Transcripts 2.0: Why grades alone aren’t good enough in the Knowledge Economy

This month the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of October, there were 5.5 million job openings in the United States, a number that is not as promising as it appears at first glance. While it’s always a positive to see companies hiring, that high number, which has remained steady over most of the year, indicates the problem businesses have in finding qualified workers to fill open positions.

In his new book, There is Life After College, Jeff Selingo describes the fact that businesses desire skills like critical thinking and problem-solving, but no longer assume these are part of the college education. For Selingo, this raises the question: Is it time to rethink the way credentialing works?

Consider what an undergraduate transcript—unchanged for decades if not centuries—looks like to the modern hiring manager. There are infinite experiences and skill sets that could culminate in a student’s 3.7 GPA, but if the employer prioritizes strong critical thinking skills, that number is virtually meaningless.

Innovative colleges and universities are beginning to adopt new strategies for teaching and authenticating the skills students learn. These can take the form of digital badges like the CORE Badges offered at Lipscomb University, or the enhanced transcripts pioneered by Elon and Stanford University. Programs like these allow students to showcase soft skills like problem-solving, oral and written communication, and information literacy that might otherwise have been hidden to prospective employers or graduate programs.

Digital badges and enhanced transcripts present the rare win-win-win proposition. Students are better able to demonstrate their aptitude across a variety of skill sets; academic institutions fulfill the promise of higher ed in preparing students for the real world; and businesses can more easily search for and identify qualified applicants for their workforce. What’s more, the assessment opportunities such digital programs offer schools is a valuable resource, the potential of which we’re only beginning to understand.

As new technologies open up how we teach and recognize student skills, we have a unique opportunity to enrich academic transcripts. It’s about time transcripts outgrew the standard old list of courses and grades, and became a living record illuminating how a person thinks and interacts.