CNM Helps Lead Pilot Blockchain Program that’s Rethinking the Transcript

In the future, all students—at CNM and across the country— will likely be issued something called an interoperable learning record (ILR) that is a record of both their grades and, more specifically, their certified skills
May 20, 2020

The world is currently living through unprecedented times when it comes to unemployment. The numbers are staggering and millions of people will soon be looking for jobs. To find one, many will likely return to college for a new degree.

As a way to help these new students (as well as current students) find good jobs once they graduate, CNM, along with the National Student Clearinghouse, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, IBM, and Western Governors University (WGU), is working on something called the interoperable learning record (IRL). At the moment it’s just a pilot, but the program should be able to help both graduates and employers find the right fit in a more reliable and efficient way. 

“This program will hopefully help a lot of people come back to school, re-tool, and then efficiently head right back out to the workforce,” says Tobe Phelps, CNM’s Chief Technology Innovation Officer and one of the people leading the IRL program.

Here’s how it works. Current students who graduate from any higher education institution currently receive a diploma and transcripts. These documents prove they did the work and provide some detail about how well they did in their classes. But the document says nothing about what the students mastered while in class. With an IRL, however, students will have a verifiable, easily-transferable record backed up by Blockchain that provides much more detail about where they’ve excelled and which skills they can now bring to another institution or a job. 

For example, if a student at CNM receives soft-skill microcredentials for critical thinking and creative problem solving while at the college, both of those certifications would go on their IRL. Specific skills they learned in a credit class, or in a non-credit class like Ingenuity’s Deep Dive Coding Bootcamps, will also be recorded. This detail will then allow the admissions staff at the student’s next college, or the hiring officer at their next job, to see more precisely if that graduate is the right fit.

“IRL isn’t quite a transcript or a resume, it’s more,” Tobe says. 

To start, the pilot will focus on helping students first move from college to college more effectively. CNM will be able to see how its students move from a community college to a four-year institution, and WGU will be able to see how its students move from a four-year college onto a graduate degree.

“As an example, when colleges evaluate credits it's pretty subjective,” Tobe says. “You could take your credits to 20 different institutions and they will all give you different credits. An IRL will make that process more efficient.”

After the program is tested between colleges, it will then be deployed with employers. The hope is that IRLs will be located in a giant database that employers can search. They’ll be able to type in a list of specific skills they need, be able to search for graduates with those skills, and then feel confident that the graduate is indeed properly trained because those skills will be certified by their college. Cybersecurity is one place where the program would like to focus and one of the places where CNM will implement IRLs.

“Right now you go on Indeed or Linkedin and you have no idea what kind of candidate is really sitting there,” Tobe says. “You get these resumes with all these great looking entries, but you have no idea if any of them are actually valid.”

In terms of a timeline, Tobe says the working group hopes to have a significant portion of the pilot completed by the end of this calendar year. The pandemic has accelerated the project, and they know their work has the potential to help millions of people recover.

“We’re moving quick,” he says.

Here's a story from Educause on the effort, an IT in higher education publication.