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Digital Credentials and Transcripts in Higher Education

Digital Credentials can solve the problem of paper-based records and transcripts in education.

The credentials a school hands out are more than just a document. They represent the time, dedication and effort an individual puts in throughout a lifetime of learning and achievement. Diplomas, certificates, badges and transcripts are all signifiers of a person’s preparedness to move on to the next phase of their career.

According to a report from EDUCAUSE, the U.S. Census Bureau tells us that one in two U.S. adults has some form of postsecondary credential, while one in four has some form of certification or license independent of their postsecondary credential.1

Despite this data highlighting society’s reliance on credentials, they are often still distributed in paper — or PDF-based formats that hold back educational institutions and students alike as they are slow to issue, easy to fake and expensive to verify. Institutions need to find better ways to hand out credentials and enable faster, easier verification while reducing fraudulent records.

And that means turning to the right technology.


Relying on a physical — or PDF-based system of distributing credentials stands out in contrast to today’s increasingly digital age. The way we interact with the rest of the world — including applying for a job or entrance into another college or university — is almost all handled electronically. Moving credentials into the digital space is a natural progression.

That’s where digital credentialing solutions come in.

A digital credentialing solution can circumvent the challenges of paper-based documents, providing your institution with a tool to issue, create and manage official records faster in a digital format that students can easily share and have instantly verified anywhere
in the world. To enable this solution, leading credentialing providers leverage blockchain and Blockcerts technology. Blockcerts are blockchain-anchored credentials built on the open source standard — the most secure digital format in the world.

Specifically, a digital credentialing solution can transform higher education in five significant ways:
1. Improved efficiencies and record keeping:

Digital credentialing removes paper from the process to cut the four-to-six week wait time for printing records like diplomas, increasing efficiencies while also reducing costs. And, as noted in an Unbound, Reinventing Higher Education article, “Digital credential distribution systems are also useful for the issuing institution. It can retain permanent records of the credentials it issues, view and manage credentials through the web platform, manage lists of credential holders and contact groups, and track how often credentials have been seen and shared. This data can provide powerful marketing information.”2

Blockchain and blockcerts technology comes into play here as well.

Gartner states: “Blockchain applications fall into four types: blockchain disruptor, digital asset market, efficiency play and record keeper. To date, higher education use cases have clustered around the last two, while the disruptive power lies in the first two. The most compelling recordkeeping use case for education is for blockchain to become the foundation of a new digital credentialing infrastructure.”3 (Gartner, Hype Cycle for Blockchain Business, 2019)

2. Increased security and fraud prevention:

The right credentialing solution will also enable instant, independent digital verification of credentials via a secure, convenient and decentralized system. That way, the risk of fraudulent credentials — which now surpasses more than 200,000 fake degrees sold in the U.S. annually, according to industry experts — essentially disappears.

Digital credentials are digitally signed by the issuing institution which provides cryptographic proof of the credential’s origin. Blockcerts bake in convenience into this security as well, by virtue of automatically checking the issuer’s public key during verification.

3. Enhanced brand visibility and reputation:

Digital credentialing can also help drive an innovative approach to improving your institution’s brand. Digital credentials are instantly shareable by your alumni online on social media — broadening your market reach and reputation as forward-thinking. And, as noted earlier, they are now in an electronic format that enables you to track how often they have been seen and shared for marketing insights.

4. Empowered students and alumni:

By moving to a digital form of credential distribution, you also eliminate the lack of recipient ownership. Providing digital, secure and verifiable credentials that students can take anywhere on their mobile device enables them to easily share them with other institutions for faster enrollment or degree decisions while enhancing the overall experience. And, as they receive education from various schools, students can now easily assemble all their records in a single place to showcase their portfolio of achievements.

Gartner states: “The issuance of blockchain-based credentials could signal a move from the current institution-centric model to a world where the credential earner has control of whom they share their credentials with and how. This can better support the increasing mobility of workers and their desire to acquire credentials throughout their lifetime.”4 (Gartner, Hype Cycle for Blockchain Business, 2019)

5. Strengthened employer and academic relationships:

Businesses around the world increasingly prefer digital credentials for evaluating candidates. As research conducted by the AACU shows: “81 percent of hiring managers found digital portfolios useful for evaluating recent graduates, compared to 48 percent of those who said the same about traditional academic transcripts.”5 By providing your alumni with the ability to quickly provide employers their credentials for faster hiring decisions, you can strengthen relationships between companies and your institution and increase your competitive advantage as a school with high job placements.

Implementing a digital credentialing solution can be a driving force as your school continues its digital transformation journey. From cutting costs to driving efficiencies to increasing your institution’s brand awareness, these solutions have reach across the higher education landscape and beyond.

See also: Hyland Digital Credentials | Content Services in Higher Education