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(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Nov. 20, 2007) — California State University, Northridge is among a half-dozen colleges in the nation participating in a test-run of a new Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) that will provide plenty of one-stop-shopping information suitable for comparisons to other universities as students and parents select a place to begin or continue an education.
Presented in the form of a College Portrait, the VSA is an initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), higher education advocacy organizations representing hundreds of college and universities. Northridge President Jolene Koester serves on the AASCU board.
The project, http://www.csun.edu/collegeportrait/CSUNPortraitPrelim.pdf (316KB, Download Acrobat Reader), will chart the intellectual progress of students and produce the evidence sought by state and federal policy-makers who set the public budgets, including critics who question the accountability and the results of an institution.
The VSA also will answer common questions such as: How much does a college education really cost? Who attends the school? What student activities are available? What other services? How much debt, if any, comes with a diploma? How long does it take to complete a degree? What is the university's graduation rate? And, does that rate tell the whole story? For example, since the vast majority of college graduates attend more than one school, did students who counted as drop-outs complete a degree at another institution?
While many of these data are reported to the federal government, and are also found in various sections of the CSUN Web site, the new accountability system collects the answers to these questions in a single place, in a format that is easy to understand and easy to find on the university’s home page. This breakdown will help students, parents, donors and taxpayers get a better understanding of what they are getting for their money.
The wealth of information also can help a university improve the overall student experience, including learning, regardless of its mission, resources or the composition of its enrollment.
Cal State Northridge’s diverse student body includes many who are from traditionally underrepresented groups, the first in their families to attend college, need financial aid, require remedial help, speak a first language other than English, are raising children, are returning to college after dropping out and must work full-time jobs that limit study time.
"No yardstick can measure the individual perseverance of a struggling freshman who beats the odds—overcoming grim poverty, hunger, a difficult family life, a language barrier, discrimination, under-resourced schools, single parenthood and additional obstacles—to be the first in the family to finish college," Koester said. "Yet, many of these students succeed at California State University, Northridge, along with thousands of graduates."
For many students, affordability influences the decision to attend a California State University campus, where a college education can be earned for a fraction of the rapidly rising amount charged by most publicly supported and private universities.
The consumer-oriented College Portrait also includes a cost calculator so students or parents who are worried about whether they can afford a college can plug in personal information to determine the actual amount they would be expected to pay. For example, the projected cost of an academic year for an undergraduate at CSUN in 2007-08 is nearly $17,000, including out-of-pocket expenses. But the out-of-pocket expense is much lower for students who live at home and donít have to pay for housing, and for students who receive some form of financial assistance.
This feature is already available on CSUN’s pilot College Portrait. That template and the preliminary efforts of the other participating universities, among them Cal State Long Beach and Cal State San Marcus, will allow public comment and fine-tuning. The final version of the College Portrait also will document the educational growth of students. Koester is leading a task force focusing on how to measure that progress—in essence, the added value of a diploma. The educators are exploring the value of a degree not in terms of a grade point average or potential earnings, but as measured by improvements in a studentís ability to think critically, reason analytically and write well.
Participation in the national VSA for higher education represents a commitment to transparency, to deliver on the promises made across the board and to be held accountable by all, Koester said.
California State University, Northridge has more than 35,200 full- and part-time students and offers 62 bachelor’s and 50 master’s degrees as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Founded in 1958, CSUN is among the largest single-campus universities in the nation and the only four-year public university in the San Fernando Valley. The university serves as the intellectual, economic and cultural heart of the Valley and beyond.
California State University, Northridge at 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330 / Phone: 818-677-1200 / © 2006 CSU Northridge