Why We Are Using Blockchain for Digital Credentialing
East Coast Polytechnic Institute is giving students full control over their academic records with blockchain-enabled digital credentials that are sharable and verifiable anywhere in the world.
It’s been just over a year since the East Coast Polytechnic Institute began issuing digital diplomas as an early adopter of blockchain technology and the Blockcerts open standard. During that time, our institution has issued nearly 1,600 digital diplomas and become a leading advocate for the use of blockchain for secure digital credentials.
ECPI is an accredited university that serves students in several southern states and online. Throughout our history, ECPI has taken a pioneering market-based approach to curriculum and works closely with employers and students to create degree programs that meet evolving market needs. One of our core values is “innovation in education,” including the use of emerging technologies to enhance students’ experience and maximize their success.
Deconstructing Archaic Credentialing Processes
Higher education is steeped in tradition, and one of the most meaningful traditions is the graduation ceremony where diplomas are awarded. That piece of paper symbolizes the successful completion of a degree program and confers all the “rights and privileges pertaining thereto.” But a piece of paper isn’t easily shared with future employers, graduate programs or other entities that require proof of a degree.
That’s why many secondary and postsecondary institutions rely on the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) for the secure and FERPA-compliant transfer of student records. This service has allowed the registrars of participating institutions to effectively outsource the degree verification process. From the institution’s perspective, this frees staff from the time-consuming and low-value activity of fulfilling verification requests.
But, employers or other requesters are charged a fee for this service, and it still means that student records are controlled by a third party and not by the students themselves. Furthermore, not all institutions and employers participate in the National Student Clearinghouse, leaving the door open for résumé fraud if a candidate misrepresents his or her education.
In our case, ECPI wanted a way to convey digital records that are cryptographically signed by issuers, recipient-owned, tamper proof, vendor independent, shareable and verifiable anywhere in the world. As CIO at ECPI, I realized that the blockchain work being done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had the potential to dramatically change the way graduates interacted with the school and future employers. Instead of relying on paper diplomas or alterable PDF files and lengthy requests for verification, students could present employers with digital credentials that would be immediately and securely verified.
Blockchain is a securely encrypted and widely distributed electronic transaction ledger that contains time-stamped data. Because each block builds on the one before it, the data contained in earlier blocks can’t be altered without affecting every subsequent block. Blockchains are stored on peer-to-peer networks, making them decentralized and distributed, and further enhancing their security.
Blockcerts is an open standard for building the applications that are used for creating, issuing, viewing and verifying blockchain-based certificates. Blockcerts was designed to work across multiple blockchains, so users aren’t limited to a specific public or private chain. An institution like ECPI creates and issues a blockchain containing the student’s earned credential, pulling the critical transcript and course information from our student information system Campus Management CampusNexus Student. The student receives and views that blockchain using the Blockcerts app on their phone. The app allows the student to share the Blockcerts, which can then be verified by the interested party.