Parchment + Quottly: How We are Turning Credentials Into Opportunities, Together
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, President & CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI) joins us to discuss the challenges evaluating credentials from across the globe. We discuss the laborious process for understanding educational systems around the world, the role the credential evaluation community plays, and offer up some solutions to make the international exchange of credentials easier.
Matt Sterenberg (00:01.93)
All right, I am here with Jasmine Saeedi Keenert, President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute. Jasmine, welcome.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (00:11.989)
Thank you, Matt. Good to be here.
Matt Sterenberg (00:14.762)
So Jasmine, why is international credential evaluation so hard?
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (00:23.453)
I look at international credential evaluation as a puzzle. So if your brain is wired to solve puzzles, then you’re in the right field. And the reason that is that it’s not a cut and dry.
process. We need to be well informed about our own education system because this is the system that we are measuring an international program against. So the absence of that is your first stumbling block. If you don’t understand the American education system, the U.S. education system, which is what we’re using as our measuring stick, then how are you going to interpret?
and assess an international program. The next would be to be fully versed in the education system of the country that you’re evaluating. You can’t just, you know, shoot from the hip and say, well, they speak English, so they must kind of be very similar to our system. An example of that would be the Canadian education system. We have Canada is not one uniform system.
Each province has its own standards and criteria. Yes, they speak English in all of the provinces, but Quebec doesn’t. Very different systems, very different credits, very different grades. So you can’t use those. You need to really dive into each education system and educate yourself on that. And even for those of us who’ve been doing this for decades, for like myself.
I am always learning. I still refer to references. I still go to publications. I don’t make guesses because guesses can get us into trouble. The other factor is that all education systems have unique approaches to their degree programs, their entrance criteria. All of these are factors that we have to take into consideration when we are evaluating and trying to match a program against the US system.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (02:31.381)
For example, some countries, a professional degree, such as medicine, is offered directly after completion of high school. But however, in the United States, if we’re familiar with how medical education is offered here, you cannot get into a medical school directly after high school. You typically have to complete a four-year undergraduate degree, whether in pre-med or sciences or something that’s relevant, and then you apply.
for medical school, which is a professional program. Then you do another four years, then you do in addition to that your residency. So these are the important factors to take into consideration, as well as just continuous changes that happen in other countries’ education systems. Different governments come in and there are sweeping changes, certain programs that may have been offered at a secondary level.
For example, teacher training and nursing for many, many years in some parts of the world were offered directly after ninth grade because of the needs of that country at that time. But countries, as they develop, their education systems evolve. And now we can see that, you know, teacher training and nursing are no longer in some parts of the world. Offered at the senior high school level as vocational programs. Now they are part of a university.
So these are the things that we always have to stay oppressed of. And keeping yourself informed about geopolitical changes, conflicts that happen, movement of people, updates on educational systems, access to that information, and trusting the sources of the information. What are the most reliable sources that will confirm the…
validity of an institution’s status, its legitimacy, because those are also another concern. Are you dealing with an institution that is accredited as what we consider accredited? Are they officially recognized in their home country? Or is this some sort of a private proprietary professional development type of institution, or is it a diploma mill, of which unfortunately there are thousands and thousands. So in a nutshell,
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (04:49.477)
Those are the kind of obstacles you have to be prepared to overcome in order to confidently prepare an international credential evaluation.
Matt Sterenberg (05:00.226)
So you’re saying that understanding the educational system in every country in the world is a challenge?
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (05:07.181)
It can be, yeah, it can be. You know, it’s almost like you’re learning, yeah. I mean, you’re learning a new language, right? And in a way, you also learn the language. We all talk about credentiales. We all can speak the credential languages. You know, I sometimes jokingly, you know, say a long sentence in German. And all it is the title of one credential, you know. But we become familiar with these. We even teach ourselves the alphabet.
Matt Sterenberg (05:07.982)
Yeah, I’m kidding, but yeah, it’s, it’s.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (05:36.661)
of whether it’s the Arabic alphabet or the Cyrillic, any of those, just to kind of be able to verify a translation that has been done, just to make sure. Because translators sometimes take some freedoms in their translation interpretation.
Qualification that is a high school credential may be mistranslated into a bachelor degree, for example, in the Latin American system. The term bachiere is frequently used for a high school diploma, but if a translator isn’t very familiar, they may just say bachelor. And then let’s say an admissions officer at the US Community College receives this English translation and they are not trained.
yet they look at the English translation and say, oh, this is a bachelor’s degree. Despite the fact that the person is 17 years old and all the other factors, and if they were to look at their transcript, they say these are not university level subjects, but that can be misleading. So evaluators have to really be alert and informed of the terminology used in that education system.
Though they may refer to a translation, but the translation is secondary document. It’s not a primary document.
Matt Sterenberg (07:05.89)
So I look at the landscape and as you describe it, you have so much complexity. You have language barriers, you have different countries, different systems, and then you have different institutions within a country. You talked about, is this an accredited, is this not? And obviously ACEI is one of the international credential evaluators, right? And there are many others. And I, you know, from the outside looking in, I think about this and say, okay, well,
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (07:06.497)
Matt Sterenberg (07:35.306)
what resources are at their disposal? What are the things that they can all agree on? Can you tell us a little bit more about standards? Is there a set of standards and practices that in your community that you can all agree on and that maybe shared resources, because that’s, I think, from the outside looking in, you’re like, there’s gotta be something we can for sure agree on. Or, you know, as we look at this, how do we create a system
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (07:59.605)
Matt Sterenberg (08:05.266)
Each individual credential is not recreating the wheel and in our analysis of it.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (08:11.353)
That’s a very, very wonderful question. And that is an issue in this field.
Prior to the emergence of private or independent credential evaluation organizations such as my company, this field was handled by the US Department of Education. There was an office within the US Department of Education that did credential evaluation. It was not, in the sense, the comprehensive kind of creative work that evaluating companies do today. It was very general, but it was something that employers, even admissions officers at universities, other states or local governments, referred to. They relied on the advice of the U.S. Department of Education’s office that did this. I think they dissolved their office sometime in the late 1960s, 1970s, early 1970s, because of budgetary cuts, and they pretty much just said,
let’s turn this into the hands of the private sector. They can do this. So what you saw was the emergence of credential evaluation services. And many of them initially were founded by individuals who worked at universities in the international admissions. And they brought with them their expertise. And then following that, what happened was that entities began to say we need to do some extensive research on world education systems. We’re kind of using very rudimentary sources. At that time you had associations like NAFSA, the Association for International Educators, and ACRO, the American Association for Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the College Board, the USAID,
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (10:10.049)
Quite a number of organizations would get together, pool resources, and bring together experts from various groups, institutions, evaluation agencies, and send them off to a particular region in the world to do research on the education system. And they would return and they would present their findings to a body that was called the National Council on the Evaluation of Foreign Credentials.
I forgot this is a long name, but we used to just call it the council. It was literally as though you’re presenting your doctoral dissertation to a group of your peers who would then go through each of your credential analysis and ask you the basis of which you are reaching this decision as to, oh, this credential from El Salvador, you’re recommending that is comparable to. Why? And all of this sort of discussion went into place, then this was a published resource that then became available to all of us. I was fortunate enough to participate in a number of these workshops. One was on Central America. I was an entry-level evaluator and it was the best exposure. I mean, talk about immersion in the educational system and really understanding what it is we’re doing.
After that, I was involved in the education system of Canada, which focused on Quebec. Then I was part of the research project on the UK. And then another one was on Hong Kong. And then I did a couple of others. So as you can see, if you’re sending…
Matt Sterenberg (11:50.806)
So they’re just, you’re sending people out to basically do the analysis for all these countries. They come back, they submit the report, and then that report, if approved by the council, is this is essentially the source of truth and what all these organizations can use as a definitive document on how we should think about
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (11:58.589)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (12:04.181)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (12:09.509)
Exactly, because you’re basically saying these are peer-reviewed credential advice. It’s not the subjective opinion of one individual. And these publications became invaluable resources. They were either titled projects for international education research, peer workshops, or they were standalone publications called world education series on whatever the country was.
Those have been kind of the foundation for any entity who wants to do evaluations. Though some things are out of date, they’re still, it’s good to have that historic information. So that’s how standards became, were formed. Based on that sort of logic that happened. But you still have the subjectivity that happens, good or bad.
It happens, and it happens even within institutions. Some universities have open admissions policies, so they may say, well, it’s okay if this person hasn’t sat for the matriculation examination. It looks like they’ve done what we need as high school preparation. But another university with some more, kind of more…
Selective admissions may say, not only do I want your matriculation exam, but I also want your university entrance exam results. So this is how subjectivity happens. When an evaluation agency does this, we have to literally state the facts and report the facts. We’re not an academic institution. We have to advise the US institution that based on this credential, based on the number of years studied, based on what this credential allows this person to do in their home country, and based on these reference sources that we use as our backup, we can confidently state that this person has attained a level of education comparable to completion of senior high school, or one year of undergraduate credit, or a bachelor’s degree, whichever it is.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (14:27.121)
Based on that, then the university can take our advice and apply its own admission criteria.
Matt Sterenberg (14:35.074)
So you’re basically saying, here’s everything you need to know, and we’re showing our work, basically. Here are the resources. But it’s like you mentioned, different institutions have different admissions criteria, for instance. Now it’s up to you to decide if this student is a good fit for your institution. But we’ve given you the history, the background, and enough information for you to make an informed decision is basically.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (14:41.638)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (14:45.313)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (14:53.441)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (15:04.445)
Well said, exactly, exactly. Now the other thing that we still found was with the, I would say proliferation of independent evaluation agencies, what we would get a lot was sometimes people would ask us from colleges and universities, well, why are you recommending this when X, Y, and Z is recommending this? And we would always say, well, our position is based on these
Matt Sterenberg (15:04.662)
what you’re queuing up for them.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (15:34.165)
This research on this information we have. But what we found was that we probably need to have something even more cohesive. And one of the benefits of our membership with the Association for International Credential Evaluators, which is a nonprofit professional association for companies that provide credential evaluation services in the US, it has a very rigorous application process. It’s kind of our method of accrediting, our service. And it’s a three-part accreditation or review process. It’s a very detailed application. Then we’re given samples of evaluation reports. I’m sorry, samples of credentials to evaluate. And there can be some tricky ones in there. There could be a fake diploma in there. So it’s, you know. And then once…
Matt Sterenberg (16:31.362)
They’re trying to get you. They’re trying to, yeah.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (16:32.669)
Yeah, yeah, it’s very much to see, you know, what are you using? What sources are you referring to? What is your technique in doing this? What standards are you applying? And thirdly, when if you meet all those two, then it’s a site visit. And a site visit is to assess your operation, your library. Excuse me. What references do you have?
And this is why it’s so important to have access to historical data, because you can’t just base things on what you can extract from the internet. You really do need to have substantial published information. So one of the things that the association has set out to do in the past eight to ten years was establishing some cohesive standards whereby all members agree to adhere to.
And that is so that a membership with AIC guarantees that if you go to a CEI or another, you know, endorse member or another, the outcome is going to be the same. You’re not going to, you cannot go shopping around because you say, oh, ACI is, you know, very strict with this, but so-and-so is not because that doesn’t make sense to us. How can, how can one degree be so varied?
Matt Sterenberg (17:58.026)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (18:00.901)
And I can understand if we are maybe off by a credit here or there in the credit calculation, but an actual degree equivalency can’t be that diverse. You know? Right.
Matt Sterenberg (18:12.094)
And think about it from the learner’s perspective, from the student’s perspective, where, let’s say I apply to five different institutions, they all use a different credential evaluator, and my credits are all over the map, that’s going to be very confusing to me, and it’s not going to seem fair.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (18:27.155)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (18:30.377)
It’s not going to seem fair, no. So what the association decided was that we need to have some agreed upon standards. And this took some, you know, a subcommittee had met. We invited members of ACRO, members of NAFSA, members of universities, community colleges to give their input. So it wasn’t just, again, it wasn’t done in a vacuum. And we.
Matt Sterenberg (18:56.882)
and nothing can get done in education without a subcommittee. You know, you need a committee and a subcommittee, you know.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (18:59.929)
Oh my gosh, yes. You need a committee, subcommittee, and all of that. But the end result was that we all agreed that our principal standards on certain qualifications are going to be uniform. For example, we shared the same opinion on how we assess academic degrees to be considered equivalent to US bachelor’s.
And one of the criteria is that the minimum entry criteria to the program has to be comparable to what we consider our senior high school graduation in the United States. And that the length of the program that the person studied is no less than four years of full time education. It’s not three years. It’s four full years. Now it could be three years, four years done in three. That’s fine. But it can’t be a three year program.
Matt Sterenberg (19:45.023)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (19:58.049)
and that this particular degree allows the person to go on for more advanced education in their home country. So that became our one of our main criteria. So if we receive a three-year degree after what we consider to be high school equivalent, we don’t consider that as part of the AIC standards. None of us consider it as comparable to a bachelor’s degree because we technically see one year of full-time education. The person may have solid courses in their field of specialty, but they’re still one year short. So that’s kind of an example of standards. We have established standards on grade calculation, we’ve established standards on what criteria to look for to determine accreditation. And we’ve followed these with annual symposium that-discuss this and we share this kind of these findings with colleagues in the field. It’s been very, very valuable. And it gives us this extra layer of confidence and solidarity that we agree upon these very key issues.
Matt Sterenberg (21:11.294)
Yeah, and you don’t want to fly by night, you know, credential evaluation company to be able to come in and, you know, the, these admissions offices, for instance, they, you know, might want as many students as possible, or they maybe don’t want to know all the information, like make it easy for me to say yes. And the fact that you have standards really prevents that. And I think it also helps you track whether or not
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (21:29.014)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (21:35.126)
Matt Sterenberg (21:38.546)
You, your standards need to evolve. So you basically say, what are the outcomes of these students? Right? What are we hearing from admissions offices? Are we actually, are the standards correct? Or do we need to, to evolve them? And you can do it in one central place rather than having to get the word out that, oh, maybe we should think about this differently or actually in India, they’ve changed a few things here. You have at least one body.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (21:41.333)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (21:47.059)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (22:00.256)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (22:03.553)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (22:07.333)
Mm-hmm. No, it’s… I mean, you hit that on the nail because I’ll use an example without naming names, but a state university approached us several years ago, asking us this very question about, how do you treat three-year computer science degrees from India? And very immediately we said, we recognize them as a solid three years of undergraduate with one year of deficiency.
Matt Sterenberg (22:07.394)
to be able to go to make any changes that you need to.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (22:37.521)
And their response was that what they were finding was that they were working with one or two other evaluation services that were a little bit more liberal or lenient. And they were recommending that to be those degrees to be comparable to a bachelor’s degree. And the standards they were using was that some of these degrees are coming from elite institutions and so, you know, the rigors of that, which to me again is.
You’re playing with fire here because a bachelor’s degree from Harvard or a bachelor’s degree from a state institution, it’s a bachelor’s degree. You’re not going to say because you got your bachelor’s from a state and this it’s not really a bachelor. It’s a bachelor’s degree, but one it just happens to be from an elite institution. Exactly.
Matt Sterenberg (23:26.014)
And what is even, what does elite even mean? You know, you could be the worst student at the best institution, or you could be the best student at the worst institution. You know, so that’s very difficult. So anyways, continue, yeah.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (23:34.109)
at the best institutions? Correct, correct. So, and no, and so what their findings were that the faculty at their graduate school had started seeing that some of these individuals were not performing as well as those who were coming in with four-year degrees. And so they were questioning, is this really?
Maybe this version? Correct.
Matt Sterenberg (24:04.362)
And they wanted to know if, if they were, if, if every evaluator was in the same boat and you say, no, actually we, yeah, that’s yeah.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (24:13.193)
We said no, and we’ve been working with them since. And they would say, well, if it’s a three year, we’re going to admit them, but with one year of undergraduate deficiency, they would need to do those courses, whether back in their country or here. So they wouldn’t just automatically admit them into their graduate program. So that’s an example. Another example of…of this absence of standards or absence of knowledge about education systems is we’re working with a state professional licensing board. Without going into details about that, they were questioning why we hadn’t recognized a student’s credentials from a particular country who had studied a particular field in the allied health and that we had considered to be a vocational technical program at the high school level. They wanted to see, why isn’t this college credit? Why isn’t this even a bachelor’s?
They hadn’t even looked at the person’s date of birth because you can very easily kind of determine based on the person’s date of birth, they should have graduated from high school. At best, let’s say the year 2000. And here they are showing that they finished this program in the year 2000. They’re about 17 years old and you think this is a university program.
So we tried to explain to them, well, this person to have got into this would have had to, was 12 years old. This program is for people. And it’s not, even though it sounds like it is this health professional, let’s say radiology. I mean, I’m just using that. It’s not in that same level that is taught at the university. It’s just think about this person’s intellectual and maturity level and the syllabus and the criteria. Anyway, it’s…
Matt Sterenberg (25:52.894)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (26:13.513)
Those are the kind of things that if you’re not familiar and you’re simply just looking at the credential, you’re saying, well, this thing’s really, you know, this is university studies. And you have to say, not quite.
Matt Sterenberg (26:26.83)
And a credential is always a little bit opaque. Even, I mean, think about a college transcript. You know, the naming convention on some of these courses is like, what is the course really about? You know, it’s, you know, analyzing, you know, femininity in the early middle ages. You know, it’s like, well, what is the equivalent of that? What’s the actual?
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (26:30.257)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (26:36.934)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (26:41.87)
It’s very true
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (26:50.257)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (26:56.105)
No, it’s true. Yeah.
Matt Sterenberg (26:56.254)
So Jasmine, we started off with, why is international credential evaluation so hard? Right? So now I’m giving you a magic wand, okay? And you can, with this magic wand, change anything you want to make international credential evaluation easier, or let’s say more efficient or just better. What are you doing with that?
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (27:22.056)
Well, I can speak for ourselves. I think we’ve kind of used a bit of that magic wand already, where we have secured so much of our formerly evaluated credentials into this really robust database that we can constantly refer to. It almost becomes like you’re a lawyer. You’re always looking for precedence. You don’t want to recreate the wheel.
So we go back and we search and we find and we see that we have not just one but probably, you know, good number of samples that we can refer to whether it’s the credentials or the evaluation. So having technology at our fingertips is so much better because I go back to the days where we literally had to go and physically find a file.
And when I started in this field, they had these things called microfiche, if you remember, they’re like little films that you had to run through. So our lives have become a lot more streamlined when it comes to access. So if you’re really serious about this work, you do need to keep records of your previously evaluated credentials so that you can reference.
So that you also that you’re not recreating or that you’re not recommending something that differs from someone else because chances are they know each other and someone will come and say well my friend who went to the same school you gave him x y and z and you didn’t give me this and this used to happen back in the day but we don’t see that happening because it’s that those loop holes have been really closed and things are tightened so for me using technology wisely
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (29:20.377)
Digital technology is one of the, I think in my opinion, the godsend in this field, because the information is now at your fingertips. To not be able to verify records is, I kind of doubt the person’s expertise if they don’t do that crucial step.
Matt Sterenberg (29:45.822)
And speaking of technology, you know, at Parchment, we care about, you know, our mission is turning credentials into opportunities. So what that looks like is, you know, the first iteration was. Credentials are paper-based, right? How do we make them digital? And now there’s the movement to not just digital, but data, right? There’s data embedded or sending it not just as a PDF, but as data. And then it’s okay. Once it’s sent as data, how do you.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (29:53.237)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (30:01.691)
Matt Sterenberg (30:14.194)
Automatically input that into a system so that you can set it up so that it can spit out a result quickly. So that’s kind of the dream. It’s a data file and it’s spinning out a result. We think about that from like, let’s say college to college, I’d be able to see immediately what my transfer credit is or high school to college. I can immediately get an admissions decision based on my high school transcript. Is that ever possible?
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (30:16.745)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (30:22.717)
Yes, that’s the dream, yes.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (30:32.071)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (30:35.384)
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (30:40.445)
Yes, I think so. Yeah, I think so. I think some organizations have embraced that. They’re looking at having some of that. We have some of that. We’re constantly working with our IT group and so forth to see how can we fine tune this even more. How can we make this so that information that is entered at the front end.
Matt Sterenberg (30:42.742)
with international credentials, you think it’s a reality?
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (31:09.533)
from the application, let’s say, because everything is done online now. How can some of that already be captured and populated on a document that will then be the evaluation? I mean, there are certain elements that can be fully automated right away, and we kind of have that done. The other step is how do you capture the data that’s on the academic transcripts? That’s where that portability is still lacking, because a transcript from…
A university, let’s say, in Nigeria, is not designed to be able to capture that data. And so there still requires some manual interaction with the documentation. But I would say we’re 30% covered. And then even in those areas, this is why I was saying that it’s important to have previous evaluations and documents archived because there’s a lot of similarities between programs. So if you have someone who’s studied Bachelor of Science in Commerce at XYZ University and you have another applicant, I would say 90% of the courses are going to be the same because many countries have sort of these static programs, required courses.
So you can use a previously evaluated file as your template and just make some minor changes. So some things can be automated or streamlined in such a way that can expedite the evaluation process. We’re not fortunate yet to have it done such that it’s, you know, so automatic. At the end, you still need the judgment of the expert to give it the check mark that this is accurate because no matter what technology does, there’s still some things that it can’t, you know, add two and two together. You know, someone has a three year bachelor’s and then has a one year postgraduate diploma and then goes back and does another three years and how do you, you know, work with that? Do you combine them all? You know, do you, so that’s where it becomes a little bit more of the art and not the science.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (33:27.733)
The science is easy when it’s just one credential. Ha ha ha. Yes. Mm-hmm.
Matt Sterenberg (33:31.106)
Well, we haven’t even mastered it in the US. I mean, we’re having a hard enough time sending data from one state to the other, because a state says, here’s our data system and here’s how we wanna send it. And another state says, well, that’s not how we wanna consume it. So we have enough challenges domestically. So yeah. Yeah.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (33:42.06)
That’s what I mean. Yeah.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (33:49.385)
And then imagine internationally and all the thousands of universities and there are certain countries that still use very archaic methods of generating their academic reports, their transcripts. Some things are half-handwritten, typed, computerized. It’s just this… completely, completely. Mm-hmm. Correct.
Matt Sterenberg (34:11.746)
which makes it harder to evaluate, you know, the authenticity or the reputability of it, yeah. Well, Jasmine, thank you so much for joining me. I learned a lot and hopefully we’ll continue the conversation about international credential evaluation.
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert (34:23.873)
It’s been a pleasure. Thanks Matt. Thank you again. I’d love that. Love that. Yeah. Thanks so much Matt. Take care. Bye bye.