The Trusty Registrar

This post is for those new to the registrar ranks and perhaps it will serve as a refresher for the ol’ timers.

In my last post, we parsed the definition of an academic transcript. Ad nauseum. Really ad nauseum. In this post, I hope to have less nausea and more inspiration.

I’m following the lead of our colleagues who authored and prepared the National Transcript Guide, published by the Association of Registrars of Universities and Colleges in Canada. On page 20 of the guide, you will find the definition of a transcript and some basic guiding principles. Today we are looking at the first principle, which says:

The transcript is a trusted document and all efforts should be made to avoid undermining this trust.

This is a self-evident statement and hardly needs much explanation. The transcript is the official summary of a student’s academic record. We use it to verify that a student has achieved certain credentials and we use it to show what courses students have taken and how they have achieved in their studies. The transcript is used by governments, immigration officers, employers, etc. to make important decisions such as whether to let a person enter a country, whether a person is qualified for employment, and many other things. We rely on the transcript and it must be a trustworthy document in order to serve these purposes.

How do we maintain its trustworthiness? There are several ways we do this.

  1. We make sure the document is secure. We most often do this by printing it on special paper with certain security features, much like banks do with cheques (checks for my American friends). These features might be a hologram, micro printing, watermarks, heat activated thing-a-ma-jigs that change colour when we put our thumb on them, multi-coloured threads woven into the paper that only show up under black lights, etc. We must ensure that the paper we use is stored securely. Fraud experts tell us that most cases of fraud with transcripts happen either as inside jobs (someone inside the university falsifies a transcript) or the supply chain for the paper is compromised. Keep your paper secure, my friends. And make sure your paper supplier does too.
  2. We don’t change the information on the transcript willy-nilly. I have been asked by students how much it costs to change a grade on their transcript. My response is, “How much would it cost to pay me for the loss of my career and damages to my reputation?” That usually answers that question! Don’t do it, my friends.
  3. We distribute and receive transcripts in a secure manner. This means that when we send them out from our institution we take pains to make sure that it would be difficult to tamper with them. We might put them in an envelope with our school’s letterhead on it, and seal the envelope. Some schools add an additional seal or sticker over the enclosure. Some schools have a special stamp that they add over the enclosure which would show if the seal was broken. When we receive transcripts, we check for these things to be in place. In addition to this, when (or if) we permit transcripts to be given directly to the student, we indicate this either on transcript or the envelop or both with the statement: “Distributed to the student.” When we receive a transcript that says this, we do not accept it as an official document. This means that we might accept it as an interim transcript, but we will not update a student’s record on this basis, but instead we require the transcript to be sent directly from one university to another, without having it available to a student (which implies that students may be tempted to alter the transcript if they have the chance). Now that universities are catching up with technology, we are developing means to send transcripts electronically, and hopefully increasing security at the same time. Of course, this is an illusion as this leaves us all open to the risk of hackers, but as we develop the technology we are also working hard to ensure its security.

Transcripts are trustworthy documents. Registrars are charged with the trust of keeping them so.


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