MIT Offers Digital Diplomas in the Blockchain

Blockchain is a buzzword, but it’s also the future. And it’s helping the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s registrar combat fraud while improving the student experience.

Mary Callahan, Senior Associate Dean and Registrar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the fraud prevention and student empowerment benefits of offering digital diplomas through the blockchain.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a decentralized public network that isn’t controlled by any single authority.

“The way it’s special for us is it’s figured out a way for people to safely transact digital assets with each storing the history of the transaction into a new data structure,” Mary said.

When MIT issues a digital diploma to a graduate, that is a transaction between parties registered on the blockchain that can be checked anytime and validated as required. It acts kind of like a global notary.

How a Digital Diploma Can Help Registrars

MIT maintains an enrollment of 11,000 students so verifying who’s a student is an important dimension of the registrar’s work. Moreover, knowing that a student actually received a degree is a step in a process for employers and graduate schools.

“We currently outsource some of that effort to the National Clearinghouse,” Mary said, “and they, on my behalf, acting as an agent confirm if there is an inquiry as to whether an individual received a actual MIT degree or not. But from the employer’s side, that’s time consuming.”

The registrar can help eliminate degree fraud, and the employer can verify graduation without spending as much time and money.

For a school like MIT with a large international population, acceptance of a digital credential would reduce a complex, eight-step workflow to a single step. It’s simple for the student and immediate for the government agency, employer, or graduate school needing the information.

Next-Steps Advice for Universities Considering Moving to the Blockchain

“We spun this up really quickly with our vendor, Learning Machine, so it was not a lengthy time from conception to delivery to implementation to operation,” Mary told us, “but we did learn some things.”

Students had to figure out how to interact with the app, which took time and communication, so MIT worked with their vendor around a dashboard and data reporting and a direct data exchange. Those integration features should be part of what people consider.

“I would say there is still a financial consideration,” Mary said. “In higher ed, as I mentioned, our agent is the National Clearinghouse.”

Some schools get a slice of the verification that comes into the clearinghouse, because the employer or others are paying for that. Using that model, students receive a benefit from the verfication. By not having agent, that funding model is not in place. Blockchain disrupts that, and institutions have to think about that consideration.

“In both a strategic and operational direction, this leads you to a commitment and a sustainability to allow that venture to be fruitful for all,” Mary said.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Mary Callahan from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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