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New ‘digital wallet’ puts students’ credentials at their fingertips

MyCreds provides students and graduates with fast, secure access to their official transcripts and other academic documents.

BY BECKY RYNOR | FEB 15 2021

For current or former students, waiting for copies of transcripts to wend their way between postsecondary institutions or to government agencies and potential employers can be a nail-biting experience under ideal conditions. Throw in a mail strike or other unanticipated disruption – say, a global pandemic – and the process can become that much more tenuous.

A new “credential wallet” aims to revolutionize the sharing of transcripts and other student credentials, as well as prevent theft, fraud, loss and delays. Called MyCreds (MesCertif in French), the new system was spearheaded by the Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC) and officially launched in December. It will allow students to securely store, view, control and share their official transcripts, diplomas, badges and other learning credentials.

“We made sure this meets the highest security standards in the world,” says Charmaine Hack, chair of the ARUCC National Network Project and registrar at Ryerson University. “These are official documents transmitted in an environment that is tamper-proof, end-to-end, mitigating fraud.”

Ryerson piloted the credential wallet with more than 10,000 students and graduates before the system was officially launched. There are now over 30 postsecondary institutions in varying stages of adopting it.

The platform and website are supported by two Vancouver based firms: Digitary, an internationally recognized document-issuing company; and Split Mango, a Canadian website design firm. Students will be able to access their credentials as their postsecondary institution joins the network and notifies them their digital wallet is available.

The platform promises to provide bilingual (French and English), 24/7 service and support, and stands to benefit certain demographics in particular, such as international students.

“While sharing student credentials can be challenging province-to-province, it is immeasurably more complicated for international students,” Ms. Hack notes. “They tell us incredible stories about how long it has taken them to pinpoint, track and document their transcripts.”

“Having that online system would have been a lot less traumatic in having to deal with a country that I had fled,” one international student, who asked to remain anonymous, told University Affairs. “My admission into my postgraduate program in Canada was delayed because they needed a paper transcript delivered by a deadline that was literally impossible to meet by post,” he recalls. “I also almost lost my scholarship of approximately $80,000 because they couldn’t confirm my academic level even though I was able to provide a verified scanned version of it.”

Seneca College registrar Sharon Kinasz says similar situations had many postsecondary institutions already looking for ways to transition away from manually copying, verifying and mailing transcripts. “We have an abundance of international students that require documents to be included in various applications,” she says. “Colleges and universities do their best to be timely and move things forward, but [MyCreds] puts control in the hands of the students – and they want that control.”

In 2019, McMaster University was the first Canadian university to issue digital diplomas, following the lead of several American universities, says McMaster registrar Melissa Poole. “This was definitely groundbreaking,” she says. “We approached it with a bit of trepidation, but as the project progressed, we did our analysis and realized the potential benefits to students. It was a no-brainer to move forward with it.”

She agrees preventing fraud is one of the benefits of going digital but says COVID-19 underscored the need to give students control over their credentials, especially those experiencing upheaval in their lives.

“When COVID-19 hit, everything closed down,” she says. “For us, it hit during our convocation season when we would have been printing diplomas. It was so nice to be able to put that [digital] diploma into a student’s hands during a time of upheaval. This is one of the really big benefits of digital credentials.”

A McMaster alumna, Ms. Poole says she has already had her own diploma and credentials uploaded to the new network. “It was so empowering,” she says. “Suddenly it was all there on my phone.”

ARUCC plans to have the online network fully launched by June of this year, with each member institution choosing its own comfort level in terms of the digital credentials it offers. Ms. Hack says this will allow for differing regional and institutional capacities, one of the principles ARUCC took into this project.

“Bigger institutions have more learners who will benefit from this,” she says. “But the smaller institutions that are feeling pressured to adopt these kinds of technologies now have a framework for support to walk them through this. They will definitely benefit by being able to leverage the power of the shared service.”

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