More than 12 years after the University of Wisconsin System introduced one of the nation’s first public accountability reports, the system will participate in a new national program designed to provide greater, more uniform accountability across all public universities and colleges.

In 1993, the UW System began publishing an annual accountability report for all 26 UW campuses and the statewide UW-Extension network. The report uses quantitative measures to assess how well the university meets certain goals, such as efficient use of resources, improved learning competencies, and increased student access and retention.

This week, the UW System Board of Regents will learn more about the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), a national project designed to improve public understanding of how public colleges and universities perform, based on standardized student data.

Through a web-based College Portrait, institutions participating in the VSA project will provide consistent, comparable, and transparent information to prospective students and their families, as well as to legislators and other stakeholders. UW campuses will be among the first in the nation to fully adopt the new reporting tools.

The project is a partnership between the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, funded by a grant from the Lumina Foundation.

“This is a great way to provide basic information about UW institutions in a common format, with common definitions that are easy to understand and apply,” said Mark Bradley, president of the UW System Board of Regents. “It is not a marketing tool. Rather, it is an authentic means of providing additional information on our UW institutions and their educational outcomes that Wisconsin families and students can use as they make decisions about college.”

“By embracing this process early, the UW System sets the pace for others to follow. More importantly, we demonstrate that accountability is more than a buzzword,” said Kevin P. Reilly, president of the UW System. “The reports will make meaningful information easily available to prospective students, with a major focus on measurable learning outcomes that are critical for success in the global economy.”

The College Portrait will be organized into three areas:

  • Student and Family Information – including information about costs of attendance, degree offerings, living arrangements, student characteristics, graduation rates of individual institutions, and data about student progress through the entire UW System.
  • Student Experiences and Perceptions – offering a snapshot of students’ learning experiences, activities and satisfaction, and their perceptions of the university’s commitment to student success, determined by the results of student surveys.
  • Student Learning Outcomes – reporting evidence of student learning, determined by institution-specific assessments using tests to measure student gains in critical thinking and written communication across all academic disciplines.

The UW System played an active role in developing and launching the national VSA project. Chancellor Richard Wells from UW-Oshkosh led the national task force that identified the best instruments to measure student engagement. Julie Furst-Bowe, provost at UW-Stout, served on the group that focused on measuring core educational outcomes. Margaret Roark, senior student services coordinator at UW-Extension, and Teri Thill, institutional researcher at UW-La Crosse, helped identify information that would be helpful to prospective students and families.

“This will be an effective tool for campuses to improve higher education at every level,” said Wells. “We all need to be held accountable for making the quality of our students’ learning experience as high as it can be. I’m proud to be part of the Wisconsin delegation that helped shape this national effort.”

The UW System is comprised of 2 doctoral universities, 11 comprehensive universities and 13 freshman/sophomore colleges, as well as a statewide extension and outreach network.

Media Contact

David Giroux UW System (608) 262-4464