Badging from Within

*This article, authored by Paul Fain, was previously published by Inside Higher Ed in a special section titled, “Changing Student Pathways” in February 2014.

The University of California at Davis is creating what may be higher education’s most promising digital badge system. But the badges are no threat to the university’s degrees. They’re add-ons – perhaps valuable ones for students.

“Badges can tell a different story,” says Joanna Normoyle, the experiential and digital media learning coordinator at the university’s Agricultural Sustainability Institute. She says they allow students to “differentiate themselves and tell a narrative.”

Normoyle has helped lead the effort by faculty and staff members at UC-Davis to create a badging system for a new undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The final product, which went live with a small pilot group in the fall of 2013, is more about competency-based education than alternative credentials.

The idea was hatched as the university worked toward the 2011 launch of the sustainable ag major. It’s an ambitious interdisciplinary program, featuring collaboration among eight departments in the university’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences as well as the Agricultural Sustainability Institute.

The new curriculum is particularly hands-on, with lots of experiential learning that occurs outside the classroom, such as through internships and fieldwork. Much of that learning isn’t captured by conventional grading.

The university wanted to help students find ways to describe their experiences, in ways that make sense to faculty, students, employers and themselves. It was a vexing challenge, because any solution had to stretch across the entire curriculum – not just individual classes.

Normoyle and her colleagues settled on badges, with an undergirding of competencies that describe the learning outcomes and skills students need to successfully complete the major.

There are seven core competencies in the program. Employers contributed to the identification of those competencies, which include systems thinking, experimentation and inquiry, understanding values, interpersonal communications, strategic management, civic engagement and personal development.

For example, competency in systems thinking requires students to integrate societal, environmental and economic perspectives into their analysis of complex systems.

Each competency connects to digital badges students can earn for their experiences, skills and knowledge. The badges themselves are graphical representations of an accomplishment – basically the digital version of a felt patch a Boy or Girl Scout might earn.

This fall 20 students experimented with the badging system as part of a senior “capstone” course. Badges are not formally awarded at this point, as the system is still in its testing phase. But Normoyle says the sustainable agriculture programs plans to expand their use next semester. At some point assessments from faculty members and peers, as well as self-assessments, will be part of a final review process for the awarding of badges.

Students create an online profile where they can display the badges. Each one might be accompanied by detailed information, including a description of the student’s experience, what they learned, photos, diagrams or even assessment scores.

Normoyle describes the profiles as learner dashboards or “media-rich, tiled portfolios.”

For example, students might earn a badge for collecting soil samples from the student farm to test effects of different mulch treatments. They would write up that learning experience to be eligible for the badge. And the students get to decide which knowledge demonstrates their competency.

Faculty members and other students will be able to see the badges. They can also comment on them. But the students will be in charge of how they display their portfolio of badges.

“This is all about a self-reporting system,” Normoyle says. “What do I think about what I know?”

The goal is for students to communicate their skills to others, and to learn about what they know in the process.

“Tools like this can complement what happens in in-person learning,” she says.

Digital badges are a trendy idea. Many predict the nascent form of credentialing could pose a challenge to higher education. Ideally, badges could give people new ways beyond college credentials to prove what they know and can do.

The Mozilla Foundation, an open-source technology pioneer, has helped lead the way with its open badges project. The foundation created a “backpack” that earners can use to display badges on a résumé or social networks.

Along the way, badging has earned plenty of powerful supporters, including Bill Clinton and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“Badges can help engage students in learning, and broaden the avenues for learners of all ages to acquire and demonstrate – as well as document and display – their skills,” Duncan said in 2011.

Duncan also linked badging to competency-based education, saying it “can help speed the shift from credentials that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure competency.”

Not everybody is sold on badges, however. One reason is that anyone can award one, raising questions about quality control.

Peter Stokes is executive director of postsecondary innovation in the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University. He’s supportive of the concept behind badges, and thinks there are no real technical obstacles to making them work. But Stokes remains skeptical of badges having a major impact on higher education, at least for now.

“The big challenge with the badge is to create currency in the market,” Stokes says.

UC Davis is one of the first traditional institutions to give badging a whirl. Purdue University has also been a pioneer.

Sheryl Grant, an expert on badges who is director of social networking for the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), said the badging work done by Normoyle and others at UC-Davis is the most interesting she’s seen in higher education. Grant has helped administer 30 badging projects that won a contest and received support from the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“They really are solving for something that the current credential system is not doing,” says Grant, adding that Normoyle and company are doing so without “upsetting the apple cart” by tossing out the degree.

Grant predicts that UC-Davis’s approach is one other colleges will copy. That’s because, she says, they used a rigorous process to create a badging system grounded in the values of the institution, faculty, students and employers.

The end result, Grant says, is a “data visualization and recommendation system” that is “going to scale really well.”

The university is drawing plenty of attention for the new badges. Normoyle is fielding invitations to speak around the country. Interest is also high on campus and among employers.

Several experts on experiential learning said they are taking badges seriously. So is Michael V. Reilly, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Reilly said he is in favor of efforts to capture students’ experiences outside the classroom, whether through e-portfolios, badging or other ideas.

“The transcript is pretty limited in what it does,” he says. “Students want a broader representation of their experiences.”

Reilly likes what he has heard about the badging system at UC-Davis, particularly because Normoyle isn’t talking about replacing college credentials.

“It’s very much the right way to go,” he says, “and much less confrontational.”

Author Paul Fain will be moderating a discussion on experiential transcripts featuring Elon University Registrar Rodney Parks on December 12 at 1 p.m. EST. To register, click here.

Parchment Introduces Online Community for Registrars: Coffee Talk

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The office of the College Registrar is evolving. Institutions needs and student expectations are constantly changing.

To better support the needs of the Office of the Registrar, Parchment is introducing a new series, “Coffee Talk” designed specifically with College Registrars in mind. This online community will pair registrars with their peers to share best practices, experiences and challenges. Hosted by registrars, conversations will center on the most relevant trends and topics of the day.

The online community will not only include webinars but an online resource center to share your experiences and review resources from other registrars. From managing the accelerated pace of change to enabling cross campus partnerships, the Coffee Talk series will feature conversations that encompass the full scope of the registrar’s world, more than just transcripts. We want to help you connect, share and learn from your peers.

Please join us on Wednesday, December 17 at 1 p.m. EST for the first installment of Coffee Talk, hosted by Elon University Registrar, Rodney Parks. Mr. Parks will share Elon University’s involvement with experiential transcripts and how this has created a competitive advantage for students. Paul Fain, senior reporter at Inside Higher Ed and author of Badging from Within, will moderate the discussion.

To register for Coffee Talk and join us for our first discussion on Dec. 17, click here.

Parchment Member Directory Is Live!

Remember the rush of excitement you felt when the new phone book was delivered each year?  Did you immediately flip through the pages to ensure your information was correct? We know we did!

It’s not a 10-lb. phone book; however, we are proud to introduce the Parchment Member Directory – a complete directory of all active Parchment Send and Receive members, available to Parchment institutional members only. This directory of “active” members is defined by an organization that has exchanged a minimum of five transcripts, or other credentials, within the last 12 months.

Are you a high school guidance counselor wondering if a specific college or university prefers to receive transcripts electronically through the Parchment Exchange? Look no further than the Parchment Member Directory. Are you a university registrar curious about networking with your peers to discuss best practices? Let us know who you’d like to meet within our Member Directory and we are happy to facilitate the introduction.

Unlike the phone books of old that were updated annually, the Parchment Member Directory will be updated monthly, providing members with insights into other institutions active on the Parchment Exchange.

Happy searching!

Member Directory Image

NACAC 2015: Making a Difference

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This year was the first opportunity I’ve had to attend NACAC.  As a Parchment product manager who is lucky enough to spend a lot of his time working with K12 school administrators and staff, heading to this conference in Indianapolis was a very exciting prospect! Every day, I work to translate the feedback from our end users into the features and changes we incorporate into the Parchment product; what better place than a big conference to get a feel for how we’re doing?

I boarded my 6:30AM flight full of questions (and more than slightly sleepy). In a school administrator’s eyes, are we doing everything possible to help students get their credentials delivered? Are we helping to streamline the administrator’s daily workflow? Are we making the difference that we set out to make?

Parchment’s mission as a company is to empower individuals to make the most of the credentials they earn during their lifetime. The NACAC conference is centered around the K12 market, and for a lot of people, that’s really the first major credential they’ll earn. And after spending a few days in Indianapolis, meeting a lot of amazing people, and learning about their experience using Parchment, I’m happy to say that the answer is unequivocally yes.

Yes! Parchment is helping overworked, understaffed administration teams deal with the increasingly busy and high-pressure college application season. Yes! Parchment is helping deliver these credentials for a larger group of students with each successive year. And maybe most importantly to me, yes! Parchment has a lot of really exciting new tools and features coming that will make life even better for K12 staff.

I could not be happier with my experience at NACAC. Seeing all of the vendors and technology companies come together to help make life better for the educational institutions we care so much about is fantastic. But, after talking with many of the schools we partner with, there was one message that I received more clearly than any other: things are great now, and they’re only getting better.

A Spiffy New Look for

Homepage Screenshot

Today we are very excited to unveil our new homepage and website styling for!  There are several informational pages that address how Parchment allows students to order transcripts, manage their credentials, and use the College Admission Tools.  For our schools and universities that use Parchment, the same access to the detailed product pages are still available on Parchment Exchange:

The overall workflow has remained the same, we’ve just smoothed out some of the design edges to make it a better feeling web experience.

Let us know if you like the new look!

Behind the Student Choice Ranking Statistics

Last week there was a really great article in The New York Times about the Student Choice Rankings, the annual ranking of colleges based on where admitted students are electing to attend. We are thrilled with the article, but its possible that readers might have walked away thinking the data were from our Parchment Exchange (eTranscript delivery) services. They were not.

We wanted to take the opportunity to delve deeper into how these statistics are generated, and where the data originates.

In addition to operating Parchment Exchange, we also have developed a set of undergraduate admissions tools for our secondary school Members and their students. The admissions tools are powered by the aggregated data of other users of those same tools. Its an opt-in experience, not an opt-out. This is partially why the total size of the dataset was so small. A feature of the admissions tools is the ability of students to maintain and curate their list of interested colleges, including status changes to apply, accepted, etc. Students report back this information in part to keep their list up to date, but also because the aggregated data from prior users are what allowed them to benefit from the insights of the admissions tools themselves.

As for the specific methodology, our site has a helpful overview.

If you are interested, we were inspired to do the analysis based on an academic paper by Chris Avery and several co-authors.

Hopefully this provides clarification on how the Student Choice Rankings data were collected and analyzed.

Parchment Heads to the Big Apple for the NY Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference

Stories abound in the news today with one large, lingering question, “Is a college degree really worth the investment?” This question will hopefully be answered on Tuesday, September 9 at the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference.  In its fourth year, this invitation-only conference brings together university presidents and provosts, foundations and research organizations, entrepreneurs and journalists to discuss key issues and trends within education including but not limited to rising college costs, college completion and closing the gap between education and the workforce.

This year includes the inaugural “3 Minutes to Launch” series, a spotlight on some of the most innovative ideas and solutions in higher education.  Parchment CEO Matt Pittinsky will be a featured speaker in this series and will share insights into the role credentials play in our society. Additional thought leaders featured in the “3 Minutes to Launch” series represent the American Honors College, Lumina Foundation, Minerva Project and Noodle.

Follow Parchment on Twitter, @Parchment, to stay connected on our latest news and events.

Bracketology: Parchment Reveals 4th Annual Student Choice College Rankings for 2015

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(click to enlarge)

The NCAA has March Madness. Parchment has Student Choice College Rankings. The common denominator? Ranking colleges!

The 2015 Parchment Student Choice College rankings reveal that for the second year in a row, Stanford, MIT, and Harvard start as the top three colleges selected by students, respectively. Hold your applause because the real story lies in the fact  that military institutions have become a more popular choice, with the U.S. Air Force Academy shooting from 42 to 7, over top Ivy League schools Columbia (12), Brown (15), and Dartmouth (16). At the same time, the United States Military Academy moved up from 27 to 16 in just twelve months.

Through the 2015 Student Choice College rankings, we see the following movers and shakers:

There were some ups

  • Middlebury College moved up from 20 to 9
  • Williams College increased 38 spots from 58 last year to 20 this year
  • Johns Hopkins jumped from 42 last year to 24 this year
  • University of California, Los Angeles made its entrance into the top 25 from 31st rank a year ago

And some downs

  • Duke University fell from 5 to 10
  • Brown University moved down from 10 to 14
  • Harvey Mudd College dropped from 8 to 23
  • Amherst College fell 10 spots to 28

How we do it

The only college ranking study 100% derived from student-reported decisions, Parchment’s study compares more than 700 colleges and universities from a sample size of 27,000+ U.S. in-bound college students. And that’s a lot of students!

Unlike colleges that generate rankings based on subjective judgments or factors subject to gaming, such as selectivity or test scores, we use a widely accepted tournament ranking methodology in which all colleges are created equal and earn points based on student acceptance and attendance. Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. (Think of an Elo-based points system used to rank professional chess players .)

Full breakdown


1.       Stanford University

2.       Massachusetts Institute of Technology

3.       Harvard University

4.       Yale University

5.       Princeton University

6.       Caltech

7.       United States Air Force Academy

8.       University of Pennsylvania

9.       Middlebury College

10.   Duke University

11.   Bowdoin College

12.   Columbia University

13.   University of Chicago

14.   Brown University

15.   Dartmouth College

16.   United States Military Academy

17.   Pomona College

18.   Haverford College

19.   University of California, Berkeley

20.   Williams College

21.   Swarthmore College

22.   Bates College

23.   Harvey Mudd College

24.   Johns Hopkins University

25.   University of California, Los Angeles


For the complete 2015 Student Choice College Rankings list, visit

Valuable data helps students find the right fit

Acceptance and enrollment data comes from Students use Parchment’s  free online resource to collect all their education credentials, research colleges, discover their chances of admission, see how they stack up to peers, and send official transcripts to apply to their selected academic institutions.

Let’s see if this bracket matches up with the NCAA tournament in March!

Ball State University: One Admission Office’s Path to Paperless

Today, many colleges and universities are on their way to a paperless campus. More and more admissions offices are looking to eTranscripts to help save time, money, and sanity.

When Associate Director of Admissions Brad Hostetler started at Ball State University, he was “floored at how paper intensive we were.” With application documents coming in piecemeal,  “we were constantly pushing papers around and looking for files.”

BSU has gotten their paper problem under control ever since the implementation of Parchment Receive less than a year ago. By automatically initiating and coordinating applications with a unique application ID, BSU is able to have all application documents online.  Two simple scripts fetch and load all eTranscripts delivered to BSU into Banner Data Management System overnight. When the staff arrives at 8AM they are able to review and process high-quality PDF transcripts in a fraction of the time it previously took to receive, scan, and index.  In under a year, BSU has loaded over 25,500 image-quality documents into BDMS and can process incoming transcripts the same day they are sent by students.

Now Hostetler is singing a different tune. “The big thing in our office is the elimination of file cabinets. Everything is online, at our fingertips.”

Read more about how Ball State University stopped printing and started automatically processing incoming transcripts.
• By the numbers at BSU. View the 60-second summary.
• Got more than a minute? Read the full case study.


2014 AACRAO Transcript Survey Results are Out!

AACRAOStudy Infographic

In 1997 SPEEDE released a visionary white paper about the impact electronic data interchange (EDI) could have on the efficiencies and costs associated with student record exchange.  Now, 17 years later, AACRAO, NACUBO and Parchment have teamed up to update this study and see how far electronic student record data exchange has come.

Read the full report here.

Perhaps the most surprising result of this study was the fact that paper is still king. 99% of respondents reported sending or receiving paper transcripts.  Over the past few years adoption of electronic methods such as PDF or XML/EDI have started to gain some traction, but adoption is still relatively low.  While almost every other aspect of education has been transformed by technology, student record exchange is notably absent.

The study looks to understand what the adoption levels are like at different institution types, and the associated costs.  Are you using electronic transcripts? What do you think the biggest inhibitor to adoption is?

Read the study and let us know in the comments what you think.

Credentials Unleashed

The following is the latest edition of the ‘Credential News Unleashed’ newsletter containing relevant articles to help you stay current on our market. There’s a lot happening in the Education Technology / Credential Innovation space. It’s exciting to watch it all unfold!

Admissions & Transfers

Big Data

  • A report titled “Here’s how much your high school grades predict your future salary” in the Eastern Economic Journal by researchers from the University of Miami found that a person’s grade-point average in high school not only indicates the person’s chances of getting into college and whether he or she will finish college or graduate school and could also be an indicator of how much that person will earn later in life.
  • The College and Career Readiness and Success Center at AIR published a report on the “Predictors of Postsecondary Success” many of which can be found in a high school transcript.

Competencies and Skills

  • A small but growing number of schools are letting students skip straight to final exams and earn academic credit in subjects they know well, often after years working in related fields. “Testing your way to a degree is not only faster than taking the conventional route. It’s much, much cheaper” illustrates how some students can complete their bachelor’s degrees this way in a matter of months, usually online, and save thousands of dollars in the process by avoiding churning through superfluous courses covering material they already know.

Credentials and MOOC’s

Innovation and Disruption

College Rankings

  • Inside Higher Ed wrote about college rankings in “Rankings Noise,” which argues that small movements in traditional rankings are simply “noise” and that any kind of sustained upward movement is both immensely expensive and nearly impossible.

Privacy & Security

The EdTech Market

Happy reading!

Parchment College Ambassador Scholarship Program Awards Five Seniors

William Steward
Andrew Lang
Nicole Phillips
Nicole Phillips
Nicholas Clark Archibald
Keisha Sanders
Keisha Sanders
Andrew Lang
William Steward


Saving money for college can be overwhelming. Parchment is committed to simplifying the college application process through the delivery of digital credentials –transcripts and letters of recommendation – and has recently introduced the Parchment College Ambassador (PCA) Scholarship Program.

Selected by high school principals, counselors or teachers, each high school can elect one PCA to encourage and help their peers in their mission to apply to college. By discussing college plans with other students, the ambassador can help the student through the transcript ordering process and researching college options through Parchment’s free tools.

The Parchment College Ambassador Scholarship Recipients from the Class of 2014 include:

  • Andrew Lang, St. Viator High School, Arlington Heights, IL (attending University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • William Steward, Yankton High School, Yankton, SD (attending Augustana College)
  • Nicole Phillips, Yorktown High School, Muncie IN (attending Ball State University)
  • Nicholas Clark-Archibald, Brimfield High School, Brimfield, IL (attending Illinois Central College)
  • Keisha Sanders, Paoli Jr. Sr. High School, Paoli, IN (currently undecided)

Congratulations ladies and gentlemen and best of luck as you move into the next, exciting chapter of your education.

Rest Assured, Parchment NOT affected by new OpenSSL vulnerability


On Thursday, June 5 an internet-wide vulnerability in OpenSSL was announced. The issue has been widely covered by media including The New York Times and PC World.

Parchment takes security very seriously. Every Member. Every Student. Every Transcript. Every Minute. You expect us to exhaust ourselves to ensure our practices represent the highest standard in the industry.  Today, our efforts once again were proven successful.

 Upon learning of this vulnerability, we immediately began an investigation to determine how this vulnerability may affect you, our members, and your students.  Through a regular security audit of our system, we determined that because we rely on network security appliances for SSL, and NOT OpenSSL, the Parchment Exchange IS NOT susceptible to this vulnerability.

 What does this really mean? The thousands of members, like you, currently using Parchment Exchange, are safe and protected against this vulnerability.

 From all of us at Parchment, your security is our highest priority, and every day we maintain the toughest standards in the industry, so you don’t have to worry.

 Thank you for trusting us.

Parchment Peeps: Where Did They Come From?


You wouldn’t hire a mechanic to landscape your backyard. And, you probably wouldn’t engage a dry cleaner to change the oil in your car. When you’re looking for the experts in eTranscript solutions, look no further than the experts right here at Parchment.

From Scottsdale, AZ to Washington D.C. and from Grand Rapids, MI to Toronto, Canada, Parchment proudly employs more than 150 education geeks that have a combined 625 years working in education! Nearly 20% of our employees have direct experience working in a K12 school or a postsecondary institution, including a handful of former Registrar and Admissions staffers.

We surveyed our employees to find out what it is they tell their pals about Parchment and our culture was crystal clear. “Creative, forward-thinking, hard-working, real-world problem solvers,” said one excited employee. Another Parchie said, “I absolutely love working at Parchment. I work a lot, but I actually GET TO WORK. I’m able to spend time doing what I love and feel great about how much we get done in a small amount of time.”

Each employee had their own unique path to Parchment, however many have blossomed within the education technology sector from Blackboard, Avow, Docufide, Presidium, Pearson, Infinite Campus and Elluminate to name a few.

We’re not here to landscape your backyard or change your oil, we’re here to do what we do best – help turn your credentials into opportunities.

Transcript Ordering Has Never Been This Fancy!

We are really excited to announce that some much-needed updates to the transcript ordering process were released yesterday.  For high school students using to request and track transcripts the change is a continuation of the updates and improvements they’ve been getting this year. For postsecondary students using … the improvement is going to be a game changer!  (But don’t worry! Schools don’t have to switch their ordering interface. The old system will be around for a long time  … but once you see the improvements you’re going to want to start directing your students to the ordering available at!)

What’s New?

1. The new streamlined workflow reduces the number of screens a new user must get through from 19 to 9 screens.
2. We also said goodbye to the old payment page by collecting payment within the ordering interface. The underlying security is still as strong as ever, it just has a better  e-commerce experience that feels better to savvy students.
3. Users can order and store their high school and college transcripts in one place which will let students request all of their credentials in a single transaction.
4. Clear progress indicators let users know exactly where they are in the ordering process – and that they’re only a couple clicks away from their transcript.
5. And have you seen the new Order History page? It puts the Domino’s Pizza Tracker to shame. Now students can easily find out the status and location of their transcript which we’re hopeful will cut down the number of “Where’s my transcript?” questions and give students peace of mind.




I Want It!

For secondary schools, there’s nothing special you need to do. All of these changes are available today at  Your students can take advantage of it right away.

For postsecondary schools, you can make this available to your students by directing them away from to to create their accounts and place orders.  Note: Single Sign-On integration isn’t supported yet at


Looks Fancy, But I Want to Learn More!

To help you and your students  feel comfortable with the new features, please see the updated resources here:

The K12 Toolkit 

The Postsecondary Resources Page

Watch the tutorial video here:

We’re really excited to have these improvements in place. After all, everything starts with placing the order. Getting off on the right foot will make it a better experience for everyone.  Please let us know what you think of the changes!


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