What is SAM?

The Student Achievement Measure (SAM) is a transparency initiative where higher education institutions track students across institutions to create a more complete picture of undergraduate student progress and completion within the higher education system.

Why is SAM Important?

Usual measures of student progress and completion underreport student achievement because they do not account for the increasing mobility of students.

Nationally, more than one in five students who complete a degree do so at an institution other than the one where they started, according to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Yet the typical method for calculating graduation rates counts only new students who enroll full-time and finish at same college or university. The Student Achievement Measure (SAM) counts all students – both new students and those who transfer in - and tracks students who transfer out to produce comprehensive progress and completion rates that accounts for students’ success even if they enroll in multiple higher education institutions.

SAM is used by institutions to support legislative inquiries about their graduation rates. In some instances, SAM showed that an additional 20% of the starting cohort of students had transferred out and graduated elsewhere.

Other Collaborative Data Initiatives Supporting Student Achievement


The Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP) is a national effort to gain a fuller picture of student progress and outcomes and to help institutions identify areas where they can focus their resources. The partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), 12 intermediaries, and hundreds of institutions are dedicated to the idea that easier access to better data will lead to actionable insights and help institutions make informed decisions to support student success.

NSC collects student data from participating institutions and presents these data in dashboards for participating institutions and the intermediaries that support their work. The dashboards allow institutions to evaluate trends by different student populations, to gain better insights into student performance, to identify student needs, and to support the development of solutions that help students succeed.

VSA Analytics

VSA Analytics is a robust, interactive, tool designed by institutions for institutions to support the use of data in strategic planning and decision making. The tool allows users to create and save multiple peer groups and build benchmarking reports in minutes. The custom platform has 25 key performance indicators based on a national dataset that integrates data from IPEDS, NSF’s Higher Education Research & Development survey, SAM, and the College Scorecard. The dataset contains 10 years of data with over 400 variables from roughly 4,400 institutions. Metrics include admissions, enrollment, R&D expenditures, instructional expenditures, state appropriations, financial aid, institutional price, student debt, graduation rates, outcome measures, median salary, completion rates, degrees by discipline, and more. See an example below.

VSA Analytics Example

Who Supports SAM?

The Student Achievement Measure (SAM) would not be possible without the broad support of the higher education industry. Institutions and associations have endorsed SAM, sponsors have donated their time and commitment to improving transparency and creating better metrics, and funders and partners have generously given contributions, dedication, and expertise.


The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) represents nearly 1,200 two-year, associate degree-granting institutions and more than 13 million students. AACC supports and promotes its member colleges through policy initiatives, innovative programs, research and information, and strategic outreach to business, industry and the national news media.

Website: http://www.aacc.nche.edu

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is a higher education association of more than 400 public colleges, universities, and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations, and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development.

Website: http://www.aascu.org

The Association of American Universities (AAU) is a nonprofit association of 60 U.S. and two Canadian preeminent public and private research universities. Founded in 1900, AAU focuses on national and institutional issues that are important to research-intensive universities, including funding for research, research and education policy, and graduate and undergraduate education.

Website: http://www.aau.edu

The American Council on Education (ACE) is the major coordinating body for all the nation's higher education institutions, representing more than 1,600 college and university presidents, and more than 200 related associations, nationwide. Founded in 1918, ACE provides leadership on key higher education issues and influences public policy through advocacy.

Website: http://www.acenet.edu/

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is a research and advocacy organization of public research universities, land-grant institutions, and state university systems. Founded in 1887, APLU is the nation's oldest higher education association with more than 200 member institutions enrolling more than 6 million students and awarding more than 1 million degrees.

Website: http://www.aplu.org

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) serves as the unified voice of the nation's private, nonprofit colleges and universities. NAICU represents more than 1000 members and is committed to celebrating and protecting the diversity of the nation's private, nonprofit colleges and universities.

Website: http://www.naicu.edu/


National Student Clearinghouse

The National Student Clearinghouse is the nation's trusted source for educational verification and student educational outcomes research. More than 3,500 colleges and universities participate, enrolling over 98% of all students in public and private U.S. institutions.

VSA Analytics

VSA Analytics, co-sponsored by AASCU and APLU, is a program designed to support the data needs of higher education institutions and the use of national data to improve institutional strategic planning and improve student outcomes. VSA Analytics offers a benchmarking tool that institutions can use to analyze over 25 key performance metrics. The tool is designed to inform decision-making and equip institutional leaders with evidence for strategic planning.

Voluntary Framework of Accountability

The Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) is a national system of accountability developed specifically for community colleges, by community colleges. The VFA measures how 2-year colleges perform in serving their more than 13 million students and the VFA's metrics encompass the full breadth of the community college mission and student's goals and educational experiences.


  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Carnegie Corporation
  • APLU


“SAM is a great start in helping public university systems and their campuses track the success of all students. Many NASH Systems are already fully enrolled, and we urge others to join this effective approach to documenting student progress.”
National Association of System Heads (NASH)
“The Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), a network of public research universities dedicated to developing a capable workforce, improving urban health, and strengthening urban communities, is proud to support the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). USUs serve a rapidly expanding and increasingly diverse body of non-traditional students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds with limited income. Traditional completion rates do not represent non-traditional completion trajectories. The SAM measure provides a more accurate measure of student achievement and success for non-traditional students.”
The Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)
“SHEEO and its members have long sought to provide more meaningful and comprehensive student success measures and reporting, particularly with respect to graduation. For some years, we and others in the higher education community have lamented the inadequacy of IPEDS graduation data, especially pertinent now that most students attend two or more institutions during their college careers. SHEEO is pleased to endorse the efforts of six major higher education associations in their introduction of the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). It is an important contribution to the discussion about student success and institutional performance.”
State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO)