E-transcripts accelerate in higher ed

Some colleges and universities take offering to the next level by tapping data to improve business processes and better serve students

Rather than dealing with the intensive labor involved in sending and receiving paper transcripts—and frustration from students and graduates accustomed to automation—most colleges and universities have implemented electronic transcript capabilities.

The process allows administrators to capture lots of valuable electronic data, but the majority of schools are not utilizing that information beyond sending or receiving the transcripts.

That even goes for institutions that have been offering e-transcripts for a long time. For instance, at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., the registrar’s office launched an e-transcript option in 2007 to cut costs and serve students more quickly. The data captured is used to track delivery. Still, Registrar Kathie Beaty says some of the other information collected—such as where the transcripts are going—could be needed in the future.

Some providers and administrators say the time has come to make better use of that data. Here are several creative ways colleges and universities are already using e-transcript data to enhance business processes as well as to serve students better.

Pathway projects

One of the most promising uses of e-transcript data is to better facilitate student pathways, says Matthew Pittinsky, co-founder of Blackboard and currently CEO of Parchment, an e-transcript solution provider.

For instance, on the “sending side” of e-transcripts, it can be helpful for an institution to track with the top employers and graduate schools to which their students are applying. By documenting outcomes, administrators can better direct students toward their most desired institutions or companies.

Transfer patterns can also be analyzed with the data, says David Pelham, vice president of higher education development and client relations at the National Student Clearinghouse, which provides e-transcript services. Which institutions are students hoping to transfer to? What graduate or professional programs are they entering? Analyzing the data can help in enrollment management and program evaluation efforts.

“This data does not tell them whether a student was accepted to another institution, but it at least shows where their students or former students are pursuing further educational opportunities,” Pelham says.

At Arizona State University, e-transcript data is being used to facilitate pathways into the university rather than beyond it. Through partnerships with nearby community colleges, ASU offers a Transfer Admission Guarantee program for students who plan to move from a community college to the university.

The community colleges share electronic transcript data with ASU through an automated system. Oracle’s PeopleSoft, ASU’s student information system, sends automatic updates to community college students each semester to track progress toward an ASU degree.

“We give them a map that shows if you complete these specific courses at the community college, we guarantee admission to the program you’re interested in at ASU and we guarantee tuition at the rate it was when they entered the program,” says David Burge, ASU’s director of admissions. “Each update shows their progress and tells them what steps need to be completed next.”

In addition, students can use a self-service web portal to track their status at ASU at any time.

Without the electronic transcript system—which automatically digitizes student enrollment in specific courses and grades in those courses—such an ongoing communication process would never be possible, Burge says.

Robust records

For many years, Elon University in North Carolina has offered the Elon Experiences Transcript (EET) through its student affairs office. The EET records more detailed information about students’ college careers, including leadership training, research, study abroad experiences and service learning.

When Registrar Rodney Parks joined Elon in 2013, he wanted to find a way for students to share both the traditional academic transcript and the co-curricular transcript as one academic document. With help from Parchment, Elon now offers students the option to send both transcripts as one PDF file to potential employers and other academic institutions.

“Students should not have to go multiple places to obtain documents that paint a full picture of their academic experience, and the secondary transcript gives us the ability to record more detailed information regarding the signature experiences of studying at Elon,” Parks says. “We ended up choosing a vendor that gave us the flexibility to think outside the box.” Because extracurricular and service learning activities are recorded in Ellucian

Colleague, Elon’s SIS, the electronic process can easily generate the secondary transcript. But because the experiences were originally recorded in a different format, registrar staff had to reformat and rewrite the data to ensure both documents would appear official to recipients. Programming was necessary to standardize the layouts.

In the combined PDF document, each transcript has its own color and identifying header. The first two pages are the academic transcript in maroon and the last two pages are the experiences in gold.

Since the university began combining the transcripts, it has seen a 90 percent increase in students ordering the Elon Experiences transcript, Parks says. “The students love it because they get both transcripts for one price of $8.”

Administrators are conducting a study to find out the impact of the secondary transcript on grad schools, employers and student self-efficacy. The responses have been very positive so far, Parks says. 

Hyperlinks on the transcript lead to the final projects produced by the student. “In essence, we want to create an academic and experiences transcript that is a living document that truly captures the depths of the students’ educational experience,” he says. 

Proper student placement

When institutions receive electronic transcripts with machine-readable data, that information can be used by the registrar to automatically place students in the correct classes and ensure all the previously completed courses are credited.

This data can also support the admissions process and ensures each student automatically gets credit for classes taken, says Pittinsky of Parchment. Some colleges and universities are using e-transcript data—rather than tests—to place students in the correct first-year math class.

“Using the data from the big picture of past academic work is often more reliable than a placement test,” he says. “That information from the e-transcript can be used to scaffold students’ experiences to increase graduation rates.” More data usage

At Ball State University in Indiana, admissions staffers are using the electronic documents to add student contact information and demographics data to the university’s SIS. In the future, Ball State officials plan to do some formatting that will allow them to automatically populate data fields in the SIS as electronic transcripts are loaded into the imaging solution, explains Brad Hostetler, associate director of operations for the admissions office.

“This will help to improve both the application processing as well as the decision processing activities within our office,” he says. “The better we can function within our office, the better service we can provide to the applicants interested in Ball State University.”

The Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), a partnership of 12 states focused on establishing relationships that improve services and reduce administrative costs throughout their universities, implemented an e-transcript solution to facilitate easier sharing between the various states’ institutions.

For MHEC, the data captured through e-transcript requests is currently analyzed to determine which colleges and universities in each of the partnering states is using the solution, says Jennifer Dahlquist, vice president and chief financial officer of MHEC. The goal, she adds, is “to determine whether there are sectors and states that we need to tap into to encourage more participation.”

Nancy Mann Jackson is an Alabama-based writer.

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