The Changing Face of Transcripts

Companies that provide business solutions and services to colleges and universities offer another avenue to education-related careers. For example, the timely and accurate transmission of transcripts is an essential activity in higher education. Parchment has built its business around meeting the needs of all parties to these transactions. We talked to the company’s founder about opportunities presented by applying technology to existing processes.

Andrew Hibel, HigherEdJobs: How has the process of sending transcripts changed in the past 10 years?

Matthew Pittinsky, Ph.D., CEO, Parchment: Ten years ago, nearly all transcripts were manually processed and delivered as paper documents. Not only did this mean the process was relatively expensive and inefficient, but also that the data reflected in transcripts were trapped and their uses were limited. Today, a large percentage of transcripts are requested online, processed automatically via integration with the Student Information System (SIS), and tracked in a way that brings greater transparency into how this important record type is used.

Hibel: You founded a company called Parchment. Its tagline states, “We make it easier to send and store transcripts and credentials.” What were the problems or issues that you were looking to solve through the creation of Parchment?

Pittinsky: Parchment’s mission is “To Help Turn Credentials Into Opportunities.” We use the qualifier “help” to indicate that it is the school or university we work with that is the central actor. But our digital credentials service allows institutions to innovate the form and function of their credentials (transcripts, certificates, diplomas) in ways that help learners progress in their education and transition into the labor market. The biggest problem we’ve had to solve is making credentials digital, and using the capabilities of digital to communicate a richer set of learning outcomes data in more engaging and useful formats – for example, the visual experiential transcript.

Hibel: From a basic technology perspective, how does sending and receiving an electronic transcript work?

Pittinsky: Sending and receiving transcripts require three services.

First, tools for the issuing university to integrate with their SIS, design their credential templates, and set up the processing workflow rules to process orders, including fee payments if they charge for requests. Second, tools for learners to order their credentials, pay any fees, track the delivery, and collect and manage their credentials in an easy-to-access profile. Third, tools for the receiving destination to which the credential is being sent so that the receiver can collect, process, and route their inbound credentials efficiently.

Getting all three services right and aligned — Send, Learner, Receive — is where the technological “magic” happens.

Hibel: What type of security is in place to ensure that a person’s sensitive information is secure electronically – both when it is stored and sent?

Pittinsky: Security is key, not least because credentials are a type of currency and they often include sensitive student information that demands privacy. Security plays a role in how we vet and hire employees at Parchment; how we manage our data center and critical systems; how we evaluate organizations that want to send or receive; and how our applications lock down the credential itself to ensure it hasn’t been tampered with.

Hibel: What are the benefits of moving to e-transcripts for both the student/graduate as well as the college/university or employer?

Pittinsky: The benefits of moving to digital transcripts accrue on all sides – and they are as measurable as they are intuitive. For the issuer, it means delivering a better service experience at a lower cost. For the learner, it means being able to simply request, deliver, and manage their credentials digitally and online. For the employer or admissions receiver, it means getting rid of the expensive process of printed mail processing for inbound documents. Over time, we think the benefits become more transformative, including the improved security and data-driven tools that going digital enables.

Hibel: In a recent press release, your company announced that “8 million credentials were sent in the last 12 months.” Why do you think that the community has embraced this process?

Pittinsky: Our growth in transactions is driven by our network growth. It’s kind of a chicken or the egg scenario. Once you get a critical mass of senders, then receivers come on board. Once you get a critical mass of receivers, then senders come on board. Students prefer the digital method.

Hibel: Although you’ve had a lot of support and success, what sort of objections have you received specifically from colleges and universities?

Pittinsky: Early on, there was concern about the acceptance of digital credentials. But those concerns have gone away as eTranscripts have become mainstream.

Hibel: From research on the AACRAO website, it seems that the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers have had this topic on their plate over the past several years. What is your feedback from this association regarding the electronic transcript exchange?

Pittinsky: AACRAO has been a leader and a fantastic resource. They really had the early vision. Back in 1997, the AACRAO SPEEDE Committee issued a prescient call for eTranscripts.

Hibel: An op-ed addressed the practice at some colleges of withholding transcripts if a student loan borrower falls behind on payments. These policies can make it difficult for the borrower to apply for jobs, mortgages, graduate school admission, etc. What are your thoughts about this dilemma?

Pittinsky: It is tough. We track learner satisfaction with our services. Oftentimes, negative experiences are driven either by a delay in processing the request (if the school is not automated) or a policy-driven obstacle that keeps them from accessing their transcript. We sign up to deliver a great experience and we try to be creative in how our user experience works to minimize frustrations.

Hibel: In terms of customer service, gaining access to a credit report through a major reporting agency is relatively easy and fairly inexpensive. On some campuses, ordering and receiving transcripts is difficult and relatively expensive, especially if it’s an expedited request. To improve their customer service and increase alumni support, what would you tell campus administrators who may not be currently using this type of technology?

Pittinsky: We are seeing alumni offices, in particular, embracing digital diplomas for exactly that reason. Another example is the career offices, which are beginning to make use of our data on where transcripts go to identify employers and licensing boards that are frequent destinations.

Hibel: Your career has been varied and accomplished and even includes service as a tenure-track faculty member. What career advice have you drawn from your life experience?

Pittinsky: It’s a cliché to say, “Focus on your passion,” but I believe that. More critically, be open to different ways of pursuing your passion. My interest is education. Providing consulting services as part of a big company (KPMG Consulting); co-founding a software company (Blackboard); earning my Ph.D. (Columbia University Teachers College); teaching as a tenure-track faculty member (Arizona State University); and now returning to ed tech at Parchment – these are all different ways of pursuing my interest. So, start with your field of interest, but, then, be open to the different roles and organizations that touch on that field.

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