Transforming the College Experience by Reimagining the Transcript

Marni Baker Stein, Provost & Chief Academic Officer, Western Governors University
Marni Baker Stein, Provost & Chief Academic Officer, Western Governors University

Marni Baker Stein, Provost & Chief Academic Officer, Western Governors University

Today’s fast-changing employment opportunities and work requirements mean that adult professional learners (and, in fact, learners of all ages) are pursuing post secondary and non-traditional education with a laser focus on continuously improving their employability.

At Western Governors University (WGU), the nation’s first accredited competency-based education (CBE) university, we provide programming online to more than 100,000 full-time degree-seekers. Competency-based education measures learning and proficiency, independent of time. This experience has taught us to recognize and appreciate that our students are striving to up-skill and advance in their careers, and that they have a low tolerance for educational programming and credentials that do not clearly convert into value in the marketplace.

For these learners, there is no doubt that a college degree translates into more job opportunities than ever before, but the traditional academic transcript is increasingly perceived as a fairly blunt instrument for communicating the worth of the critical technical and “soft” skills that they are learning along the way to graduation. As students gain mastery in professional competencies, and hone their critical thinking and communication capabilities, the evidence of their personal transformation is tucked away in a generic list of courses, and a grade point average.

  Competency-based education measures learning and proficiency, independent of time​  

At WGU, we believe that it is time for a change in how we validate and celebrate student accomplishment. Rather than annually, or at the end of a multi-year journey, we want to reward the achievement of marketable skills in real time, with a focus on serving incremental value to students along the way to degree. In the next year, we will be launching a powerful, scalable career services tool that will signal the market-value of student learning and deliver personalized, just-in-time career insights based on skills-based “micro-credentials” completed as part of every student’s undergraduate and graduate learning experiences.

Offered in addition to the traditional academic record that every WGU student receives, the new skills-based transcript approach will allow our faculty mentors and career services teams to surface goal-aligned, dynamic career intelligence to students through a secure and verifiable digital record of achievement. The transcript itself, which will go live to students in in late 2019 or early 2020, will be designed to capture and communicate validated accomplishments in a sharable, learner-owned digital form, and will push real-time, automated career insights and recommendations through notifications on the WGU student and mentor portals.

Why is this important?

Reimagining the value of the transcript will allow working students to clearly demonstrate earned targeted skill sets and stack them toward a more explicitly competitive profile in the knowledge economy. Further, it will allow admissions teams to more easily award credit for education received outside the traditional formal academy, including training and professional certifications offered by industry and military partners.

The resulting value to students is two-fold. First, we will be able to provide students with real-time insights into the marketability of every micro-credential, as well as the encompassing degree, through our industry-verified skills-based achievements, certified through WGU’s comprehensive evaluation system. Second, these insights can be provided just in time to students and their mentors, opening windows to employment pathways that may have otherwise gone unexplored.

Compared with the sometimes harder-to-visualize goals associated with general education and more traditional academic transcripts, our new approach offers tangible educational and labor market rewards that are attractive to students and can encourage them to persist in their education. We believe this approach will be especially important in meeting the needs of our many learners who are first in family to attend college and who come to us from other underserved and under represented communities.

What will it take?

The path to going live with these new capabilities is complex, but as a student outcomes-obsessed competency-based institution we believe we are designed for this approach. WGU’s high demand, industry-defined, and certification-embedded degree programs provide an ideal environment for this level of innovation and impact. Further, our unique faculty model allows us the capacity to serve every WGU learner with student lifecycle and course-specific mentorship from the moment they apply, through graduation and beyond. The addition of achievement-based career insights will only enhance this capacity and will be a welcome set of tools for both students and faculty alike.

Perhaps most importantly, WGU has a large cross-functional team dedicated to this ambitious initiative, including a dedicated instructional design team responsible for mapping embedded credentials to industry verified marketable skills; a mature assessment team accountable for the deep, authentic validation of targeted skill-sets; and a talented and experienced edTech development and project management team dedicated to the development and integration of platform solutions required to make this vision reality.

While this represents the next step for WGU’s CBE model, we firmly believe that proper execution will result in an instrument that more accurately conveys the competencies of the individual student and the value they bring to their future careers. A transcript reimagined for the 21st century is better for students, better for employers, and represents the next generation of CBE career tools that will change the way we think about higher education.

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