BACKGROUND: Voluntary System of Accountability and the CSU

College Portrait and CSU's 'Public Good' Contributions

Following the issuance of the Spellings Commission report in 2006, which suggested the possibility of a federal mandate on accountability for public universities, two of the largest higher education association – the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) – immediately initiated an effort to provide clear, accessible information about students that would be useful to parents, students, future students, legislatures and the general public. 

As the largest public four-year university system in the country, the California State University has been a leader in the national VSA initiative.  The VSA is designed to help institutions demonstrate accountability and stewardship to the public; measure educational outcomes to identify effective practices, and to assemble information that is accessible, understandable, and comparable.

One of the key elements is the College Portrait, a web-based reporting template that communicates useful information about the undergraduate student experience to a variety of public stakeholders.  Several CSU campuses piloted their own College Portrait pages last fall, and plans are for all 23 campuses in the CSU system to include such information on their websites. 

A number of CSU campus presidents and administrators served as part of the leadership team involved in the development and implementation of the effort. CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed and Fresno State President John Welty served on the Presidential Advisory Committee that launched the VSA initiative, and CSU Northridge President Jolene Koester chaired the Learning Outcomes Work Group, on which W. David Conn, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo associate vice president, also served.  President Koester currently serves on the VSA oversight board as the AASCU presidential representative and is chair-elect.  CSU Long Beach President F. King Alexander chaired the Student Growth Work Group; Sacramento State Student Affairs Vice President Lori Varlotta served on the Student and Family Information Task Force; Fresno State Provost Jeronima Echeverria served on the Campus Student Engagement Task Force, and CSU Assistant Vice Chancellor Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi served on the System Design and Information Task Force.

CSU Public Good Page
During hearings on the Higher Education Opportunity Act, President Alexander highlighted the need for a page describing Contributions to the Public Good by a public university, and the need to have this information more accessible to the public.  The VSA was selected as the right vehicle to communicate important “public good” outcomes-based information, which led to the inclusion of many new categories that are unique to the CSU’s “Public Good” page.  These include the number of degrees granted, economic diversity of students, the “net” tuition paid by students, and the loan debt carried by students following graduation.

For example, the CSU awards almost half of all bachelor’s degrees in California--almost 90,000 graduates each year, with a student population that is 54 percent students of color.  Also, with respect to high demand industries in the state, the CSU provides the professional baccalaureates for agriculture, business, criminal justice, education, engineering, nursing, public administration and tourism/natural resources.

In addition, the CSU enrolled almost 150,000 low-income students who were awarded Pell Grants in 2005-06, almost 40 percent of the student population.  In the same year, the CSU graduated nearly 30,000 low-income students, a total that represented more than 40 percent of all CSU bachelor’s degree recipients.

Only 43 percent of CSU bachelor’s degree recipients had to assume loans during their college years, with an average loan debt of $13,994 – compared with 58 percent nationally, with an average loan debt of $19,646.  The average loan debt for all CSU degree recipients was $5,972, and most graduates left the CSU with zero loan debt.

All of this information is included on the CSU “Public Good” contributions page of the College Portrait, which will be customized for each individual campus and posted on its website.  Since creating this additional section, numerous public universities and higher education systems throughout the nation have indicated they intend to develop a similar “public good” section with similar categories and information.

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Last Update: September 16, 2008
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