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Indiana’s public colleges and universities are slowly — but surely — moving to e-transcripts

 Indiana’s high school and college transcripts will soon be shared seamlessly as digital files as part of an ongoing statewide initiative. (Canva)

The majority of the state’s high schools have already transitioned to a common, easily shareable digital file.

Hoosier students at both the high school and college levels will soon have their academic transcripts converted into a common digital file as part of a yearslong initiative to better manage — and share — educational records.

Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education (CHE) met Thursday to discuss the effort that has been ongoing since 2005.

The Indiana e-Transcript Program, which is administered by CHE, was initially focused on sending high school transcripts electronically to colleges and universities in Indiana and other states. It has since evolved to include the sending and receiving of college transcripts, too.

More than 90% of the state’s high schools are already on board. Upwards of 200,000 transcripts are sent by secondary schools each year, of which about 75% are being sent as data files.

A recent survey of the state’s colleges and universities shows headway in the transition to digital, but some postsecondary schools still lag behind.

“The exchange of college transcripts is so critical in many ways,” said Ken Sauer, CHE’s senior associate commissioner and chief academic officer. 

He said that’s especially true for students earning the Indiana College Core in high school, where it’s typical for those students to take dual credit courses from multiple institutions. Without a cohesive transcript, students and administrators are forced to request and process a variety of different documents.

Ditching paper

Prior to 2005, all transcripts in Indiana were printed on paper and sent through the mail. That process is expensive, time-consuming and increases the chance of human error, CHE officials said. 

The General Assembly responded with the e-transcript program in 2013, creating a standardized, electronic transcript that high school students send to schools and employers.

Lawmakers emphasized that individual high schools that have their own transcript program can cause confusion for students applying to higher education or employment. Education officials across the state agreed that a transition to e-transcripts will eliminate that confusion and make it easier for students to apply to any college through one uniformed transcript.

CHE is charged with administering the program and contracts with Parchment to host the transcript-sharing platform. A common, electronic high transcript is now required, aligning data fields needed for college admission.

Seeing success with the high school-to-college program, state education leaders said it was time to focus on a standard, digitized college-to-college transcript. 

In February 2022, the Commission passed a resolution calling for all college transcripts within public institutions to be exchanged as data files. The resolution indicates that all college transcripts should be exchanged electronically as XML data fields.

Commissioners originally aimed to have all Hoosier colleges and universities transitioned by 2024, but some schools reported that they will not be able to meet that goal.

Getting everyone on board

CHE’s latest survey of Indiana’s public postsecondary institutions requested the status of plans and current practices for sending and consuming transcripts as data files.

The results, presented at CHE’s Thursday meeting, showed that Ball State is not currently sending transcripts as XML data but is working on doing so by February 2024. The school already receives e-transcripts from high schools and other higher education institutions.

Indiana State is also not currently sending the common digital transcripts as XML data, though the school has a target goal of October 2024. The university is not currently accepting transcripts as XML data but aims to do so by March 2024, according to CHE.

Ivy Tech Community College was the first institution to send all college transcripts electronically and is already sending all documents via XML. The school said it’s ready to accept and process college transcripts in the same format. Sauer said Vincennes University is doing the same for incoming and outgoing transcripts.

All Indiana University campuses are additionally sending and receiving transcripts as XML data.

Purdue’s West Lafayette campus is not yet sending e-transcripts as requested by CHE, but university officials said they hope to do so by Spring 2025. The Purdue Fort Wayne and Northwest campuses’ transcripts are sent through the flagship office.

Further, none of Purdue’s campuses are accepting transcripts as XML data. The Fort Wayne campus aims to do so by January 2024, while the West Lafayette and Northwest locations plan to do so later in the year.

Purdue University Global, however, is not sending or accepting the e-transcripts and currently has no target date or definitive plan to do so, Sauer said.

The University of Southern Indiana isn’t sending or taking in transcripts as XML data, either, but said it would do both in 2024.

He noted that slowdowns at most institutions are caused by IT staffing needs.

Benefits ‘are many’

CHE officials maintained the benefits of exchanging all high school and college transcripts as data files are many, including cost savings to students and more timely consideration in the admissions process and in transferring credit administrative efficiencies for institutions. 

The move also creates a helpful database for conducting institutional research on student persistence and completion, Sauer said. That could boost the Commission’s ability to administer state financial aid programs and to conduct state-level research.

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Parchment CEO Matthew Pittinsky (Headshot from Parchment’s website)

Parchment CEO Matthew Pittinsky noted in a presentation Thursday that traditional academic transcripts “just have courses and credits and grades.” He said the transition to e-transcripts opens the door for more context to be provided for specific degree qualifications, competencies and skills that can’t be captured by paper.

“It really began with this initial idea, which is, it makes no sense to have the public high schools in Indiana printing transcripts, which are just data sitting in their student information systems, that they have the mail to colleges, who also have a student information system,” Pittinsky said. “They’re going to take that paper, they’re going to digitize it — they’re going to take the data out. This is an incredibly inefficient and insecure way to move educational data from K-12 into higher education.”

He said the same principle applies to university transcripts, as well. E-transcripts help students avoid “fragmented credentials” — meaning students are required to return to their high schools, colleges and licensing boards to get verification of their education.

Eventually, he hopes to see an even greater shift to e-wallets, where “lifelong learning and employment journey information” are collected and managed in one place.

“We’re working to actually innovate the record itself, break down the barriers between transcripts, diplomas, certificates and badges and really create a comprehensive record that I think is going to be much more useful — not just for academic reasons — but also for employment reasons,” Pittinsky said. “It just makes sense. It saves money. It’s more secure. It takes the friction out and unlocks op

This article originally appeared on Indiana Capital Chronicle.

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