By Jennifer Krisch and Sally Linder
Ohio University joined Ohio's other public higher-education institutions last week in signing an agreement of intent to participate in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA). The move was the latest step in the university's ongoing commitment to identify success measures, track outcomes and make the results publicly available.
In becoming a VSA institution, the university agrees to capture and post online a wide range of standardized performance data that anyone can readily compare with that of other participating VSA institutions.
Providing a service
President Roderick J. McDavis believes collecting and presenting Ohio University's results through the VSA model will bring new attention to the school.
"Signing this document was important to me because we have some great information here -- excellent information on retention rates and graduation rates -- and this gives us a means of sharing it with a broader audience," McDavis said.
The ability to compare one institution to another also is valuable, he said.
"We're (VSA-participating institutions) going to be reporting the same data -- apples to apples -- about costs, performance and satisfaction, and this will help us all become more transparent," he said. "That will be helpful and valuable to parents and students as they make decisions about where to attend."
As chairman of the Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC), McDavis helped Ohio's 13 public universities and one independent medical school come to consensus on adopting VSA, a decision that Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut embraced.
"In my tenure as IUC chair, I facilitated conversations within our organization that led to our coming together to move forward with (VSA)," McDavis said. "It also tied in with work being done in the University System of Ohio."
In a Thursday press release, Fingerhut said VSA is an important piece of the state's 10-year plan for higher education and USO.
"It's a win for prospective students, families, legislators, policymakers, college faculty and staff who, for the first time, will be able to review data on price, financial aid, degree programs, retention and graduation rates, campus safety, student satisfaction and student learning outcomes," he said.
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State University and Land-Grant Colleges initiated VSA in 2007-08. According to Fingerhut's office, Ohio is one of the first states to have all of its public universities participate in the program as a system.
Building on momentum
Though McDavis signed the VSA agreement only Thursday, Ohio University already provides the public access to much of the required information and had built VSA into the Five-Year Vision Ohio Implementation Plan.
"We have a long history of assessment, and much of what we have is publicly available online," Mike Williford, associate provost for institutional research and assessment, said, pointing to Institutional Research's extensive Web site linked to the university's front door.
"There are a couple of new things we'll need to do," he said, "but we have just about everything we need to participate."
VSA participation was incorporated into the Five-Year Vision Ohio Implementation Plan this past winter, with a goal of formally joining by fall and beginning within months to build the VSA Collegiate Profile -- the standardized data set that will be displayed on all VSA participants' Web sites. The five-page profile will comprise three sections: consumer information, student experiences and perceptions, and student learning outcomes or learning objectives, which define what students should be able to do when they have successfully completed a class.
Regarding the latter, an independent, Ohio Board of Regents-sponsored volunteer group -- in which Williford participated -- initiated a statewide effort in 2006 to design institution-specific student success plans that would identify learning objectives for general education and each academic program.
Ohio University has since developed a detailed set of learning outcomes and made them available to the public. "We did that pretty much ahead of a lot of other institutions (in Ohio), finishing up last year." Ohio University faculty members have begun to incorporate learning objectives into their course syllabi.
One component of VSA, a standardized test, is new to Ohio University. The university chose among three such tests, selecting the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency, which tests students' proficiency in math and English. According to Williford, the first set of students took tests this year, and the departments are awaiting results. The university's General Education Outcomes Committee selected the test, which will be used along with qualitative assessment methods so that overall results are more meaningful and comprehensive.
"VSA represents something that Ohio University stands for -- being accountable and being open about what we're doing," Williford said. "It is just another step in keeping the public fully informed."