Thousands of community college students transfer to Arizona State University every year, some before obtaining their associate’s degrees. While many will successfully graduate from Arizona State with a bachelor’s degree, the remainder risk joining the 37 million Americans with some college credit but no degree.
To counter this, Arizona State is working with local community colleges to share transfer students’ academic records, enabling colleges to monitor when their former students have earned enough credits to be awarded an associate’s degree — a process known as reverse transfer.
But this process is far from straightforward. Data sharing is dependent on students’ permission, and communication between the university and the college can be stilted. Additionally, community colleges have to decode student records presented in different formats and decide whether the courses students take at a university are equivalent to their own.
Arizona State is rethinking how this student data might be exchanged. In partnership with Salesforce, the university’s central enterprise unit, EdPlus, is creating a student data network that will enable participating institutions to share and verify students’ academic records using a distributed ledger technology such as blockchain.
Donna Kidwell, chief technology officer at EdPlus, said that reverse transfer is just one area where the institution hopes to make its network of verifiable and secure credentials useful. The technology could, for example, be used to help global institutions and employers verify the academic qualifications of refugees. “We would like to do work in that space, but it’s a really hard issue to solve,” she said. For now, transfer credit represents a more manageable arena for the university to focus its blockchain efforts.
“We have quite a lot of sophistication in our transfer credit system already — we know what it takes to map the learning experience of one institution to another,” she said. “So we’re not starting from scratch. We already have processes in place.”
One of the aims of the project is to make student information “bi-directional” so that once students transfer to Arizona State, the community college they transfer from will continue to receive feedback on their progress, said Kidwell. Until recently, this wasn’t happening with any regularity, she said. Some colleges weren’t even aware when their students enrolled at Arizona State.
“We want to optimize those pathways back and forth between us and facilitate conversations with faculty on both sides so that we can support students who are creating their own path towards a degree,” said Kidwell. It’s possible that greater insight into these “DIY” student journeys might also help the university understand where there are new program opportunities, she said.