President’s Message

Michael Feldman has captivated public radio listeners for years by mining the comedic potential of one simple question – the question posed in the title of his popular quiz show, Whad’Ya Know?

It’s a great question, and not just because it presents endless possibilities for humor. These days, as employers look to close the skills gap and the nation seeks to develop the talent it needs to thrive in the 21st century, the “whad’ya know?” question is a serious and critical one – for all of us.

What do you know, really? What does anyone know? And what proof of that knowledge can you offer?

Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO

One might think that a college or university transcript, the official record of a student’s academic achievement, would provide ample proof. Not so. In fact, the college transcript – though long useful as a record of a student’s course history, individual grades, GPA and credentials earned – has really never said much about what that student knows. Yes, it lists what he or she has done, but it reveals virtually nothing about what’s actually been learned – what knowledge and skills have been obtained – through all of that doing.

These days there’s a movement afoot to change that, to transform the static student transcript into a more dynamic, inclusive and useful record of student achievement.

This issue of Lumina Foundation Focus magazine explores that nascent effort, and it does so right from the front lines of change. Longtime higher education reporter Steve Giegerich talks with registrars, faculty members, administrators and students at institutions that are tackling the transcript-reform challenge head-on, including the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) and Quinsigamond Community College near Boston.

As the stories on these pages make clear, the reform efforts on these and many other campuses are just beginning – and no one expects to quickly revamp a document that’s endured, essentially unchanged, for many decades. Still, the drive to transform the student record is underway, and there’s a growing body of evidence that it’s gaining momentum. For example:

  • At most of today’s colleges and universities, a student’s extracurricular and co-curricular activities (clubs, volunteer work, service projects and the like) are included in some way as part of his or her official record.
  • Scores of colleges are now accepting high school transcripts that show how students demonstrate specific learning outcomes or competencies, rather than simply recording the time they spent in classrooms or the grades they received.
  • In seeking to create a more expansive student transcript, many U.S. institutions are taking cues from the United Kingdom, where 32 institutions have already issued such transcripts – called Higher Education Achievement Reports – to more than 400,000 students.

These trends, and the burgeoning reform effort they reflect, point to a long-term goal that is both ambitious and tremendously exciting: a student record that is digital (and thus easily shared with employers and other institutions); comprehensive (in that it credits all types of learning, not just the in-classroom type); and portable (i.e., “owned,” and for the most part maintained, by the student rather than the institution).

Eventually, the new-look transcripts that emerge from this work will offer huge benefits. Employers will be better able to find job applicants who have the specific knowledge and skill sets they need. Institutions will have better ways to define, demonstrate and increase the value they add to their students’ educational experiences. And students will have a comprehensive, flexible, permanent and portable record of their learning – no matter where or how that learning was attained.

This issue of Focus offers just a glimpse of those benefits, as seen in the lives of several students. You’ll read about:

  • Lisa Carpenter, a UHD student who, at age 42, is relying on her expanded transcript to help illustrate her transformative personal journey from a Houston jail cell to the boardroom of a local nonprofit.
  • John Locke, whose student record documents another inspiring turnaround – from aimless, troubled young man living on Houston’s streets to a dedicated community activist and president of UHD’s Student Government Association.
  • Cherise Connolly, a dual-enrollment high school senior who, while pursuing an associate degree at Quinsigamond, is bolstering her college transcript with community service projects.

We hope all of this material adds to what you know about the college transcript – especially, what tomorrow’s transcript can and should be.

handwritten signature of Jamie P. Merisotis

Jamie P. Merisotis
President and CEO


Student records: Off the shelf and into the real world

Tom Green still recalls his trips into the musty archive holding the transcripts of Seton Hall University students. These records - bearing the handwriting of Seton Hall professors dating back to the 19th century - dutifully listed the course work completed by the first students to enroll at the university, the amount of time they spent in those classes and, of course, the grades awarded at semester’s end.


Effort to enhance student records sets the stage for second chances

Houston, Texas - The quarter-mile separating the commuter parking lot from the main campus of the University of Houston- Downtown (UHD) is not an insurmountable distance. Still, given Houston’s famously oppressive humidity, most students choose an air-conditioned shuttle bus - or a trip on the city’s light-rail system - over a stroll to class.


Well aware of the challenges, transcript team wades in boldly

Worcester, Mass. - Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) student Kwame Ofori will present an impressive list of achievements on the transcript that will be sent to the Worcester State University admissions office along with his transfer application to begin classes there next fall.