Articles

So Much Technology – How Do I Choose?

J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist

July 18, 2016

Technology is constantly changing.  Isn’t that the understatement of the year?  But it is so true; just ask any Registrar who is responsible for maintaining and producing the academic transcript.

There are hundreds of colleges and universities in this country that were founded in the mid-1800’s.  The technology of the day was the quill pen and ledger books.  Transcripts were handwritten records and the single most important professional skill was legible handwriting!  Over the decades of the 1900’s, the technology continued to evolve but the underlying base remained ink-on-paper.

As enrollments rose and the importance of the academic transcript increased, issues of fraud and document alteration (i.e. grade changes) began to rise.  In response, the technology world reacted by introducing “secure paper”, which made it more challenging to alter an existing transcript or to produce a fraudulent one.  While an important step forward, the transcript remained in analog form.

In the early 1990’s, a leading group of collegiate registrars and admission officers recognized the major shortcoming of paper based transcripts.  While these documents contained a wealth of information, the content was locked into the paper and ink; human capital was required to unlock this content so it could be used to make meaningful decisions.  The breakthrough that resulted was the establishment of a data-based version of the academic transcript along with the support services required to transport the transcript from school-to-school.  The SPEEDE environment arose and continues to thrive today.

Through the professional efforts of the AACRAO-based SPEEDE Committee and PESC (www.pesc.org), numerous data standards coalescing around both EDI and XML technologies have emerged.  These standards are used daily by hundreds of schools resulting in the delivery of millions of transcripts annually.

In the mid-1990’s the first PDF based transcripts were introduced.  The popularity and ease of PDF technology quickly established a place within the academy for sending and receiving electronic document-based transcripts.  The market grew quickly and several service providers emerged.

So, what should I use?

The simple answer is that EDI, XML, PDF and paper technologies complement each other.  They do not compete with each other.  A choice is not required – use them all.  After all, the value proposition regarding the technology base is in the hands of the receiver.  For example:

  • There are countless numbers of small employers, scholarship granting bodies, smaller school admission offices, and many other recipients that do not have the capability to receive transcripts in any electronic format.  These organizations are best served by receiving secure paper-based documents delivered through the post office or other delivery services.
  • A growing number of organizations are demonstrating their desire of continuing to receive a document formatted transcript, but prefer to receive it electronically as a PDF document and not a paper based document.  The primary reasons for this is the speed of delivery, improved security of delivery and the content, and the ability to store the PDF electronically rather than in a file cabinet.
  • Some organizations are taking the approach of receiving PDF documents to maintain their organizational work-flow procedures for handling and processing documents, but require some portions of the transcript to be presented as XML data embedded within the PDF.  Following PESC-approved standards, this technology enables the recipient to utilize the advantages of a PDF transcript and the automated processing opportunities such as indexing and storage that are made possible by the XML data.
  • Hundreds of schools have established transcript exchange relationships among themselves.  In some states, there are legislative mandates that require secondary and post-secondary schools to exchange transcripts electronically.  The SPEEDE initiative has been the foundational support of EDI transcript exchange for nearly 30 years.  Receiving an electronic, data-based transcript enables the admission office to automatically process the applicant’s transcript, eliminates the need for manual intervention, and may invoke automated course articulation/degree audit processes.
  • Many schools and some state systems have adopted XML transcripts as their exchange process.  Like EDI, XML is an electronic, data based technology; PESC has established numerous XML standards for transcripts and other types of transactions.

Do my students care?

It is unlikely that the student is interested in the transcript format used for delivery, but is very interested in assuring that the transcript is delivered in a timely manner.  After all, they have something important riding on the receipt of the transcript – whether it is a job opportunity, an admission decision, or some other reason such as professional certification.  The student is interested in being served as a customer in the transcript transaction and wants a few simple answers.  Was the order request received?  Are there any issues delaying delivery?  And perhaps most importantly, did the recipient actually receive the transcript?

But our Technology Team is stretched to their limit

Implementing any of these technologies may sound great, but at many schools the Technology Team has a long list of important priorities.  There is help available, as third-party service providers support all of these technologies and can eliminate the need for the school to develop and implement any of these solutions.  Through process automation, the outbound transcript format can be adopted to the expressed desire of the recipient.  This is accomplished through a series of cascading, automated decisions that examine sending/receiving agreements with other schools, expressed desires of other organizations, and delivery opportunities within each providers’ extensive network of receivers. 

Are these technology options reliable?

Yes.  Transcript service providers have demonstrated a long, proven track record of successfully delivering transcripts using all of these technologies.  EDI and XML based transcripts are routed through established national and state exchange networks (such as Ohio Board of Regents, F.A.S.T.E.R, SPEEDE Server, and eTranscriptCA) that have been properly vetted to be secure and reliable.  PDF transcripts are delivered through the proprietary networks of transcript service providers that include thousands of end-point recipients.  Paper transcripts are printed and prepared for mailing either by the school or their transcript solution provider, in an effort to minimize errors and postal delivery time.

Future technology trends

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”  Steve Jobs

As I said in the opening sentence, technology is constantly changing.  These changes are sometimes evolutionary and sometimes revolutionary.  Through relationships with all of the major student information system providers and professional organizations such as PESC, AACRAO and others, outsource providers are constantly scanning the technology environment watching for new opportunities to improve products and deliver even better service to customers.  Your Technology Team or outsource partner can leverage these emerging technologies as strategic opportunities to improve student services and reduce administrative costs, not only for your transcript services, but for all responsibilities in your office.
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