of factors shaping the implementation of the VFA pilot. The decision of the CCAC to participate in the development and pilot project of the VFA can be traced back to the increased pressure of accountability on the institution and the leadership of the current president and his philosophy about data informed decision-making. Other findings that influenced the implementation of the VFA included the limitations of the pre-VFA metric definitions and measurements that were being used to account for student progress and outcomes. In my treatise I describe the implementation issues, including the challenges and benefits of using the VFA accountability model, and then examine how it has impacted organizational policy and practices.