18 May 2012

Remaking the transcript

Why are university transcripts invariably design disasters?

First, most transcripts look like they’ve been made on daisy wheel printers from the early 1980s, using a Courier-like font. Has nobody shown Registrar’s offices that we have high quality laser printers and ink jet printers now?

Second, transcripts are often set in ALL CAPITALS. And there are often strange offset lines and weird spacing.

Third, most transcripts give extremely truncated class names. While this might be fine for some common introductory classes, it makes figuring out a lot of advanced classes something like figuring out a cryptic crossword puzzle. Even some subject names are not immediately obvious, and different institutions often use different abbreviations for the same subjects.

Fourth, many transcripts (including my own university) are printed in landscape mode. When I’m reviewing an application, I constantly have to turn pages sideways just for those transcripts. It’s annoying.

Fifth, many transcripts are printed on coloured paper imprinted with complex backgrounds. Usually, the university’s logo is right smack dab in the middle of the page where all the text that you are trying to read is. It’s like deliberately throwing mud on a highway sign.

Sixth, they’re still on paper. Paper. Actual molecules that have to be printed off, stuck in an envelope, and delivered by machines and people across hundreds of miles.

Seven, transcripts vary wildly from institution to institution. It’s like each state or province printing its own money.

Some of these problems can be fixed by just having someone care redo the design with some attention to detail. Choosing a well-designed monospaced font, or even better, simply going to a proportional font in a good table, using sentence casing and complete words, are not difficult things to do.

The bigger set of problems comes because some of these features are attempts to prevent document forgery. But even here, the tools are crude. Instead of garish coloured paper with the university logo right on the stuff you’re trying to read, why not watermarked paper, where you can see the university logo when backlit? Why not a shiny foil logo in a corner? A hologram strip along an edge?

And why do we have to go through this tedious process of handling paper? Come on. We have moved past this. If the financial industry were at the same level of technology as transcripts, we would all still be using paper money for every purchase and no bank cards, credit cards, or online banking.

There has got to be a way whereby someone with legitimate transcript request could go to a university website and get a verifiable transcript in some sort of PDF format. The student gets some sort of security code that they provide to the person who wants the transcript. The recipient goes to the university website, logs on, makes the request. Some sort of unique barcode or QR code could be generated dynamically and added to the transcript PDF to ensure authenticity.

And while we’re at it, let’s make transcripts customizable. Every transcript shows classes in chronological order. But when I’m reviewing transcripts, I often only care about the major, or particular subjects. That should be possible.

There’s got to be a great business opportunity here for someone.

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