College Portrait of Undergraduate Education

College Portrait of Undergraduate Education


The Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) program was created in 2007 by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and over 80 institutional leaders as one of the first national efforts to respond to the external demands for colleges and universities to become more transparent and more accountable. The VSA collectively answered those demands by reporting a common set of data, including a student success and progress rate and student learning outcomes.

During 2015-16, the VSA Oversight Board, supported by the VSA staff, engaged in a strategic planning process that included an environmental scan and gathering input from VSA participants and stakeholders. As a result of the information gathered and careful deliberations, the following blueprint for the program’s future was developed.

In sum, the VSA program will transition over the next 18 months from offering one external reporting tool (the College Portrait website) to a broader and more flexible set of tools and data products and professional development opportunities designed to advance institutional data capacity.

The new VSA Vision more directly focuses on providing support to participating institutions to increase data, tools, and ability to develop and deliver exceptional evidence-based communications for a variety of stakeholders. A new suite of products and services will be offered in three complementary areas: 1) Designations, Tools, and Data Products; 2) Education and Training; and 3) Public Reporting. The initial offerings within each area are outlined below.

I. Designations, Tools, and Data Products

Excellence in Assessment Designations. Recognizes exemplary institutions based on successful campus-wide integration of assessment practices, clear reporting of student learning outcomes, and effective use of assessment results. See the EIA website for more information, including the list of our 10 inaugural Designees.

National Datasets for Benchmarking. VSA participants will have access to custom institution-level national datasets, cleaned and merged at appropriate levels, for analysis and reporting starting in early 2017. Data sets to be included: IPEDS surveys; Higher Education Research & Development survey (NSF); Federal Student Aid grant, loan data; aggregate Student Achievement Measures data; and College Board Annual Survey of Colleges.

Analysis Tools Reports. In late spring 2017, VSA participants will be able to engage with standardized, interactive benchmarking reports and templates, including data from the Student Achievement Measures and key financial aid and student indebtedness data.

II. Education Training

Webinars and professional development will be offered throughout 2017, with more advanced opportunities to participate in professional learning communities starting in 2018. Webinar topics planned for 2017 include:

  • Introduction to the new VSA Tools Data Products
  • Lessons from the inaugural EIA applications
  • Leadership knowledge skills: accessing using data for decision-making
  • Developing data literacy for benchmarking

Learning community curriculum will be developed by national experts in institutional research, assessment, and communications. Communities will combine face-to-face sessions with online materials and discussion over a 4-5 month period to build communities of practice and peer networks across campuses. Communities will be targeted for senior campus leadership as well as institutional research and assessment staff.

Potential communities include:

  • Data Proficiency for Senior Campus Leaders Decision-makers
  • Developing Data Expertise for Institutional Research Professionals
  • Data Presentation for Effective Storytelling
  • Integrated Campus-wide Assessment Communication

III. Public Reporting

The College Portraits and At A Glance website will be available during the transition period until at least December 2017. However, no new data will be collected from institutions for the 2016-17 academic year; only institutions with a 2015-16 College Portrait published by October 14, 2016 will be visible.

The VSA staff and transition governance groups will evaluate future options considering the cost and demand for a static, national transparency tool. Future options include, but are not necessarily limited to, creating College Portraits using national datasets already reported by institutions, maintaining smaller institutional profile pages with curated links to the Student Achievement Measures and institutional NILOA Transparency Framework website, or creating public interactive benchmarking reports.


The VSA will remain a dues-funded initiative. Existing operational overhead will be invested to create the new data structure, tools, and reporting. The VSA staff are investigating external funding opportunities to support the development of the professional learning communities’ curriculum and delivery platforms.

Annual participation dues of $1000 per institution will provide access for campus users to data products and a basic set of training opportunities. Current VSA dues range from $500 to $2500; the small number of current VSA participants with dues of $500 will be grandfathered into the new system at that rate.

Participant Dues Structure for 2017:

  • Annual (calendar year) dues for all participants = $1,000
    • Institutions currently paying dues of $500 will be grandfathered in at that level
  • Dues include access to data products and tools, webinars, and learning communities
  • VSA membership remains limited to 4-year public colleges universities

Participant Dues Structure Starting 2018:

  • Membership open to any regionally accredited US institution
  • Non-members may participate in learning communities for fee, to be determined


The VSA will remain a joint APLU and AASCU initiative with the program administration and staffing housed at APLU. The previous VSA Oversight Board will be replaced by a Strategic Advisory Committee and two task forces to guide the initiative through the transition.

  • The strategic advisory committee will include senior administrators and stakeholders from both APLU and AASCU to provide guidance on overall vision, recruitment, and future development.
  • The Communications Task Force will implement promotion and recruitment activities, including conference presentations, and assist with website design decisions.
  • The Technical Advisory Task Force will guide data tool selection and set priorities for tool and report implementation.


  • Summer 2016: Communicate future plans to VSA participants, AASCU/APLU members
  • May 2016 to December 2017: VSA staff develop new data products, tools, and services
  • September 2016: Convene new governance committee task forces
  • October 2016:
    • No new data collection
    • College Portraits AAG data are frozen
    • New transition website released at
    • Application window for 2017 Excellence in Assessment Designation opens
  • Throughout 2017:
    • Quarterly webinars on key data literacy use topics, webinars on new VSA data products and tools
    • Presentations at key national conferences on new VSA vision
  • January 2017: National benchmarking data sets available to VSA participants
  • March 2017:
    • VSA dues billed
    • Interactive benchmarking reports available to VSA participants
    • New VSA website launched
  • April 2017: Application window for 2017 Excellence in Assessment Designations closes
  • July 2017: Decision made re future of College Portrait AAG tools