Electronic Transcripts: Past, Present, and Future

Article excerpt

In April 2008, AACRAO's vice president for records and academic services appointed an ad-hoc task force to evaluate the current state of technology regarding electronic transcripts. The committee was charged with producing a report that would describe the options that new and current technologies provide for electronic transcripts, note current best practices, and forecast future development.

INTRODUCTION

Electronic transcripts are no longer a concept awaiting definition. They are here to stay. Although paper transcripts remain the standard - at least in terms of volume - an ever-increasing number and eventual majority of students and alumni will expect if not require electronic transcripts. Our obligation to maintain the accuracy and security of transcripts is obvious, absolute, and permanent. Electronic transcripts are just the latest in a long line of technological advances that registrars have embraced at first with caution but then with open arms.

Delivery of paper transcripts by postal or even expedited services is coming to be considered too slow. In fact, paper as a medium for the conduct of business - whether in admissions, financial aid, banking, employment, taxes, social networking, etc. - is fast becoming an anachronism.

Over the last two decades, and particularly during the last eight years, a small but effective set of electronic delivery methods has emerged that supports registrars' transmitting of transcripts. In most cases, the delivery method determines the medium in which the transcript is to be produced (or vice versa).

TWO SCENARIOS

An alumna is apply ing for a job with a small graphic arts company located in another state. A transcript is needed "within minutes" to inform an interview. An electronic transcript is acceptable, but it must be in a format the personnel director's PC will accept. The personnel director is neither a programmer nor an IT geek, and there s a hefty firewall around his systems. These conditions inform the registrar as to what kind of electronic transcript to produce and how to transmit it.

After attending community college part time for several years, a, student is applying to a, bachelor's degree program at the states land-grant university. Although this is a lifechanging event for the student, it is a routine business transaction for the community college registrar: Her student system is a member of a network to which all the state s public colleges and universities belong. The transcript that passes between the two schools is not so much a document as a data file that is compiled, encoded, and encrypted by the community college, transmitted via a secure Internet protocol, then retrieved automatically by the university's systems, which decode and load the data into the student's electronic portfolio in the admissions office.

SUMMARY OF CURRENT ELECTRONIC TRANSCRIPT TECHNOLOGIES

The electronic technologies currently used by registrars for the production of official transcripts are as follows:

* PDF (Portable Document Format via Adobe) and other image files (TIF, GIF, JPG) are, in effect, electronic pictures of the paper document. This format allows ease of delivery as attachments via the Internet; as web-hosted unique objects (URLS), they can easily be uploaded into imaging file systems. A drawback is that as "pictures," they cannot easily be "scraped" by automated systems for specific data elements used for filing or subsequent evaluations (i.e., "data mining").

* Standard Coded Data EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) in the format developed and maintained by the AACRAO-SPEEDE Committee is an "opensource" format for transcript data output from student information systems. EDI allows one computer to send data to another computer which in turn may process the data unambiguously. This is an excellent method for distributing transcripts to schools, agencies, and other parties within networks or partnerships that use common technological resources for the automated reception, processing, and subsequent evaluation of transcript information. …