The Importance of Cocurricular Verification on the College Campus
With the growing emphasis on service-learning and the heightened necessity for experience on a resume, the ability to validate a student’s participation in cocurricular experiences has become absolutely necessary. Over the past 40 years, colleges and universities across the country have begun to recognize this necessity as it became increasingly clear that extracurricular activities do provide experiential learning opportunities not found in the classroom.
During the mid-1970s, academic institutions all over the country were beginning to realize that the traditional academic transcript was limited in terms of the data it was able to report. In a 1977 study, educational psychologists Robert Brown and Richard Citrin explored the changes on the horizon for the academic transcript. They emphasized that student development must be assessable and that the contemporary methods of instruction were not being communicated properly within the existing transcript formats (Brown and Citrin, 1977). Student affairs administrator Thomas Cosgrove concurred that no validation or official record keeping of extracurricular experiences was maintained (Cosgrove, 1986).
These issues continue today, as administrators continue to challenge the comprehensiveness of the academic transcript. For example, service-learning is catalogued as a cocurricular experience, even when the experiences are directly tied to academic coursework.
It was quite evident early on that having a student development transcript would be valuable to institutions. In a 1978 survey of 320 campus officers across the country, a majority were supportive of the concept, the more vocal audience being the student affairs divisions (Brown and Citrin, 1978). Cosgrove pointed out that the process of recording students’ participation must begin early on in order for students to be conscious of their activity selection and participation; as a result, students would be mindful of their own development as they pursue their degrees (1986). Optimistically, a more strategic selection of activities could lead to stronger group cohesion within student organizations in addition to more participation within the student body.
Methods of documentation
When we think about a cocurricular verification system, perhaps the most pressing issue at hand is the diversity of experiences and information. Unlike the academic transcript, which is meant to report quantitative data relating to a student’s academic achievements, the cocurricular transcript is responsible for reporting experiences, level of involvement, tangible artifacts created in conjunction with a program, and even service hours at a volunteer venue. As a result of this diversity, the organization and administration of a cocurricular verification process must be flexible, contain a classification hierarchy for its records, and support authentication.
Related literature on this topic describes various common structures for cocurricular verification systems, two of which I will present here. The first is the portfolio method, which, as Brown and Citrin (1977) mention, closely resembles the promotion and tenure dossiers that college faculty are often required to assemble. In this instance, students are required to gather artifacts from the various experiences that they would like to include on their cocurricular transcript, such as a program or name tag from an event or a thank-you letter for a completed service project.
A second method, which aligns closely with an accreditor’s recent emphasis on experiential learning, involves the grouping of experiences, memberships, and projects into various outcomes that would be defined by the institution (Brown et al., 1979). An example would be professional development, such as a student’s participation in the activities of a chapter of a professional society or attendance at the society’s annual conference.
Whatever the method of execution may be, certain administrative guidelines are important for a successful verification procedure. As mentioned, flexibility is vital to providing students with a beneficial service. Students might want to document even the most trivial of their out-of-class activities, and this should be encouraged. Further, they may provide unorthodox means for authenticating the experience. As the administrator or person in charge of approving these experiences for posting on the cocurricular transcript, you must be willing to review these submissions with an open mind and be ready to ask questions.
In order to maintain the integrity of the transcript as well as the credibility of your department (and ultimately your institution), you must ensure that the information being posted to students’ transcripts is truthful as presented by the student. Approaching a cocurricular transcript with an established structure will make the process much smoother and invariably will answer many student questions.
I recommend establishing a coding system for each type of experience—for example, working in a local soup kitchen would be logged as community service, serving as president of the campus radio station would be logged as club membership, and having an article published would be logged as scholarship. Each institution will craft different codes based on the opportunities readily available to its students. If you are unsure about this, review the annual reports of various academic departments, the student affairs division, or even your campus newspaper. A simple skim through these documents can give you ample insight into what your students are doing.
Since we live in the information age, consider digital means for recording and maintaining students’ cocurricular experiences. While paper record keeping still has value, such an approach for this venture would be exhausting to the staff members involved in verifying experiences and retrieving records as well as to the student who wishes to post an experience to his or her transcript.
In many cases, your campus’ database system may come with a student involvement component. For example, the Jenzabar system (2001) allows records to be kept on student involvement in campus organizations. From this information, reports can be generated for various institutional purposes such as alumni outreach or inclusion in campus publications. Depending on the capabilities of your campus’ database, it might be possible to generate reports that can list individual students’ cocurricular experiences.
Perhaps these records can be made accessible to a student intranet for online reference in a password-protected space. This has been a trend for academic transcript access for more than 10 years, and having cocurricular data accessible through these same means would be highly beneficial to students and faculty members for the purposes of academic advising, career preparation, and perhaps most simply, record keeping.
If your system does not have these abilities, look into third-party computer systems that can be used exclusively for cocurricular verification and record keeping. Depending on the campus’ governing policies for technology, such a system could significantly reduce the workload of support staff members, because students would be able to input their own experiences for posting on the transcript. An example is CollegiateLink, which was developed by Campus Labs in 2009. This system provides an intranet for students to document their experiences, browse the activities of other campus organizations, market their organization’s events and happenings, and provide a centralized database for the organization’s members and pertinent documents. Students can download and print their cocurricular transcripts for distribution in any fashion that they wish. The role of the administrator, in this case, would be to provide verification for the posts that students submit for inclusion on their transcript.
Documenting cocurricular and experiential learning is a valuable service to offer on your campus. For first-semester freshmen and graduate students nearing their thesis defense as well as all students in between, a transcript that documents their activities in college has proven to be an invaluable companion to the resume and the academic transcript. In fact, depending on the situation, the cocurricular transcript may be deemed more important than the academic transcript. In today’s job market, experience is the key to employment. This is where the traditional academic transcript as we have known it for decades is almost useless.
A lot can be learned from the transcript development process itself. As students go through the process of submitting their experiences for inclusion, they are learning the importance of keeping accurate records, gathering verification of their experiences, and gaining practice in preparing written correspondence with the administration. These skills will prove to be beneficial once the students are employed and wish to apply for promotions, financial support for travel, or grants; the process also imparts everyday communication skills for the workplace. Supporting our students is of paramount importance to educators. In addition to providing high-quality learning experiences, we must now offer our students ways to demonstrate these experiences as they prepare to enter the chaotic world beyond campus.
Brown, R.D., Baier, J.L., Baack, J.E., Wright, D.J., & Sanstead, M. (1979). “Implications of student, parent, and administrator attitudes for implementing a student development transcript.” Journal of College Student Personnel, 20(5), p. 386.
Brown, R.D. & Citrin, R.S. (1977). “A student development transcript: Assumptions, uses, and formats.” Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), pp. 504-509.
Brown, R.D., Citrin, R.S., Pflum, G., & Preston, M. (1978). Is higher education receptive to a student development transcript? A national survey. Journal of College Student Development, July 1978, pp. 291-297.
Cosgrove, T.J. (1986) Is anybody out there: The results of the cocurricular transcript survey. Campus Activities Programming, October 1986, pp. 58-61.
Jenzabar. (2001) Jenzabar CX Technical Manual. Boston, Mass.: Jenzabar, Inc.
Julian Thomas Costa is an adjunct professor of office administration at Northampton Community College.