Rethinking the Transcript: The Next Step in Higher Ed Reform

UMUC is leading the charge to radically transform the transcript—the once venerable gold standard for confirming academic achievement—from a static document that lists the names of courses and grades to a dynamic record that more effectively illustrates what a student actually learned in those courses.

Such a conversion would instrumentally level the playing field and make it possible, among other applications, for employers to better evaluate a graduate’s preparedness for a given job, said UMUC registrar Joellen Shendy.

Unchanged for generations, the transcript has diminished value for today’s employers, she said, because the only items employers see on a transcript are course names, the number of units a course is worth and a grade.

“They don’t know what was in the course, and they don’t know how the grade reflects what the student learned. So, in its present state, the transcript primarily serves as proof that a student had the stick-to-it-iveness to get through the program,” she said.

What employers need to know, Shendy said,  is what students can do as a result of their learning―as it relates to available jobs.

UMUC Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Aric Krause defined in dynamic terms the learning that will be captured, and underscored the fundamental value of the revised transcript.

“Employers consistently tell us how difficult it is to hire the right candidate for the right job using existing transcripts that list courses taken,” he said. “This new model lets the employer see not only what the student has learned, but also what they can do with what they’ve learned.”

The transcript conversion reflects a shift in higher education, according to Shendy.  “We are changing the focus from inputs―how many butts in the seats, how many units are taught―to outputs,” she said.

Given the amount of debt students take on to complete a college education, it’s more important than ever that they are able to prove they’ve learned the skills to succeed in the workplace, said added.

UMUC is one of 12 institutions around the country sharing a $1.27 million grant from the Lumina Foundation to find new ways of tracking a student’s progress.

As UMUC changes to focus more on student outcomes, Shendy said, much more information will be available to share on a transcript.

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Sample Prototype

Instead of just seeing a grade and a course name, employers will be able to consume a digital document that focuses on student outcomes and competencies, and provides them the ability to click on artifacts and verification of the knowledge, skills and abilities the student has demonstrated.

While students could do this in a resume, Shendy said, resumes can be exaggerated, and the new transcript would provide information with the university’s certification that it is true.

In the future, students will be able to select parts of a transcript to highlight depending on the type of jobs they are applying for, she said.  A student seeking a job as a computer programmer, for example, could highlight the competencies and learning demonstrations relevant to programming that would give an employer an in-depth look at what the student has learned and applied in workplace-relevant coursework.

Said Vice Provost Krause, the new model will give students a competitive edge in the marketplace.

“We are excited to add this opportunity for students to really differentiate themselves as they pursue their professional aspirations,” he said.  “This new transcript shows so much more. It really adds a whole dimension by illustrating what the student can do.”

Working within the new transcript model would not require much more effort on the part of faculty members in terms of providing data, Shendy said, because assessment is already a key part of their role.  Data would now just be recorded in a digital format reflecting the needs of 21st -century learners.

Already UMUC has created a prototype, which has program-level outcome progress bars, that shows how a student is mastering academic objectives and allows the viewer to see evidence of what the student has accomplished.

The aim is to test part of the data with the MBA program this fall―the part specific to competencies in a course, Shendy said.  Students and faculty would be able to look at how it is being developed and give feedback.

This prototype would not be made available to employers until questions can be answered about whether it works, whether it should be incorporated into every transcript order, or what discretionary powers students have over its use.

Shendy said it may take some time to determine all of the data that can and should be made available, and how that data should be presented to ensure employers can best understand it. Data security and privacy are also key considerations in building a new extended transcript that provides more transparency and granularity in its content.

Three things are important to making this new transcript model work, she added. It must add value to, and demonstrate the value of, the student’s education.  It must be transparent so that everyone knows how it works.  And it must be verified by the university so that people looking at it know it is true.

“It’s time to do something more with the transcript,” said Shendy, “something that provides a far better understanding of what students are leaving us with. The students’ most valuable assets are themselves.  We need to better position them to market that asset to get that job.”