Saturday, November 14, 2009

Someone Needs to Explain the Concept of Transparency to These Guys

A few years ago the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) teamed up to put together the Voluntary System of Accountability which is provides a uniform template for colleges and universities to report information for prospective students and their families. The template is called the College Portrait.

Two years ago, when the program was in its infancy, Provost Rodney Erickson told the University Faculty Senate that
The point for us is that this will be a considerable amount of work; it’s not something that the faculty, at this point, need to worry about. Most of this, I would say probably between 90 and 95 percent of the information that’s on the Voluntary System of Accountability, is already on our public accountability page, or elsewhere on our Web site in some form. It deals with student characteristics; progress to graduation and graduation rates cost; and attendance of financial aid, admission, degrees, area of study, student housing, campus safety, future plans of baccalaureate graduates, and things like that.

We’re already well equipped to respond. I think the larger issue, however, is that the system will require in three to four years evidence documented, evidence of learning outcomes. While we are using
He didn't seem too enthusiastic about the whole thing.  And shortly thereafter, the Collegian reported  that Penn State wouldn't participate in the program.
Though Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities announced their participation in the VSA last week, Penn State, like the state's three other state-related universities, has not signed on to the project.
So I was rather surprised when I discovered that Penn State had quietly signed on the the VSA. That's where the Pell Grant data in my last post came from. There was no announcement on The Penn State Propaganda Portal. The only mention of VSA there, which came this past January, was rather oblique.
Dowhower presented examples of available data for University Park students as compared with four other Big Ten institutions, as derived from USA Today, one of two public accountability vehicles. Data included scores for active and collaborative learning as well as for enriching educational experiences. In addition, she offered examples from the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), a voluntary initiative for four-year public colleges and universities to communicate common information on the undergraduate student experience.
You really have to dig to find any acknowledgment by Old Main that Penn State is participating in the program. It comes  on page 9 (pdf page 15) of the most recent University-wide strategic plan
In 2008, Penn State agreed to participate in the Voluntary System of Accountability.This is a compact among most of the nation’s public  universities to provide additional Web site information about graduation rates, costs of attendance, descriptors of the educational services available, and assessment of student engagement and learning outcomes.
The only other mention is on the University's Assessment of Student Learning Web site which links to the VSA home page, but not to Penn State's College Portrait. 

What is it with Old Main and transparency? They do their damnedest to hide things even as they make them public.   And there is nothing earth shattering in the Penn State's current College Portrait. The truth is the the bulk of the information in the current report can be found if you dig around the Penn State Web site just as Erickson told the UFS. However, the  assessment of learning outcomes bit isn't in the current portrait, that comes latter, for all schools not just Penn State, after the data is collected. When it does arrive,  it may very well be a bombshell and perhaps Penn State is preparing for that day by not drawing any attention to their participation in VSA now.

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