Reinventing Student Transcripts at Elon University

For decades, academic transcripts haven’t changed.

Employers used them to certify that applicants had a minimum of a bachelor’s degree as well as necessary skills and abilities to do the job. But over the years, registrars across the country have started to see fewer and fewer requests for traditional academic transcripts. Today’s employers say traditional transcripts don’t contain enough information for them to know what that student accomplished in a four-year academic experience.

All the data and information we’re storing is not really useful to employers, and it’s mainly graduate schools that want academic transcripts.

How can universities create transcripts that are useful to employers, students, and graduate schools alike?

Dr. Rodney Parks, Registrar and Assistant to the Provost at Elon University, came on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to share how his team is rethinking traditional academic transcripts and pioneering a new co-curricular transcript.

An Academic Transcript vs. a Co-curricular Transcript

Elon’s first co-curricular transcripts originated out of student affairs. Realizing that higher education means more than just capturing the classes alone, Elon started documenting other significant student experiences in 1994. Employers and students alike found this new kind of transcript to be valuable.

“Today,” Rodney said, “Elon tracks global education, research, internship, leadership, and service as the five core experiences used at the institution, and we even build them into the degree auditive cell.”

The first co-curricular transcripts at Elon were text-based documents done by term. It wasn’t appreciably different in many ways from an academic transcript, though, so in 2013, Rodney began to deepen the information stored on the co-curricular transcript.

Take research, for example.

“If you look at your academic transcript … it might say, ‘SOC 498 Research.’ So that would be a sociological research project. But that’s all it would really say,” Rodney told us. “What we did for the co-curricular transcript was we created a workflow that would allow our faculty to put in a more meaningful definition of what that research is.”

This approach gives more information associated with experiential learning.

When Elon lists an internship on it’s co-curricular transcript, it shows a logo of the company, the number of hours the student completed for that company, and even embeds the job description.

Elon eventually rolled out a visual representation of the co-curricular transcript, which has garnered positive feedback from employers. Today, the university sends both transcripts in one document.

As Rodney told us, “It’s kind of a one stop shop of a one stop shop of academic credentials.”

Co-curricular Transcript Student Success Stories

Right away, Elon saw that students often forgot some of their experiences over four years, but the transcript gave student a way to think about how to translate their entire collegiate experience into valuable data for making new life decisions.

Employers, too, appreciated the new transcripts.  Elon sent the transcript out to its network of employers, and about 130 responded with comments like, “Yes, this is exactly what we want to see. We want more information about the student experience, we want the institution to stand behind these additional experiences.”

When asked what they wanted to see in a co-curricular transcript, employers overwhelmingly indicated three things: descriptions of internships, descriptions of leadership positions the student held, and what competencies the student might have gained at Elon.

“In essence,” Rodney said, “the transcript itself is beginning to evolve into a type of portfolio for the student, to help them tell their Elon story.

How Elon Managed a Transcript Project of this Scope

The biggest initial challenge was that academic affairs and student affairs often constitute two different sides of the house with little overlap. For an institution to be effective in building a comprehensive picture of that student experience, however, those two divisions need to work closely with one another.

“No one person can … push something like this out,” Rodney said. “It … takes a collaboration of people working together because a lot of this information has to be certified by the individual units.”

Besides, having the right people involved, a move of this scope and size needs a fresh perspective on data. Elon has modified its baseline student system to capture and store a lot of new information, so the registrar’s office can mine more data associated with that student experience.

For the future of the program, Elon is looking at the data metrics themselves.

The university’s leadership can see what paths students take to success. They can determine what factors lead to higher levels of retention for minority students. They know the impact of experiential advising on GPA. Data is powerful, and it’s all there on the transcripts.  

Furthermore, Elon can now build better bridges between the university and employers since the school now knows what employers need to see in order to hire an Elon grad.

How to Get Started Creating More Valuable Co-curricular Transcripts

“I would tell institutions…take this a step at a time,” Rodney said.

Most likely, your college or university already has the data needed to create an excellent co-curricular transcript. Use what you have. Pull existing information on to the transcript. See what data you need to start tracking. Begin to develop workflows across campus offices. New data can flow through established channels. The whole process of creating co-curricular transcripts doesn’t take as much work as it might appear to require.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Rodney Parks from Elon University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.