By Casey S. Elliott
Prospective students and their parents have access to a new tool to better evaluate Ohio University and the state's 12 other public universities.
The university's College Portrait provides information on -- among other topics -- enrollment, undergraduate student satisfaction, retention and graduation rates, housing options and university costs. It was developed through the university's participation in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State University and Land-Grant Colleges.
In becoming a VSA institution, the university agreed to post online a range of performance data that prospective students and their parents can use to compare participating colleges and universities. VSA institutions and their portraits are listed on the VSA Web site.
President Roderick J. McDavis, chair of the Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC), encouraged the state's public universities and independent medical school to join the VSA. Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut embraced the decision.
Their goal was to have all Ohio participating institutions' portraits up by today.
Much of the information available in Ohio University's College Portrait has been provided previously on the Office of Institutional Research Web site. The beauty of the portrait is the presentation and inclusion of easily understandable facts in a common format.
"As students and their families look at making a decision about what university is going to best meet their individual needs, help them achieve their greatest potential and fulfill their promise, it is important to be able to look at how the university historically has served its students," McDavis said. "That is what this (College Portrait) does. It gives an at-a-glance recent history of the outcomes of teaching and learning at Ohio University.
"It is a good tool for people to have, to look at a broad range of factors, so that they can make their own individual decisions," he added.
McDavis has stated previously that the portraits are an apples-to-apples comparison of participating universities' costs and performance and student satisfaction data.
"The College Portrait is a new visual presentation for us," Associate Provost for Institutional Research and Assessment Mike Williford said. "We have always had a mission of external and internal accountability. This further reinforces what we have been trying to do -- by turning data into useful information."
The portraits follow a VSA-developed template intended to highlight three broad themes -- background data, student experience and performance outcomes. Each section has a "More" link, which gives detailed information.
There also are locations in the template for individual universities to highlight their unique features. For Ohio University, this includes "The Bobcat Community" section, which describes campus life and includes links to a number of programs for students and information for parents.
Also included in the portrait is the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data from 2004-05, the most recent available from the survey conducted every three years. In that data, seniors gave high marks to their educational experiences at Ohio University. (See sidebar).
The portrait also highlights the university's six-year success and progress rate of 94 percent, meaning that percentage of students who started in fall 2001 either graduated or had enrolled elsewhere six years later. Ohio University's six-year graduation rate is tied for second in the state among public universities, Williford said.
Information in the College Portrait will be updated regularly as new data becomes available.