Interview | Matthew Pittinsky Unleashes the Power of Parchment

Founded as a credentials data company with a mission to unleash education credentials, by unlocking the critical data they embody Parchment empowers individuals and organizations through the collection, promotion and sharing of education credentials. Whether academic, professional, or personal, credentials are “the coin of the realm in a knowledge economy,” says Matt Pittinksy, CEO of Parchment, who founded Blackboard in 1997. He left that company in 2008 to teach and conduct research as a sociologist with specializations in economic sociology, sociology of education, and social network analysis. “By unlocking the critical data these credentials embody, we help individuals put their credentials to work, communicating what they know and how well they know it,” he says. In this far-reaching interview, Matthew looks over the last decade in education and technology, talks about the state of academic analytics today, and shares his outlook on the immediate future. He also talks about a “quiet revolution” and what ‘connecting the data’ has to do with it all.

Victor: What’s in the name?

Matthew: We chose the name Parchment to ground ourselves in the material traditionally used to record credentials as we work to transform how credentials are moved and used today and in the future.

Victor: What does it offer and what are the benefits?

Matthew: Parchment has two main platforms, Docufide by Parchment and Parchment.com.

Docufide® by Parchment is the leading transcript exchange and intelligence platform. The solution enables the secure, rapid exchange of millions of electronic transcripts among more than 9,000 schools and universities, six state education agencies, and hundreds of thousands of individuals. Parchment clients have exchanged more than 4 million academic transcripts via the Docufide network. This number continues to grow as more and more organizations and individuals leverage the power of online credentials management.

Parchment.com is the Internet’s leading credential management site. Parchment.com makes it easy for people to retrieve their credentials from the various places where they are earned, and store in a central account where those credentials can be analyzed, shared, and promoted.  Available in a beta version, Parchment Discover offers colleges with intelligence from Parchment.com, providing information on where they stack up with peers and an opportunity to discover prospective students through their academic and demographic profiles and interest in peer institutions.

Victor: How is are these unique from other similar products and services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Matthew: Parchment enables individuals and organizations to interact across the Docufide by Parchment network according to their role, whether a student, high school, college, state education agency, or other institution such as the NCAA or the Common Application. The Docufide by Parchment network enables members to send and/or receive credentials data, make intelligent connections with institutions and people, analyze how they compare with others, and more.

While there are companies marketing eTranscript solutions none can claim an exchange network made up of more than 9,000 institutions, including nearly 30% of the nation’s high schools. On the student side, there are a number of websites that assist students with the transition to college, none of which enable these students to manage their transcript data, initiate the delivery of official transcripts and leverage that data to better understand admissions chances.

With the growing number of ways that credentials are being earned, whether to complete degrees through lower cost courses, or provide an alterative method to acquire and demonstrate skills; we expect that companies will emerge to support these credentials.  We believe that Parchment is uniquely positioned to provide a unified credential account to individuals where they will be able to collect and manage this new breed of credentials alongside their transcripts.

Victor: Let’s talk about development. When were these offerings developed and is do you have some interesting or relevant notes about their development history?

Matthew: Parchment, founded as Docufide in 2003, established itself as a trusted intermediary by providing a secure and more efficient way to send and receive transcripts. Critical to its success, the company made several key decisions early on that set the Docufide platform apart from earlier efforts to digitize the transcript, and helped to bring high schools, and later state education agencies and colleges, onto the platform.  The first was identifying the need of a full-service solution for transcript processing and not an exception process. This was accomplished by supporting transcript delivery through the mail, printed to security paper when the destination was not enrolled to receive electronic transcripts.  The second was developing technology that removed the burden of integration from the sending school, allowing them to install a client that required no more of an effort than installing a print driver.  The third was creating a Registrar/Guidance workflow that conformed to their transcript approval process while making it more efficient, saving the school time and money.

In 2005, the company was awarded its first statewide initiative covering all of the high schools and colleges in Indiana, and a contract with the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) awarded the following year.  Our first college sender was signed in 2008.

The work that was done by Docufide served as the foundation for the vision that I had for a company called Parchment.  At the same time that I was establishing Blackboard, I had an idea for a company where individuals could manage their credentials, leveraging that data to help connect individuals with colleges and employers.  When I joined Parchment at the beginning of 2011, I brought this vision for an individual credential account and an understanding of how credential data could be used to better match students to colleges and improve student outcomes.

Eight months after joining the company and rebranding as Parchment, we launched Parchment.com as a consumer site, and the following year launched the beta release of Parchment Discover, putting the power of credential data and network analytics to work by helping colleges understand how they stack up to peers and leveraging social graph data to identify prospective students through their interest in peer institutions.

Victor: Where did they originate? Where can you get these offerings now?

Matthew: Schools, colleges and state education agencies can learn more about the Docufide platform and Parchment Discover at http://www.docufide.com

Victor: How much does Docufide cost? What are the options?

Matthew: The Docufide by Parchment Platform is licensed in two modules, Docufide Sender and Docufide Receiver.

Docufide Sender is licensed through an annual subscription fee to schools, districts, and colleges.  We also have state education agencies that have subsidized the platform on behalf of the schools in the state.  Alternatively, schools can license Docufide Sender by paying an installation fee with the service subsidized through a small transaction paid by the student when ordering their transcript.

Docufide Receiver is also available through an annual subscription with the fee based on the number of transcripts that the college receives through the Docufide platform. A basic version of Docufide Receiver is available at no charge to colleges who are ready to start receiving electronic transcripts.

The tools at Parchment.com are available to students at no charge, with exception of transcript requests to third parties when their school or state agency does not subsidize the transaction fee.

Victor: What are some examples of Docufide and Parchment.com in action?

Matthew: The full breath of Parchment.com and the Docufide platform could best be seen through the eyes of a student applying to college. Many students first find Parchment.com as a high school senior while researching the colleges they will apply to. At Parchment.com, these students can establish their Parchment profile, request transcripts, and select the colleges that they are interested in.  This information powers rich analytics that helps students to understand their chances of being admitted and view scatterplots that provide context into why some students were admitted why others were not. Often students find that they have a good chance of being admitted to colleges they had not planned to apply to.

Parchment.com also provides these students with recommendations of colleges that they are academically matched to and have been favored by students like them, and provide them with an opportunity to opt-in to be discovered by colleges that are interested in students like them.  When ready to apply, official transcripts can be ordered with the option to store the transcript in their Parchment.com account where it can be viewed or shared by the student.

These transcript requests are delivered electronically to the schools that the student attended where they are approved manually or through a rules-based system. Then the transcript is securely uploaded to Parchment’s servers where the data is prepared for delivery.  The transcript is then delivered to the colleges (or other destinations) selected by the student in the receiver’s preferred format and delivery method.

As students begin to hear back from the colleges they applied to, they log-in to Parchment.com and update their admission status to see refined chances of admissions to the remaining colleges in their list and use tools to understand which college their peers selected when offered admission to more than one.

We are now working to replicate a similar value proposition and workflow as students move through their education to address college students transferring between schools, applying to graduate school, or high school and college students transitioning into the workforce.

Victor: Who are these offerings particularly tailored for? 

Matthew: The Docufide by Parchment platform accommodates high schools, colleges and other institutions that send and/or receive transcripts with plans to support other types of academic and non-academic credentials.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Matthew: It is an exciting time with an increased awareness of the big challenges we collectively face in improving access, quality and efficiency in education. Over the past decade, we have seen how technology can enable progress when educators and entrepreneurs work together, and how many ideas, big and small can play a role in this success when common goals are shared.

We have seen the growth of networks bringing people and institutions together in ways we had not previously envisioned and how multimedia tools allow information to be communicated in powerful ways. As technology increasingly plays a role in education, more data is generated and putting that data to work effectively has the potential to make a big impact on student success. This ability to harness data to improve the lives of individuals is the reason why I joined Parchment.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to Parchment?

Matthew: While earning my Doctorate in Sociology at Teachers College, Columbia University and in my work as an Associate Professor of Sociology at Arizona State University, I have gained experience working firsthand with data and better understanding the tremendous potential for how big data can be used to transform education.

Victor: How does Parchment address some of your concerns about education?

Matthew: At Parchment, I am able to affect what has been a ‘last mile’ problem in academic analytics.  While there has been much talk of academic analytics, the problem has been where the data comes from to tap into the tremendous power analytic systems are able to provide, when fed with relevant data.

As a data provider, Parchment is able to address that pacing factor and take what has been fragmented and trapped stores of data and put them into a standardized format where they can be used.  Through the Docufide platform, we unlock whole categories of student data and make it efficient to put to work bridging the data that has been available on the way in (through admissions) with what is available on the way out (through the registrar’s office).

This connection of data allows colleges to better understand why some students succeeded at their institution while others did not, and better identify opportunities for intervention, what kind of support to provide, and how to better support their students throughout their academic careers. Extending this to the students they did not enroll and tying it to their outcomes helps colleges optimize their admissions process and how they make admissions decisions.

This is one example of how transcript analytics could be applied to improve student outcomes, and I am excited to work with secondary and postsecondary education institutions to identify other areas where the data we provide could be harnessed to better the efficacy of education.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Matthew: We are now witnessing the emergence of a number of new options for how individuals earn credentials, acquire skills and demonstrate those skills, whether in an academic or non-academic setting.

We live in a knowledge economy where the value of education plays a large role in determining one’s life chances. Central to this experience is the credential earned in high school, college, graduate and professional schools, and throughout life in professional and personal pursuits. Increasingly, we are a credential society and the variety and number of credentials earned continues to grow.

Over our life course we continue as lifetime learners, and increasingly will earn more and different types of credentials, badges, and degrees, and we are going to want to be able to share those credentials. We will want to analyze our credentials and the data they embody to find the right school, the right employer. Employers will want to verify those credentials. We will want to be discovered through our credentials by those seeking our knowledge.

We are now seeing more schools work with their students to find the most efficient path to earning the knowledge and skills they are seeking, or to provide credit for skills that have been developed and can be tested. By providing increased flexibility in how credits are earned and credentials issued, education will become more accessible to more people, and its costs lowered.

With this growth in the variety of credentials both within academic settings and to supplement academic degrees, Parchment is working to solve the problem of how credentials work to maximize their value to the individuals who earn them.

Victor: Got a quirky or funny anecdote that our readers might find interesting?

Matthew: When I joined Parchment and got to meet the team, I was stumped by the title of one of our co-founders who was listed as “Docufide Registrar.” When I met Jeffrey Harris and asked about his title, he assured me that it was real and explained how he ended up with it.

When Docufide began printing transcripts on security paper, the paper needed an official stamp and signature to be accepted as official. As Jeff was closest with our high school customers, he volunteered to be the official signature on the transcripts, acting in the role as authorized agent. From there Jeff became the Docufide Registrar and had his name on millions of transcripts.

Jeff is now our Director of Secondary Education Sales and continues as Docufide Registrar; though colleges now have the option to upload their own registrar’s signature.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Parchment? What makes you say that?

Matthew: We use the term “quiet revolution” to describe Parchment’s role in the establishment of the electronic transcript. While not often discussed, there has been a revolution in how rapidly transcripts have shifted from being delivered nearly uniformly as paper to the adoption of the eTranscript.

In education it is not often that you see 30% of high schools adopting a technology, as they have by joining the Docufide network as senders of electronic transcripts, or see more than 1,700 colleges signed to receive electronically, with a growing number also sending within the network. Our transcript volume has doubled year over year from 200,000 in 2008, to 400,000 in 2009, 800,000 in 2010, and 1.6 million last year, with Parchment on track deliver more than 3 million transcripts in 2012. This is an unusual story.

Soon we will see the day where transcripts are not printed and mailed, opened and scanned, but all are exchanged electronically. In retrospect, this may seem obvious given the process efficiencies created and benefits through cost savings, re-captured staff time, and convenient student services. While these benefits are real, they are only part of the story.

By unlocking data from within these transcripts through the migration from paper to data, powerful new applications may be enabled. This year, we are beginning to demonstrate the power of the transaction data through social graphs that help colleges better identify prospective students through Parchment Discover, and see how they stack up to their peers through admissions analytics. Through transcript data we see valuable data about the learner, what they know and how well they know it, the courses they took in high school and college and the grades they achieved. We are now working to put these data to work to unlock academic analytics that will help schools better place students in appropriate courses and provide guidance, identify the prospective students likely to succeed at their institution, and match learners with employers based on the skills and knowledge they have developed.

As the potential for transcript data to improve lives is realized, we expect that this revolution will no longer be quiet.

___

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. To enter the EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program, write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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2 Responses to Interview | Matthew Pittinsky Unleashes the Power of Parchment

  1. Joe, Parchment is very interested in the broader scope that you mention. In the interview, Matthew referenced the growing diversity in the ways that we learn, the types of credentials being issued and how they will be used. We have been working since I co-founded the comapny in 2003 to establish the eTranscript and now with 30% of the high schools sending transcripts through the Docufide network and a growing number of colleges signing on as senders (though not yours, yet) we are working to broaden the types of credentials supported at Parchment.com.

  2. Joe Beckmann says:

    One would think that Docufide and Parchment.com would embrace the broader scope of electronic, multimedia, in and out of school, military, and other training and educational activities to support applications as varied as career, job, college, grad school, military, and academic. I hope they get there, but, as of now, they don’t have my college – Columbia (hardly obscure), grad school (Brown, again hardly obscure), doctoral program (UMass-Amherst, not so tiny) – nor my high school (several decades ago, well before their 2000 startup). Nor, for that matter, do they have templates for portfolios, models or targets. Too bad. It’s a good idea that may yet work.

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