Higher Education Innovation In Action

  • The Future of the Academic Transcript – Do Certificates Cheapen the Brand?

    by J. James Wager, Education Strategist and Industry Guru | | Jun 25, 2019

    The traditional standard bearer demonstrating academic success has been the good old “sheep skin”; the diploma representing completion of a degree program.  New opportunities and demands in today’s results-driven environment are introducing other measures of success.

    A few years ago, I had the privilege of leading an external evaluation for a moderate size state college that was located near several national universities.  The college’s Provost shared with me his competitive advantage vision that was both dramatic and insightful.  He recognized the college could not directly compete with these national universities because of their size, reputation, resources, and facilities.  But his school could do something that these national universities could not accomplish.  As part of the curricular process, each graduate of the college completed BOTH a baccalaureate degree and a professional certificate related to their major.  This dual approach of degree and certificate provided their graduates with a strong competitive advantage.  Clever!

    The Lumina Foundation states, “Too many Americans are failing to graduate college. Why?  In part, because our assumptions about them are wrong.  Most of us envision college students as 18- to 21-year-olds fresh out of high school. That's no longer the reality.”  According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the enrollment rate of students over the age of 25 is growing faster than for students under the age of 25.  Over 30 schools included in the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings had enrollments greater than 50% of students over the age of 25, with many exceeding 75%.  Clearly the age demographic in the U.S, higher education sector is changing, as are the graduation expectations of the students.

    Certificate programs from colleges and universities are not new, in fact, some programs were introduced over a century ago though correspondence study.  In today’s environment, and especially with adult students, the growth and impact of certificate programs have been significant.  As contrasted to traditional baccalaureate degree programs, certificate programs require less time and credits to complete, focus on a specific topic eliminating “general education” type courses, are designed to master or refresh a skill, are available at both undergraduate and graduate levels, are offered both on-ground and on-line, and earned credits can be transferred to a degree program. 

    This flexibility and application has created high demand for quality certificate programs at the baccalaureate, masters, and doctorate levels.  Hundreds of schools, including big names such as Johns Hopkins, Harvard, George Washington, and Stanford, have intentionally focused on the creation and delivery of new certificate programs.  Areas of study are very diverse and include curriculums such as cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, computer forensics, health information management, and many more. 

    At the associate degree level, certificates are providing work force opportunities in areas such as property management, paralegal, real estate, digital photography, human services, bookkeeping/payroll, and hundreds of applied life skills that enhance current employment or prepare the student for a career change.

    At all levels, it is common for professionals to extend their professional licensing or certification through the completion of certificate programs.  In fact, the awarding of certificates has become the fastest growing academic credential.  

    Despite the growing need of the workforce and the availability of certificate programs by the academy, some view certificates as underrepresenting student success:

    • There remains a stigma that the awarding of a certificate is at best a step-child to the awarding of a degree.
    • The proliferation of certificates issued by diploma mills and non-accredited schools adds to the negative perceptions of certificates in general.
    • In too many cases, certificates are issued by a department office and cannot be verified by the school’s registrar.
    • Transcripts typically do not adequately describe the certificate program.
    • Printed certificates may more resemble a document prepared on the student’s desktop and local printer and not a school issued document.

    A recent study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce made several interesting conclusions regarding certificate programs, including:

    • Certificates represent 22 percent of all college awards, up from only 6 percent three decades ago.
    • For 10 percent of American workers, a certificate is the highest form of post-high school education.
    • Collegiate certificates are time-in-classroom based, while industry based certifications are awarded based on proficiency.
    • More than a third of certificate holders also have an earned (associate, baccalaureate, or graduate) degree.
    • Certificate/diploma holders earn more than their counterparts with only a diploma.

    So, are certificate programs lessening the brand?  There is growing evidence that indicates just the opposite.  But there is also a growing demand on schools and registrars to adequately and completely present the important value of certificate programs with the same rigor and authentication techniques that are applied to the academic transcript.

  • A Day in the Life of a Transcript Order - Infographic

    by Rose Addison, Manager - Documentation & Training | Jun 11, 2018
    A Day in the Life of a Transcript Order
  • The Future of the Academic Transcript – Do Employers Ask for Your Transcript?

    by J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist | Jun 11, 2018

    Do employers ask students for their academic transcript?  The answer is, it depends.  The traditional academic transcript contains information employers may be interested in knowing about a potential employee: graduation/degree verification, grade point average, specific course grades, honors status, and enrollment history to name a few.  But some employers obtain this information in different ways.

    Employers constantly seek the best candidates they can find, and students are always seeking internship and employment opportunities that match their career goals.  But practices such as social media and ePortfolios seem to be constantly changing.  Technology has a profound impact on recruiting strategies with the increasing use of social network sites such as LinkedIn©, Indeed©, Monster©, CareerBuilder©, and many others to contact and screen candidates.

    It is interesting to listen to students as they engage in the job application cycle.  Perceptions are quite varied, ranging from wishful thinking to completely accurate.   Here are some representative statements that staff in your career center have likely heard from students:

    • Almost everyone has wanted to at least see my unofficial transcript.  I've never had anyone bug me about an official transcript before I started work, although I’m not sure what to expect if hired.
    • In a large company, the hiring manager doesn't verify GPA.  That is what HR departments are for.
    • How can an employer look at just my GPA and make an informed decision?  My University is one of the most selective schools in the country.  If my GPA is lower than another candidate’s GPA from a less-selective school, that doesn’t make the other person a better candidate.
    • My employer sent me a letter-of-offer that included three requirements: complete a drug test; authorize them to conduct a background check; and send my official transcripts.  I guess they wanted to make sure I wasn’t lying on my resume.
    • My personal experience is employers don't generally care about your transcripts.  Out of a dozen positions, only one employer has ever asked me for my transcripts.
    • The more competitive the position, the more likely it is they will ask you for your transcripts.  But they will probably never ask you after your first job - so live through it now, and you will be fine.
    • My adviser recommended that I have a transcript available for each of my interviews.  Official transcripts cost $8.00.I hope they will accept an unofficial transcript which is free.  After all, there is no difference.
    • The employer can call the school and ask for your GPA, but they won't get an answer.  Due to privacy laws, schools can only confirm your dates of attendance and if you received a degree.  So, you can let your school know that when the employer calls they can release your grades.  (Isn’t this one the Registrars’ nightmare!)
    • One of my potential employers requested official transcripts from all schools I attended.  I found this peculiar because I didn't think that most employers asked for transcripts; only federal agencies, school districts, and law firms need this information.
    • Many employers request transcripts to prevent the hiring of people with fraudulent degrees and college graduates who have inflated their GPA on their resume.  If the job requires a degree and you were hired because of your course of study, it is a legitimate request.  If you try and cite invasion of privacy, your application will end up in the deleted file.  If you are hired and do not submit the requested documents, you will be fired.

    This last comment is representative of today’s environment.  The down-side of self-reported resumes and portfolios is that not all applicants are honest, and some information may be embellished.  We have all read the headline making news stories where an individual in a high-level position was exposed as not having the credentials or experience they claimed.  For every one of these headlines, there are hundreds of other cases where employment decisions have been reversed because of unverified credentials. 

    Further compounding this is the continuing presence of Diploma Mills; those illegitimate “colleges or universities” that provide degrees for a fee with no required course work.  Diploma Mills are often difficult for employers to detect since, for a fee, the Diploma Mill will provide transcript and diploma credentials, letters of recommendation, and verification service by Web or phone. 

    And, accredited/legitimate colleges and universities unintentionally contribute to this problem; how would an employer hiring few college graduates really know what the actual transcript from XYZ University looks like?  

    So, what’s an employer to do?

    Ultimately the employer seeks to hire candidates capable of performing the job.  Not all jobs require a college degree in a designated field of study; the “college experience” may be sufficient.  Self-reported metrics such as GPA, major/minor, enrollment in selected courses, the number of enrolled-semesters, and even graduation may be perfectly acceptable.  However, if it is important enough for the job description to read “degree in XYZ is required” then it follows that a non-repudiated verification of the degree is necessary.

    The long-standing recommendation is that employers should accept official transcripts directly from the school, or from trusted service providers, like Credential Solutions, working on the school’s behalf.  This direct approach provides proof of both the transcript’s origin and integrity.

    Accepting transcripts directly from the student should be avoided.  This approach opens the possibility of fraudulent representation of the record.  A common approach is for the originating school to place the original record in a sealed envelope, enabling the student to deliver to document to the employer.   Sometimes the document is marked “issued to student”.  Regardless, this approach is at best marginally more secure and the fundamental possibility of fraud remains.

    There is a growing technology trend enabling students to present validated eDocuments on their social media pages.  Using PESC approved standards, some schools are providing their students with eDocuments (transcripts, diplomas, certificates, verifications, etc.) that have a dual benefit.  The student can include these verifiable documents on their social media pages presenting themselves as a capable, well-rounded, and qualified candidate.  And the potential employer is provided the capability to validate the credential as original and unaltered.

    The need to maintain truth, honesty, and integrity is an undiminished constant.  In an ever-changing technology world, new opportunities emerge that enable improvement to both the academic credential itself as well as the delivery and presentation of the credential.

  • Beyond Management: What Type of Leader Are You? Take the Quiz!

    by Rose Addison, Manager, Documentation & Training | Mar 30, 2018

    In my last leadership post, I wrote about the difference between leaders and managers, how Theory X and Theory Y thinking affect your leadership style, and how readiness and the situation at hand may dictate leadership steps.

    Besides these fundamental factors, many leadership styles exist. While no one person operates solely within one style (that’s a good thing), understanding your own leadership tendencies can help you change your approach when the situation calls for it. 

    Are you curious about what kind of leader you are? In the following post, we’ll focus on the four most common styles. Read on! 


    Pragmatist leaders are practical, driven, and competitive. They tend to focus on the steps it takes to complete a project as well as the processes behind reaching goals. Pragmatic leaders often have high standards – for themselves and for their team – and value hitting their goals above anything else. They are usually seen as bold in their thinking and don’t want to hear excuses.

    Pragmatist Pros

    • Get tasks done effectively
    • Practical in their approach    

    Pragmatist Cons

    • May be considered harsh or negative
    • May drive people too hard    

    When It Works

    • When the team is already skilled and motivated    

    When to Try a Different Approach…

    • When you’re looking for innovation or creativity    


    Idealist leaders are charismatic, open-minded, and full of energy. They strive to constantly learn and grow from their experiences and believe others should do the same. Idealists see the potential in those around them – especially their employees – and push them to tackle goals creatively. They are usually thought of as hard-working and don’t tend to shy away from a challenge.

     Idealist Pros

    • Devoted to the greater good
    • Wonderful motivators  

    Idealist Cons

    • May be viewed as Pollyannaish
    • May not be great leaders for process-driven folks   

    When It Works

    •  When team members are open to building new skills and strengths    

    When to Try a Different Approach…

    • When folks are defiant or don’t respect a leader’s skills or competence   


    Steward leaders are supportive, committed, and dependable. They take pride in their work, value the greater good, and strive to provide a stable and inclusive work environment – especially for their team. They are usually seen as having a “glass is half-full approach” and are quick to offer praise and recognition.

    Steward Pros

    • Focused on the individual well-being of others
    • Empowering    

    Steward Cons

    •  Consensus-driven approach may frustrate others
    • A people-first mentality may diminish their authority   

    When It Works

    • When the team is stressed out or apprehensive about a new situation, change, or role    

    When to Try a Different Approach…

    • When your team is insubordinate or reluctant to leadership    


    Diplomatic leaders are typically seen as kind, loyal, and inclusive. They tend to focus on building harmonious relationships and are often thought of as the social glue of an organization. Diplomats foster the strengths of those around them and often consider other perspectives before making decisions. They are usually thought of as fair and trustworthy because their actions are consistent with their words.

    Diplomat Pros

    • Willing to compromise
    • Respectful of others’ values    

    Diplomat Cons

    • May struggle to challenge employees
    • May avoid conflict to the detriment of themselves or their team    

    When It Works

    •  When a team needs to take ownership of a decision, approach, or goal  

    When to Try a Different Approach…

    • When team members aren’t savvy enough to make decisions without guidance

    It’s important to remember that no one leadership style fits every circumstance or relationship; we all need to adapt in an ever-changing environment. Finding and maintaining the correct balance is key!

    After reading this, what do you think your leadership style is? Take this quiz to determine if the results match your original self-evaluation.


  • Beyond Management: What Makes a Great Leader?

    by Rose Addison, Manager, Documentation & Training | Feb 19, 2018

    It is my personal belief that we rise by lifting others. I’ve had the good fortune to experience great mentors in my life, three to be exact. They took me under their wings and helped me soar. Their leadership didn’t always look the same, but throughout our relationships they challenged, cheered, and coached me. They had vision for themselves – but also for me. They saw my potential. They respected and encouraged me. In essence, their confidence in me helped give me confidence in myself.

    What was it that made these people stand out as leaders in my life? What characteristics did they share? And how were they different from each other?

    In this series, I’ll be talking about leadership – what it is and what it isn’t. I’ll explore what drives good leaders, why they lead the way we do, and how those in leadership positions can ultimately motivate others to do more! To understand at a deeper level, let’s first dive into the basics.

    Leadership vs. Management

    The terms “leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably, but in my humble opinion, the two are not created equal. To me, the difference between a manager and a leader is this:

    A manager tells employees what to do and how to do it

    A leader inspires people to do much more than simply what they’re told

    When people are led rather than managed, they place value on what they do and strive to achieve their goals. Achievements generate pride. Over time, this influences a person’s sense of self-worth, positively affects other areas of his or her life, and continues to generate positive opportunities down the road.

    Goals, big or small, can become overwhelming. Chances are, if you have the insight to recognize it, you haven’t completed goals without the help of others. Occasionally, we all need to be pushed out of our comfort zones, reminded of the big picture, or cheered on. I’d be willing to put money on this: If you’ve had the pleasure of a great mentor, so did they. 

    Theory X & Theory Y Management Philosophy

    In 1960, economist Douglas McGregor published The Human Side of Enterprise, which explores human motivation and management. Based on his research on human relations, McGregor found that our beliefs shape our behavior. Our behavior, in turn, shapes the behavior of others around us.

    He hypothesized that human beings can be generally divided into two contrasting schools of thought – Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X folks have an inherent dislike of work and want to avoid it whenever possible. Theory Y folks experience work as naturally as they do play or rest.

    He also believed that a manager’s leadership style is defined by these two very different approaches to human behavior. Simply put, Theory X managers are autocratic and prefer to control. Theory Y managers are humanistic and prefer to engage.

    Control leads to resistance

    Resistance leads to poor results

    Poor results further reinforce Theory X thinking

    Take a look at the following table for more insight on Theory X and Theory Y thinking. Can you recognize how these two adverse lines of thinking would affect the way a leader motivates? How our beliefs shape our behavior? How do you rank leaders of your past and present? How do you rank yourself?

    Theory X Thinking

    Theory Y Thinking

    The average human…


    Dislikes work and will avoid it whenever possible


    Naturally enjoys physical and mental effort

    Prefers to be directed


    Enjoys responsibility

    Commits to goals out of fear of punishment or other external controls

    Commits to goals for rewards and achievement purposes


    Has little ambition


    Exercises self-direction and self-control when committed to goals


    Seeks security above all else


    Actively seeks greater responsibility

    Cannot be trusted


    Sees potential in him- or herself and others



    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

    To take it one step further, let’s refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist and author. In 1943, he wrote a paper entitled, A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he theorized the range of human needs using a pyramid. Maslow believed that all humans share the same principle needs – physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

    The three bottom tiers – motivators like food, water, shelter, security, love – are basic. The top two tiers – drivers like esteem, respect, and self-actualization – are more enlightened.

    Furthermore, he hypothesized that once lower level needs are met (food, safety, love), we innately want to pursue higher achievements (respect, self-fulfillment). He also said that until lower level needs are met, we cannot focus on higher level needs.

    To me, it all boils down to this: Once basic needs are met, people will continue to strive to become their best self. When a person is their best self, the people around them and the organization they choose to be associated with will benefit.  

    Managers focus on primary needs

    Leaders focus on all needs

    For a short video on these subjects and how they’re closely related, check out this video.

    Readiness Level

    For a manager to be effective, he or she should analyze an employee’s receptivity, also known as the “readiness level” in McGregor’s theory. A person’s readiness level is affected by his or her previous life experiences, education, expectations, biases, etc.

    Successful leaders take an employee’s readiness level into account and recognize that it can change over time.

    When followers are less ready, whether it’s because of a lack of ability or wiliness to be led, a good leader will be flexible and take a different approach.

    For example, Theory X leaders might find it challenging to trust new employees, while Theory X employees most likely have a hard time putting faith in new leaders. As trust builds over time, both the employees’ and leader’s readiness level can change.


    When it comes to leadership, the situation itself often dictates your next moves. The nature of the work, types of assignments, and complexity of tasks affect how a leader should move forward in a given situation. Besides these conditions, the team’s successes and/or failures should also influence the leader’s choice of style.

    The situation at hand maybe be the most important factor a leader should consider

    For example, common sense tells us management style is going to vary in a big way between a print room supervisor, an applications development manager, or the director of a call center… Let’s look at the evidence.

    In a print room where the work is well-defined and always follow a certain pattern, a supervisor will need to provide specific instructions regarding the day’s tasks in order to meet time constraints. Now consider the call center: While a director may set daily quotas for employees, he or she may also be able to provide a bit more flexibility in how tasks get handled. Finally, the applications development leader can offer underlying structure and guidelines, but he or she may also want to help team members learn problem-solving skills by giving them more autonomy.

    Regardless of the conditions, leaders must also consider the team’s success and failures. Referencing our examples above, it would make no sense for the print room supervisor to drive his people extra hard when they’re exceeding time management goals. It would, however, make sense to assert authority and concern if the team is missing deadlines.

    Are you a leader in your organization? Do you aim to be? Does Theory X resonate with you or do you find Theory Y hits closer to home? How do your beliefs affect the way you behave? How ready are you to be led? How ready are you to lead? What situations drive your behaviors?

    I manage a team but I want lead them. I want my team to succeed, not only for my company’s objectives, or my own, but for themselves. I’m certainly not a subject matter expert on leadership but I aspire to learn more. Mentorship inspires but also fulfills – let’s figure out how to pay it forward.

    Stick with me through this series as we explore leadership together.