Elon U. Has Been Working to Reinvent the Transcript. And That Has Given...

Higher Education

Elon U. Has Been Working to Reinvent the Transcript. And That Has Given It Some Eye-opening Data.

By Tina Nazerian     May 24, 2018

Elon U. Has Been Working to Reinvent the Transcript. And That Has Given It Some Eye-opening Data.

Elon University has been working to reinvent the college transcript. And now that it is three years into an experiment with offering “visual” transcripts that blend academic data and extracurricular activities, officials say it is using the data to redesign campus programs.

Elon had used co-curricular transcripts since 1994. However, it launched its visual experiential transcripts as part of a grant it received in 2015. Rodney Parks, the university’s registrar, says this allowed the university to “deepen and expand” the experiences on the transcripts, capture more data and clean up a lot of the data that existed in the system. Students can put the visual transcript and the traditional academic transcript into one academic document if they want to send it to a third party such as a graduate school, or they can order the experiential transcript independently, and blend that with their certified electronic diploma.

“Fewer and fewer places are requesting the academic transcript, they’re really only used for graduate school,” Parks says. “So our thought process was, let’s make a transcript more meaningful.”

Parks says that because that data is stored in the university’s student-record system the university can blend it with that of other students, as well as with other data from the system. The university can look at factors such as engagement by year, and if the number of experiences impacts a students’ GPAs, Parks says. This year’s graduating class gives the institution three full years of data, enough to start drawing substantive conclusions.

One of the things Elon noticed was that its African American male students didn’t become as engaged in the five co-curricular experiences Elon tracks (which are leadership, service, internships, global engagement and undergraduate research) until their third year at Elon, compared to their white peers who got involved in similar activities sooner. That finding sparked the university to think about what types of programs it could create to help those students.

The data also indicated that if students take part in leadership early in their academic careers, their retention rate is higher.

Parks says with the metrics from the co-curricular data, department chairs, deans and institutional researchers are able to “mine down on the level of experiences” the students in a given major or degree program are having.

“They can actually look at the granular level with the student to see how engaged the students are in their programs, and what might be areas that they need to work on,” Parks says.

He points to the College of Arts and Sciences as an example. He says with data mining, that officials saw that student engagement in activities such as listening to speakers was dropping during the winter term, in comparison to the fall and spring. So they worked to keep students more engaged during that time period.

Parks adds that the data can even reveal the level of engagement by advisor, adding that if you control for other factors like a students’ living and learning community, it appears that advisors have a “pretty significant impact” on students’ level of engagement.

Sean McMahon is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Elon. He says he supports the transcripts, but that it hasn’t changed the kinds of conversations he has with students, which have always included talk of activities and majors.

Traditional transcripts don’t list activities outside the classroom. The professor says in that situation, a student choosing between a second major or studying abroad might feel inclined to pick the second major, as that is what would show up on the traditional transcript. On the other hand, a co-curricular transcript would show what a student does beyond the classroom as well.

McMahon adds that the design aesthetic of the relatively new visual transcripts helps set students apart—something that’s harder to do with a traditional transcript.

“Here’s this 100 plus year-old thing, formally produced, tracked and managed by basically every university that nobody uses," he says. "There’s an interesting question embedded in that—why not? And if it’s not used, what’s wrong with it? And if there’s something wrong with it, well, maybe we should do something about that. Maybe that should be better.”

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