Colorado State University a Lead Participant in Voluntary Accountability Pilot Program

Colorado State University has become one of the first universities to join a national effort that provides straightforward cost and consumer information on an easily accessible website. This endeavor is the latest of several initiatives instituted by CSU President Larry Edward Penley to ensure transparency and accountability to students, parents and the public.

Participating in College Portrait, a pilot program, means CSU provides prospective undergraduate students and parents with consumer information including data about student experiences and learning outcomes in a single place on its Admissions Web page.

"Colorado State University is a national leader in heeding the call for accountability in higher education," said Penley. "Public institutions have a special responsibility to be accountable, and the addition of College Portrait provides CSU another means of transparency by providing important data and information for students, parents and all interested citizens."

Colorado State was ahead of its peers in efforts to make the university more transparent even before the College Portrait program. Penley made accountability a priority when he arrived at CSU in 2004. In 2005, top administrators visited universities that were leaders in implementing various accountability measures, and Penley began including a call for increased transparency in keynote addresses to such groups as The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Higher Learning Commission and others.

Recognizing the importance of being accountable to parents and students, Penley directed his Cabinet in 2006 to devise a well-rounded, readily reportable system of accountability measures for the campus that could be easily accessed by students and parents. CSU’s accountability measures were posted on the CSU Admissions website – recently replaced with the College Portrait page.

"Colorado State previously was providing this type of important information to the public via the Web, but decided to join the College Portrait project to link with other institutions throughout the nation in an effort to make all of higher education more transparent and accountable," said Tony Frank, provost and senior vice president.

CSU also previously decided to voluntarily participate in the Collegiate Learning Assessment, another accountability mechanism that reports whether students are developing critical-thinking skills.  

This year, the university became one of the first to join the Voluntary System of Accountability College Portrait co-sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. The Web template that provides information on individual universities to the public is known as College Portrait.

Because universities use a common data set on College Portrait, consumers can easily compare information between institutions. Colorado State’s College Portrait can be found at

"We take our commitment to transparency and public accountability very seriously," Penley said. "In today’s competitive marketplace, especially as a public institution responsible to taxpayers, we must be more open, and we must use the growing array of sophisticated information tools that address productivity and accountability.

"We need to embrace specific, public goals for improving retention and graduation; improvements in productivity; and measurements of the learning environment and learning itself with such measures as the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Collegiate Learning Assessment," Penley added. "Most importantly, we will communicate the results of these measures on our websites and in our publications."

CSU is on a short list of universities participating in the pilot. Others include the University of Minnesota, University of Kansas and University of South Carolina.

Information listed on CSU’s College Portrait includes student characteristics, undergraduate success and progress rate, cost of attendance and financial aid, campus safety and student experiences and perceptions. While that information is already public, the university has compiled it in one place to provide easy, one-stop shopping for students, parents and others interested in knowing more about CSU’s environment and learning outcomes.

Included on the site is a link to a new tool used by the university known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment. The assessment analyzes student growth in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and written communication. Results of the first Collegiate Learning Assessment are not yet available.

The information on CSU’s College Portrait can also be useful to other members of the campus community as well as general members of the public and lawmakers.

"The university really began to make public our commitment to accountability with the creation of our strategic plan in 2004," Frank said. "Our list of values associated with our vision and our mission begins with ‘Be accountable.’ As institutions of higher learning become more competitive, Colorado State aims to be known as much for its accountability as for its status as one of the nation’s top research institutions."

More than 80 higher education leaders from 70 public institutions were involved in the development of the VSA program. Seven task forces made up of presidents, provosts, student affairs officers, institutional research officers, and faculty members and headed by a member institution president worked to identify and evaluate potential data elements.

For more information about the VSA program, go to