At every level of education, quantifying student success is a difficult task. With multifaceted missions and student goals, community colleges have a particularly complex challenge in defining institutional success. This spring, Waubonsee Community College is one of only 40 two-year colleges nationwide selected to participate in a pilot project designed to measure institutional performance and to create a national model.

While all community college students seek education, their expected outcomes differ significantly. One student may seek a two-year associate degree or certificate to enter the workforce, another might look to transfer credits to a four-year college, while others pursue more specific goals that include earning a GED or learning business-related skills. The fact that so many community college students attend part-time requires a method to measure effectiveness that is unique from those measuring full-time student success at a four-year college.

To help develop a new system to accurately measure the success of community colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) — in collaboration with the Association of Community College Trustees and the College Board — recently launched a project called the Voluntary Framework for Accountability (VFA). Funded by the Lumina Foundation for Education, Inc. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the VFA will develop performance measures for community colleges in the key areas of college readiness, student completion, job preparation and employment. These performance measures will allow community colleges to compare their results with each other and more effectively benchmark institutional success. 

While serving as a pilot site, Waubonsee will gather and evaluate data from January to August 2011 and share this information with AACC. Waubonsee’s commitment to data-driven decision-making, along with our culture of seeking continuous advances in quality, contributed to our selection as a pilot site. The college’s accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission of North Central Association of College and Schools’ Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) has instilled an institution-wide integration of quality practices. We also employ a strong strategic planning process and were recently awarded a significant five-year U.S. Department of Education Title V grant that will further support the research and resources needed to ensure the success of our students.

Student success has been a defining characteristic of Waubonsee since the college’s founding in the late-1960s. With this focus, Waubonsee enables students in all stages of learning to achieve their full potential — often beyond what they thought possible. With the VFA, we will be able to more precisely quantify the impact and success of the college, using this data to make even further gains with the ultimate goal of improving the effectiveness of our programs and services for students.