I just finished writing a brief “monitoring report” for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), my institution’s regional accreditor. This report follows up our site visit last November to reaffirm our accreditation.
The monitoring report was to affirm that we have now completely audited faculty files and ensured that official transcripts of all degree work for all faculty are now present in our personnel records. We were required to undertake this report because, when the site-visit team came to my office to spot-check our faculty files, they found a fair proportion of them that didn’t include transcripts, including the first one they checked–which belonged to the faculty colleague chairing our HLC campus committee.
The distribution of these missing transcripts was quite interesting. Not surprisingly, a large portion of them belonged to very senior faculty, who were hired back in the days when official transcripts weren’t part of the expectation for faculty records. There were a few scattered incomplete files across our intermediate history (from, say, 20 years ago to five), and a small bubble of faculty hired more recently, including during my time here.
When we do a job search, we now ask for photocopies of transcripts of all degree work, and then request official transcripts when we make an offer. At my previous institution, the provost wouldn’t even issue a faculty contract to a new hire without having all of his or her official transcripts in hand, which could seriously delay hiring and genuinely handicapped candidates with international degrees, though we never had a faculty member teaching with an incomplete file.
In response to the HLC’s findings at our site visit, I’m trying to figure out how to ensure that we get complete files every time without slowing the hiring process, which already is sometimes delayed by criminal background checks or other formalities. One major problem is that various institutions radically differ in how responsive they are to transcript requests. In the case of some of our most recent hires, I know them well and am absolutely certain they requested official transcripts that we never received. I also know from experience in my own household, where my wife and I hold degrees from four different colleges and universities, that some of them send transcripts very quickly, while others may or may not get around to doing so at all.
I am opposed to asking candidates to submit official transcripts with their applications. First of all, it’s appallingly expensive–I can remember not too long ago that transcripts were free or cheap, but I did some research a couple of years ago and routinely found charges of as much as $15 per copy, even without express processing. This is an expense applicants shouldn’t have to bear at the front end, before they know that they have a serious chance at the job.
Second, if we were to require official transcripts with applications, many candidates who made a good-faith effort to comply would be kicked out of the pool if their degree-granting institutions didn’t send them to us in a timely fashion.
We do want to see copies, however. In my experience in four small institutions, we have always been curious about candidates’ academic preparation. We have never cared greatly about grades, but we are interested in candidates’ coursework both in and out of the discipline. Search committees can actually learn something significant about a candidate’s interests and preparation by looking at transcripts.
In some cases–particularly in a small faculty where many people teach a wide range of courses–you can discover that a particular candidate has specific preparation in an area where your curriculum could really use some help. To be clear, in the cases I have seen, copies of transcripts have never really hurt a candidate, and have helped a number of them get a closer look in the pool. We can also get a preliminary verification that the candidate has the degree she or he claims to have, though official transcripts are of course more reliable. The matter of transcripts during the job search is fraught with expense, logistical challenges, and questions of relevance. Clearly, though, the regional accreditors are paying close attention to official faculty credentials (if the HLC is, you may be sure that the others are as well), which gives university officials a great incentive to figure out how to integrate transcript requests into the hiring process.