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The VSA and Student Learning Outcomes

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Updated 01/2013

The Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) designed and sponsors the College Portrait (CP), a method of gathering and displaying information about a college to prospective students and parents. One section of an institution's College Portrait reports information on student learning outcomes, including standardized test data from one of three instruments approved by the VSA.

Voluntary System of Accountability

  • VSA is jointly sponsored by two higher education associations:
    • The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU; formerly known as National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges or NASULGC)
    • The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
  • 64% of AASCU and APLU members – 325 institutions including most public AAU’s – participate in the College Portrait. The CP opened to institutional participation in December 2007.
  • To participate, a school
    • Signs a formal participation agreement (CU-Boulder signed the participation agreement 5/18/08)
    • Agrees to provide specified information within a specified time frame, and update most of that information annually. CU-Boulder has submitted each spring 2008-present.
    • Agrees to display the College Portrait logo (shown below) on the website for prospective students “one click from the homepage.”
    • Pays an annual fee - $2,500 for CU-Boulder. Grant funding to VSA meant no fee the first two years; this ended 12/31/09.
  • Chancellor Bud Peterson and Provost Phil DiStefano decided that CU-Boulder would participate; participation was encouraged by CU System.

College Portrait

  • There are three categories of data in the College Portrait
  • :
    • Consumer information (e.g., costs of attendance, degree offerings, living arrangements, student characteristics, graduation rates)
      • Coming very soon: Cost calculator – required by federal regulations. Interactive – estimates tuition, other costs, and financial aid based on a few inputs. Boulder Office of Financial Aid is a beta tester for the College Portrait calculator.
    • Information about student experiences and perceptions (e.g., group learning, student satisfaction, student interaction with faculty and staff). CU-Boulder reports data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).
    • Student learning outcomes
      • Institution’s description of how it evaluates student learning
      • Data from a standardized test selected, from among three options, by the institution) – More on this below.
  • At CU-Boulder, the Institutional Analysis (IA) area of the Office of Planning, Budget, and Analysis (PBA) collects and submits all CP data except the cost calculator.
    • Data updates: Data entry for the new reporting year opens in the winter (Dec/Jan), and updated information is published on the CP website the following spring (Mar/Apr).
  • For the current (2009-10) CU-Boulder CP, see
  • CP includes data on “Undergraduate success and progress rates,” information which is not available elsewhere.
    • Retention/enrollment rates: proportions of students enrolled at CU-Boulder or at another institution four years and six years after entering CU-Boulder
    • Graduation/completion rates: proportions of students graduated from CU-Boulder or from another institution four years and six years after entering CU-Boulder
    • Data are provided separately for new freshmen and for transfer students
  • Web hits in January 2011 for CU-Boulder CP: 85 people (IP addresses), 100 visits; 30% from UCB admissions page; 60% viewed one page only; 2.2 minutes average time on site; 2% from outside the US.

Student Learning Outcomes in the College Portrait

  • In the CU-Boulder College Portrait we provide a brief description of how we evaluate student learning, and we include a link to a more comprehensive description of our efforts to assess and improve undergraduate student learning.
  • Standardized testing
    • The VSA participation agreement requires that institutions report student learning data no more than four years after becoming a VSA participant.
    • In Oct 2008 the University of Colorado Board of Regents directed that each campus "will implement [by 2009-10]an annual general education assessment program" including a standardized test such as those acceptable to the VSA (CLA, CAAP, MAPP).
    • In spring 2009 the Academic Oversight Committee (AOC; Mike Grant, chair) selected Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) from among three options offered by VSA.
      • AOC position: Minimal utility of any of the tests for improvement; use primarily for accountability. Use minimum numbers of test takers required by testing company.
        • AOC asked VSA to approve a national critical thinking test as an option; this was not approved.
  • Timing
    • CLA data were first collected at CU-Boulder in 2009-10.
    • VSA requires update at least every 3 years.
    • The Board of Regents mandated annual data collection.
    • CU-Boulder is collecting CLA data again in 2010-11
    • Results from 2009-10 were presented to the Regents, and posted, November 2010 as part of CU-Boulder's annual "academic rigor report."
      • The Regents posed no questions on standardized testing
      • The Regents have made a verbal agreement to allow standardized testing every 3 years (vs the annual testing initially required).
    • CLA data were first published in the College Portrait mid March 2011.
  • Procedure, cost, and findings of 2009-10 CLA data collection at CU-Boulder are described in a short report. That document includes a sample question and a description of the test.
  • In brief:
    • 105 new freshmen were tested in October 2009; 102 seniors in March 2010.
    • Cost: $17,000 direct, 300 hours student time, 75 hours staff time
    • Seniors tested in spring 2010 performed almost exactly as expected, according to CLA’s value-added statistical model.
    • We also tested seniors in spring 2011, with similar results.

Last revision 08/16/13

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