We live in a digital world. A world where instant satisfaction and accessibility are expected. Yet for many graduates, the process of receiving, retrieving, sharing, and verifying their certificates of completion is slow and outdated. This can often create a frustrating or sometimes costly recipient experience, especially if their original certificate requires replacement. To solve this pain point for candidates, issuers need to consider the benefits of digital certificates for higher education and how digital credentials can replace or supplement traditional academic certificates.
What is an academic certificate?
Academic certificates in higher education such as degrees, diplomas, undergraduate certificates, and master’s certificates are traditionally physical documents that are awarded to individuals on successful completion of a specific certification. The student award certificate provides proof of higher education for third-parties including employers, recruiters, and admissions departments.
What is a digital certificate?
Digital certificates are the modern evolution of traditional academic certificates. They are hosted on a dedicated credential page with options to share and embed. Digital certificates present all the same information as a traditional certificate and provide room for additional evidence such as transcripts, honor roll recognition, exam results, worksheets, and dissertation grades. The credential page also includes details about the higher education program, the issuing institution, and a link to other credentials held by the recipient.
The development of digital certificates in higher education
For many years, there has been a recurring issue of fraud around higher education certificates. From fake university websites to diploma mills, degree fraud is a global problem as candidates try to set themselves apart in a competitive job market. Thousands of organizations around the world have fallen prey to candidates claiming false degrees, even those who hire positions of power in the medical and legal sectors. To combat fraud, some educational institutions are considering or have started to offer digital certificates alongside their traditional academic achievement certificates. The move has been well received by recipients who want better accessibility of their certificates, in addition to shareability and portability benefits.
Advantages of digital certificates vs academic certificates
Security and protection against fraud is just one advantage of digital certificates compared to academic certificates. Replacing or supplementing traditional academic certificates with digital credentials, including digital certificates, digital badges, and blockchain credentials, also benefits institutions and their graduates in the following ways.
Depending on the school and the type of certificate, replacement degree or diploma certificates can cost between $25 to $150 each time. There may also be a delay in receiving the replacement certificate, and a risk of the replacement getting lost in the mail. This can create issues where evidence of a graduation certificate is required to prove eligibility to work or pursue additional education. In comparison, digital certificates are always-online and can be bookmarked, downloaded as a PDF, or added to smartphone devices for easy retrieval.
Receiving an academic certificate is an exciting moment for graduates and they want to celebrate with friends, family, and peers. As many academic certificates are shared as physical documents, this means taking a photo to share on a social media timeline or send out in an email. However, in the UK and occasionally in the US, graduates are actively discouraged from photographing their certificate to share publicly in a bid to reduce degree fraud. In comparison, digital certificates are made to be shared. In just one-click, graduates can share their digital certificate of achievement to their preferred social media network. They can also add their certificate to their LinkedIn profile, or embed their digital credentials in their email signature.
Fraudulently created or claimed higher education certificates can be difficult to track and if an organization doesn’t do their due diligence to investigate the authenticity of a certificate, it can pass beneath the radar entirely. The barrier to degree fraud is low, often only requiring access to photo-editing software to create a fraudulent certificate. Digital certificates provide increased levels of security against fraud using bank-level encryption and issuer verification. Additionally, digital certificates can be written to the blockchain to create tamper-proof records of issuance that are close to impossible to edit or remove.
The verification process for academic certificates can be slow and costly for both recipients and institutions. If verification hasn’t been outsourced or automated (both which create additional cost), this also creates a time commitment for administrative departments. Third-parties including hiring managers and recruiters may be forced to wait for verification which can slow-down recruitment and onboarding. There is also a cost incurred for performing background checks. In comparison, digital certificates are verified in seconds from the dedicated credential page, saving both time and money for all parties involved.
Academic institutions are not risk-exempt from closure, even those that have existed for over a century. This creates issues for recipients where no alternative method of verification is provided or replacement certificates are no longer available, and they are concerned that their efforts can no longer be authenticated. Digital certificates remain online and accessible, even if the issuing institution faces closure. This provides guaranteed longevity for a graduate’s academic achievements.
Like many important documents, graduates aren’t carrying their academic certificate around wherever they go, particularly as they can carry a high cost of replacement when lost. Digital credentials can be uploaded to digital wallet cards on smartphone devices. This allows recipients to carry their career-advancing credentials and records of academic excellence on-the-go and present them wherever they are required as proof of eligibility in a few seconds.
There are many parts to a higher education certification including individual modules, end of term exams, and dissertations. Traditional academic certificates may allude to this information but often carry additional costs for a full academic transcript. Digital credentials issued through Accredible are format-agnostic, and can be issued as either a digital certificate, open badge compliant digital badge, or both. As our pricing model is per-unique recipient rather than per-credential, this provides institutions with a cost-effective means of recognizing multiple achievements throughout a student’s time at university or college. This serves as motivation and encouragement leading up to the final certificate and provides a clearer picture of a candidate’s competencies and experience.
Many candidates still like to receive a physical record of their higher education achievements and digital credentials don’t restrict the ability to provide printable awards. Issuing institutions can add a scannable QR-code to their certificate designs and enable high-quality printing of their issued certificates. The QR-code is linked to the live digital version of the certificate which includes the additional supplementary information and the ability to verify the credential. The candidate can easily print their certificate from home or have it professionally printed. Graduates still get to own a physical copy of their certificate but the issuing authority no longer has to carry the cost of printing, packaging, and shipping.
In addition to the ability to issue format-agnostic digital credentials, Accredible offers the ability to create digital credential learning pathways, through a feature called Pathways. Learning pathways are groupings of required or optional credentials that are earned by a candidate working towards a high-value certification. Candidates gain greater visibility into what requirements they must satisfy in order to earn the end credential and gain milestone credentials as they progress through the learning journey. Pathways are a great way to motivate candidates to reach course completion and keep them engaged. They also simplify the process for issuers to track how candidates progress through a learning pathway, and give them the insight and visibility to make informed decisions.
Accredible offers two dedicated design tools for creating fantastic-looking digital credentials, the badge designer and the certificate designer. Each tool offers an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface and a library of editable certificate templates to help issuers get started. Using digital certificates, issuers also have the ability to update live designs, should important information need to be amended such as stakeholder signatures. The award certificate templates help issuers to identify necessary attributes such as the graduate name, issue date, and course name. Attributes automatically return the target information from supplied data on issuance, automating the process of issuing tens, hundreds, or thousands of certificates.
Digital credentials enhance the graduate experience by providing secure, portable, and shareable student achievements. For educational institutions, digital credentials protect against degree fraud, automate the issuance process, and modernize the verification process. Using Accredible, issuers benefit from format agnostic digital credentials that can be used to reward each step of the student learning journey. Institutions can also choose our custom white labeling package, enabling them to brand the entire recipient experience from the credential delivery email, to the dedicated credential page.
To learn more about how digital credentials can improve the graduate experience, protect career-advancing achievements, and save time and costs for your institution, book a demo with Accredible today.
Download our free Preparing to Launch with Digital Credentials Guide to research how supporting materials are used to inform candidates about upcoming digital credentials. Use the print-friendly checklists provided to plan strategies that improve visibility for the issuer and the program at launch.