New Technology Raises Another Question

Using new technologies sometimes raises new problems or questions.

When we scan paper transcripts and other documents to turn them into electronic files, a question arises about what to do with the paper documents? This question is a real one as students often ask us to return transcripts or other documents to them once we’ve scanned them. 

I think there are a few ways to consider this question. First, if you have a policy that tells students that you will claim ownership of the documents, then you don’t have to return them. However, this can sound like saying, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Right. Tell that to a judge and see where it gets you. But it is a first step. If the student knows this is your policy and still gives the papers to you, I think it is a defensible policy.

Should we return official documents such as high school transcripts to students after we scan the documents? In 99.9% of situations, I say no.  We should keep an original on file for at least a short period of time (e.g., for a year) as a way to ensure file integrity. Sometimes things can get mixed up or errors can be made or the transcript might turn out to be forged, etc. To immediately return or dispose of the original transcript means we don’t have the original document to resolve the problem. Therefore, if we keep the document for a period of time it really becomes school property.

A second reason we should not return official documents arises from this: if we retain the document for a length of time, it becomes a dated (i.e., out-of-date) document. Because we are not the creators of these documents or the information that supports these documents, the information on them becomes out of date. In other words, a student may have picked up another high school course in the meantime or other actions may have occurred that affect other official documents and it’s just not a good idea to return them to the student. My friend and colleague Glenn Keeler from The King’s University College made a great comment on how these documents get tainted here.

There’s another important reason not to return the transcript. In the vast majority of cases schools receive transcripts sent to them in a secure manner, meaning they’re sent directly to the school, not to the student. There’s an integrity thing going on – the document should be kept by the intended recipient. We should not play the middle-man here by giving a document to students (or anyone else) that was sent to us for our purposes. That’s just inappropriate.

I believe there’s always room for exceptions. For example, one student we admitted was from a country that issues one and only one transcript to students – ever. The student informed us of this upon application and requested that he be permitted to retain his transcript. We verified it with his country of origin and made a certified copy and gave him his transcript back. Obviously, this is a rare case, but these will come up from time-to-time. Students may come to us from war-ravaged countries as refugees and they may only have access to the documents they bring with them at the time, with no chance to get any others. I think it’s a matter of dignity, respect and grace (yes, it’s a moral issue) to help them as best we can.

What does your school do in these cases? Do you agree with me about this post? Make a comment – help us get better at what we do.


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