Higher Education and the Blockchain Ecosystem

By Melissa Layne, Associate Vice President of Research and Innovation, American Public University System (APUS)

Melissa Layne, Associate Vice President of Research and Innovation, American Public University System (APUS)

Each department within a higher education institution, directly or indirectly, interacts with the learner and with each other. Most departments work with external entities and must exchange information, documents, money, contracts, media, certification and accreditation documents. Most, if not all, departments work with accrediting bodies and professional organizations. Many work with vendors and consultants.

All of these transactions are fair game for blockchain.  And once you get a firm grasp on blockchain, you will be able to explore more potential applications, regardless of your department. 

Admissions: When a student is admitted, the college or university collects and validates personal, academic and governmental informationEventually, when a student reaches graduation, he or she will have a multitude of validated assets that demonstrate proficiencies, competencies, and skills within their area of focus. When graduates start applying for jobs, they can use their ePortfolio to provide employers with a complete picture of their skills and experience—perhaps without even conducting a formal interview. For the admissions department, one of the larger roles blockchain technology plays is with storing and recording forms and documents, verification of some of these items, and identity verification.

Registrar & Student Services: Using blockchain, an educational organization can issue a secure, unalterable, pre-validated credential to a student. Students no longer have to pay for their own official transcripts (paper or digital), and institutions no longer have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to third-party digital credential-issuing services. Blockchained digital credentials greatly reduce an already cumbersome and costly process to a single step. This makes accessing a digital credential easier and instant for students, governmental agencies, graduate schools and employers.

"Once you get a firm grasp on blockchain, you will be able to explore more potential applications, regardless of your department"

Academics: Time-stamping and documenting, processes, procedures, instructor teaching and student learning activity data, faculty research and achievements, and administrative tasks are just a few of the benefits blockchain provides academic departments.

Accreditation: Whether proving the correlation between learning objectives and the corresponding content or demonstrating compliance with industry standards, the accreditation process can be complex and difficult for all parties involved. It is not uncommon for accrediting bodies to take weeks or months, including on-site visits, to comb through documentation that took the institution itself months to compile. In aggregate, the accreditation process can be time-consuming, expensive and nerve-wracking for all involved. Blockchain captures, verifies and records all of the critical data used in the accreditation process.

Finance: As blockchain technology is, by design, a digital ledger, a smart contract, and a verifier, finance and accounting departments are very well-poised for integration. There are a number of areas in which both blockchain technology and cryptocurrency is affecting finance and accounting departments, including contract processing, accounts receivable, storage of financial records, and internal supply chains.

Institutional Research: The data that admissions departments collect on students’ demographic and academic information in turn provides institutional research (IR) departments with initial data that is continually built upon over a students’ academic journey. This longitudinal data is valuable as it provides insights on retention, progression and completion over time. In addition to student data, IR is the gatekeeper for other institutional data as well. However, if to envision IR as the manager of data and accompanying documents and reports, rather than just a gatekeeper, then we are beginning to grasp what a shareable, distributed, ledger is—it’s shared in real-time with those authorized to view it from all of the other departments.

Legal: The legal profession has probably been impacted by blockchain the most. Drafting, reviewing, translating, negotiating allocating risk and control are typical aspects related to the processing of a contract. A well-developed contract is meant to form an underlying trust between the parties taking part in the transaction. Interestingly, “Legal Tech”(platforms, services and software developed for use by legal professionals) is aimed toward making the legal profession more and more of a virtual experience.

Human Resources: Human resources departments are prime for blockchain because it eliminates many time-consuming tasks, processes and procedures. Some of the areas where inefficiencies can be reduced include education and employer verification, employer credit reports, employee onboarding and training, and resumes, CVs and portfolios.

Information Technology: Currently, your information—name, address, social security number, etc.—is stored in identity management systems and can share it with third parties. Blockchain can be leveraged to store permissions across the distributed network and only allow third-party systems access to this personal information. Rather than a third-party vendor, blockchain gives absolute control over whom one shares their information.

This ultimately removes the responsibility for IT departments to manage users’ credentials since the employees manage their own. Also eliminated is the need for SSO, Active Directory, multi-step authentication and application-specific security.

Alumni Relations: Like other departments in an academic institution, alumni relations departments are also being encouraged to leverage innovation alongside tight budgets. Some assets for which alumni departments might consider blockchain include record, index and track giving patterns; donor profile information; and estate planning or legal services for donors. 

Employers: After a student graduates, there is no need for an employer to contact the college or university to verify a student’s identity, diploma or accompanying credentials for potential employment. The student could simply send a link that takes the employer directly to their digitally blockchained portfolio, which virtually eliminates the possibility of resume fraud.

Blockchain has transformational potential across the entire academic institutional ecosystem.  If you have not yet considered integrating blockchain into your systems, I recommend you do so starting today.

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