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 more than 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.

The VSA program has begun to transition 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 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. Data sets to be included in the initial release include: IPEDS surveys; Higher Education Research & Development survey (NSF); and selected Student Achievement Measures data.  More data sources will be investigated and added throughout 2017 and 2018.

Analysis Tools & Reports.  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 data.

II. Education & Training

Webinars and professional development will be offered throughout 2018, with more advanced opportunities to participate in professional learning communities under consideration for the future.   Planned webinar topics include:

  • Introduction to the new VSA Tools & Data Products
  • Lessons from the inaugural EIA applications
  • Developing data literacy for benchmarking

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 advisory groups will evaluate future options considering the cost and demand for a static, national transparency tool. One future option is a concise institutional profile pages with a short description of the institution, selected information from student engagement surveys (i.e., NSSE), and links to an institution’s net price calculator, the Student Achievement Measures, and NILOA Transparency Framework website.


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 $1,000 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 $2,500; the small number of current VSA participants with dues of $500 will be grandfathered into the new system at that rate. VSA membership will remain limited to 4-year public colleges and universities in 2017, with the possibility of opening participation to other sectors in 2018.


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 Board and Technical Advisory Task Force 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 Technical Advisory Task Force will guide data tool selection and set priorities for tool and report implementation.


  • 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
  • May 2017: Application window for 2017 Excellence in Assessment Designations closes
  • July 2017: 
    • National benchmarking data sets available to VSA participants
    • New VSA website launched
  • October 2017:  Interactive benchmarking reports available to VSA participants
  • January 2018
    • College Portraits legacy site reconfigured and condensed 
    • Historical benchmarking data sets available to VSA participants
    • VSA dues billed
  • Throughout 2018: 
    • Convene new governance committee & task forces
    • Webinars on new VSA data products and tools
    • Presentations at key national conferences on new VSA vision