About the VSA

The VSA, co-sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), is a subscription program, designed to support the data needs of higher education institutions and the use of national data to improve institutional outcomes.

The VSA remains a joint AASCU and APLU initiative with program administration and staffing housed at APLU. AASCU and APLU collaborate with national organizations to better address national data policy issues. An Advisory Board, composed of representatives from APLU and AASCU, is being formed to provide guidance on the mission and strategy of the VSA. In addition, a Users’ Group will continue to provide feedback on technical and data issues.

The VSA offers a broad set of products that provides institutions with visual analytics that inform decision-making and equips institutional leaders with the data they need to meet their strategic goals. To learn more about the VSA, follow our blog at VSAvoice or .

You can access the VSA Frequently Asked Questions here.


Tools and Data Products

Offerings for VSA subscribers include:

  1. Datasets:  cleaned and merged national dataset with data on all degree-granting U.S. institutions that participate in Title IV programs is available to participating institutions. The dataset currently has data from three public sources: IPEDS surveys; Higher Education Research & Development survey (NSF); and the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). The dataset is available for download for custom analysis. Future sources may include data from the Office of Federal Student Aid; the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard; and the College Board Annual Survey of Colleges, among others.
  2. Data Tools: The dynamic analytic tool includes a suite of custom visualizations that give VSA participants the ability to create comparison groups and drill down into key performance measures that are available in interactive benchmarking reports. 

Education and Training

Webinars or training modules are planned to be offered exclusively to VSA subscribers in late 2018. Topics include:

  1. Data knowledge 101: Skills for senior leaders – accessing and using data for decision-making
  2. Data literacy – constructing peer groups and benchmarking national data for institutional planning
  3. Communicating with data - effective communication using data for all higher education professionals


The Voluntary System of Accountability was created in 2006-07 as the Commission of the Future of Higher Education, convened by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, brought national attention to the need for more comparable and transparent information about institutions of higher education – including the measurement and reporting of student learning outcomes. The Spellings Commission (as it was commonly called) brought together policymakers, business leaders, researchers, and academic leaders to develop a comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education and to ensure that “college was accessible, affordable and prepared students to compete in the global economy.” (Commission on the Future of Higher Education, 2006). During that time, there was substantial concern within the higher education community that the federal government would mandate a single set of data and metrics that must be used by all institutions – regardless of institutional mission or the students served – to demonstrate institutional affordability, quality and accountability.

The VSA concept was introduced by AASCU and APLU as a counterweight to the more rigid mandates recommended by the Spellings Commission. Based on the premise of offering straightforward, flexible, comparable information on the undergraduate experience, including the reporting of student learning outcomes, the College Portrait website launched in 2008. Eighty university representatives from 70 public universities led the development of the College Portrait with input from the larger higher education community.

In 2016, the VSA Oversight Board approved a new vision for the VSA:  to create a set of data and analytics offerings to meet the needs of institutions, reflecting a need for benchmarking institutional performance against a national set of peers using nationally defined metrics.

In 2018, the VSA released a suite of visualizations on the new VSA website, which replaced the College Portrait website.  A robust, dynamic, web-based platform allows institutions to analyze over 25 key performance metrics for benchmarking against custom comparisons groups. The visualization tool is linked to a comprehensive, integrated dataset containing over 350 variables from national data sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Science Foundation, Federal Student Aid, and the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). Subscribers may print visualizations or download the entire custom dataset.