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Parchment, a leading digital transcript sharing company, expanded into new territory this week by acquiring Quottly, a company that sells software for course and program sharing, managing dual enrollment, and automating and streamlining transfer agreements.

Leaders of the companies say combining their operations—transcript exchanging and credit transfer—can help institutions better handle the many moving parts of the transfer process and make students’ transition from one institution to another more efficient. Some higher ed experts see the move as a response to demand for a more comprehensive transfer management platform when some universities are using multiple, disparate digital tools to shepherd students through an already complex process.

Transfer students, on average, lose 43 percent of their credits, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found in a 2017 report. Meanwhile, fewer than a quarter of colleges and universities share transcripts with each other electronically, according to a 2021 report by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). Only about half of colleges and universities nationwide have automated articulation rules governing which course credits count and are automatically applied.

“If you’ve attended multiple colleges and maybe took some dual-enrollment courses in high school or AP courses, to get your records together to make them available to the college to which you’re transferring—and for them to be able to take the time to key punch all of the course information, all of the credits and grades, and run it through the evaluation system—is a big point of friction,” said Matthew Pittinsky, CEO of Parchment. “The other is the evaluation of courses and the management of equivalencies”—which classes at one institution count for credit toward a specific degree at another.

Pittinsky said transferring credits is the most common reason students request digital transcripts through Parchment. He sees the acquisition as a way to tap into an “underserved technology market” at a time when college leaders are “looking to make transfer a bigger part of their enrollment strategy” in response to pandemic enrollment declines.

Both platforms will still be available separately, but “they’ll have better connections between them, and they’ll have additional capabilities because of the overall capabilities of the combined organization,” he added.

Alicia Policinski, CEO and co-founder at Quottly, said the acquisition also brings a more “seamless student experience and a seamless administrator experience” to a wider network of college and university systems and their students. The platform automates the course evaluation and approval process for administrators, and students have a dashboard where they can search shared and transferable courses between institutions. She said the wider the network of colleges using the platform becomes, the more useful it is.

Parchment is a juggernaut in its niche of the ed-tech world, serving about 2,800 colleges and universities in the U.S. and more than 100 higher ed institutions abroad, according to its website. Quottly is a much smaller but growing operation, working with over 220 colleges and universities, including the Montana University System, the University System of Maryland and California Virtual Campus.

Policinski said she wishes the institutions she attended had access to this software when she was a transfer student.

“I ended up taking an extra year of school because I miscounted one course,” she said. “Tuition wasn’t cheap. It was a very expensive error on my part.”

Sarah Zauner, executive director of the Ada Center, which advises higher ed institutions on decisions about technology, said colleges badly need “viable technology tools that comprehensively support student transfer,” given the maze of piecemeal options currently available to handle different parts of the process.

“Right now, most colleges and universities use a combination of a degree audit, degree planner, a separate transfer database, the websites of other institutions, often a digital credential service like Parchment, and possibly a transfer workflow tool to help students navigate pathways across institutions,” she said in an email. “Nearly everyone at an institution would tell you these disconnected software tools reinforce student confusion (and costly mistakes) on the path to transfer.”

She believes the acquisition is a “signal that the private sector is realizing there is unmet need in the field for a more holistic approach to helping institutions (and students) with a better approach to designing pathways across institutions.”

While that’s “good news,” she added that technology can only do so much when institution-level transfer policies remain convoluted and decentralized. Often faculty members are evaluating courses, academic advisers are guiding students and administrators are making the higher-level policy decisions. Meanwhile, students, not knowing where to go for information, turn to the internet.

“The challenge here is you’re dealing with a lot of messy policies and practices, and technology can kind of ratify those and codify that messiness, but it can’t fix it,” she said.

John Fink, senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, agreed these tools are useful, “but it really comes down to how they’re implemented.” They can offer major “efficiency gains,” but they’re not a panacea.

“What’s hard, and what I don’t think there’s a technological fix for, is the process of colleges working with students early on, even as a part of recruitment, to think and plan and explore what they’re interested and know which courses best align to those goals so students aren’t just taking courses that will be accepted at a university, for instance, but they’re taking the right courses,” he said. “It requires advising, program alignment, more human-process sorts of things.”

Policinski said technology can’t replace improving institutional and state transfer policies, but it can help.

She noted that Quottly’s platform makes it easier for academic advisers to efficiently and accurately guide students, and students can track how the courses they’ve taken, or will take, at one institution count toward a specific degree program at another.

“What we found is that the technology needs to work in support of these policy improvements that states are enacting,” such as instituting statewide guaranteed transfer pathways, she said. “We’re able to really program the good policy work that’s being done into the software for the benefit of students, as well as administrators.”

Pittinsky said transfer policy solutions only work if universities have the technology to implement them. Notably, colleges can’t give “consistent” or “timely” answers to students about what course credits count without a centralized database of which courses are equivalent to each other between institutions.

“We could walk through each of the areas where I think most people would say transfer should just work better, and there is a technology component,” he said.

He sees the offerings of Parchment and Quottly as an example.

Combining tools for transcript exchange and “taking the data that are inside of transcripts and helping students more successfully transfer and … get to their degree faster and at a lower cost,” he said, “we just think is a really exciting combination.”

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