ECE and the Groningen Declaration - Part 2

On April 8th, 2014, ECE signed the Groningen Declaration.  Since then, members of our staff have been involved in various efforts to promote the vision of Digital Student Data Portability. We asked them to write about their involvement. This 3-part series will be published each week leading up to the Seventh Annual Groningen Declaration Meeting in Paris.

Part 2 - Digital Student Data and How it Impacts Credential Evaluation

As Margit explained, ECE is a signatory to the Groningen Declaration Network (GDN) and a strong supporter of its work and mission. As part of that support, I co-chair the GDN Task Force on Verification, in part because ensuring credential integrity is a part of our daily work as credential evaluators.

I’ll talk about how moving toward Digital Student Data (DSD) will affect my work.

Anyone who works in credential evaluation knows that time is of the essence. Students are in a hurry to find out what their grade point average is in the system they’re entering and what their credentials are worth in that system. Institutions, employers, and licensure boards are eager to get qualified candidates into their programs, jobs, and professions. Transferring student data digitally allows that to happen more quickly and allows the credential evaluator to focus on comparing credentials rather than waiting for documents. 

Example of a forged envelope that we received.

Transferring documents digitally can also cut down on fraud. Even when paper documents are sent directly from the issuing institution, there is fraud. We have dozens of examples of falsified documents that were supposedly sent by the university directly to ECE. The applicants faked the envelope, seals, cover sheets, and stamps, as well as the content of the transcripts.

In those cases, if we had had the ability to receive the credentials directly from the issuing institution digitally, it would have been virtually impossible for the student to have faked the information. This illustrates how important it is for institutions to be able to both send and receive information digitally. There are a number of regional organizations that are promoting (and practicing) DSD and credential verification including:

Some of the most important work being done in the GDN has to do with enabling various regional systems to be able to “talk” to each other.

Several important initiatives are taking place that have to do with DSD and are focused on the work of credential evaluation. TAICEP has created a task force on DSD and has approved three major activities for the coming year:

  1. We want to develop guidelines for credential evaluators to be able to vet third-party document providers. Like me, I’m sure you all get emails from organizations that purport to represent Nigerian universities or South African universities, but you have no idea who they are. We’ll come up with guidelines for admissions professionals to be able to tell if they’re legitimate.
  2. We’ll develop and define terminology pertaining to DSD and credential evaluation. Several TAICEP members wrote white papers last year that addressed this issue – making sure that we’re all talking about the same thing when we say “academic record” or “document provider” or a “student’s locker.”
  3. We’ll be working with other organizations like the GDN, the African Qualifications Verification Network, the South African Qualifications Authority, and the ENIC-NARIC network to maintain a list of databases and providers as a resource for credential evaluators.

As with any other major cultural shift (and moving from transcripts and documents travelling around the world as pieces of paper to bits of data zipping through cyberspace qualifies as a major cultural shift), in order for stakeholders to be comfortable, it takes time, understanding, and sharing of information. In order for us all to benefit from DSD, we can’t work in isolation, and we need to share not only best practices, but also challenges and failures so that we can move forward together.

Margaret Wenger is Senior Director of Evaluation. She has been with ECE since 1990. She is a member of the Standards Committee of The Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals (TAICEP), and is the TAICEP representative on the Groningen Declaration Network Task Force on Verification Policies and Best Practices.

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