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Electronic Transcripts Ease Way to College

Ventura County school is making paper records a thing of the past.

November 25, 2002|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

It's a problem that has been around as long as students have been applying to college: the lost high school transcript.

Teenagers complain about it. Admissions counselors agonize over it. Last year, Hollywood took it on with the comedy "Orange County," in which a high-achieving student's hopes of going to Stanford are threatened when his school botches the transcript transmission.

Now, some campuses are aiming to end those worries as they begin making the ubiquitous paper transcript a thing of the past.

Among the pioneers is Oak Park High School in Ventura County.

This week, Oak Park will begin using a new software program that enables students to have their records sent electronically -- directly from Oak Park's computers to the computers of colleges and universities.

Instead of waiting in long lines at the registrar's office and filling out a paper form for each transcript request, students will be able to order the documents from their home computers, using the school's Web site.

Rather than wait for weeks to learn whether a transcript arrives at its destination on time, students will get confirmation e-mails within 48 hours.

The technology was developed by a small Thousand Oaks software company, Docufide, and Oak Park is the first school to use it.

Colorado high schools and colleges began a similar effort this fall with a Los Angeles Internet company, Xap.com.

In a handful of other states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania, officials are working with Xap to develop programs.

With the majority of American high school students now applying for college online, electronic transcripts are the next logical step, officials say.

"It's faster, it saves money and there are fewer people handling it, so having it misplaced is less likely," said Jeanne Adkins, director of the Colorado Student Loan Program, a partner in that state's electronic transcript project.

"I think this is the start of something major."

Early Attempts Failed

First attempts at electronic transcript transfers began more than a decade ago, officials from several universities said, but nothing worked well enough to completely change the system.

Programs tried by universities in Texas and Florida were too cumbersome and expensive for most cash-strapped high schools to implement. And Colorado's system works only between high schools and colleges within the state.

Docufide's software is designed to work with any high school in the country that stores student data electronically, said Mark Cohen, the company's president.

Universities don't need the software to accept transcripts sent via Docufide, he said.

"We're trying to provide a true conduit between high schools and colleges where one doesn't exist," he said.

The software is free to high schools. Students will pay a $3 fee for each transcript they order electronically.

About 29 million high school transcripts are sent out each year nationwide, said Jeffrey Harris, a co-founder of Docufide and an Oak Park High alumnus.

Cohen said the software has built-in verification of each step in the transfer process, as well as other checks and balances, to reduce the potential for data loss.

Built-in security features also prohibit anyone from intercepting transcripts or altering them, he said.

Welcomed by Students

At Oak Park High, where 65% of seniors go directly to four-year universities, students welcomed the new program.

"There's so much stuff to keep track of already, and the transcript requests are just one more piece of paper you have to fill out," said Colin Richard, 17, the school's student body president, who is applying to eight universities this fall.

"This way it will be so much easier because I can do it at home at 3 in the morning if I want to."

Oak Park Principal Cliff Moore said he sees the potential to save time and money in the busy registrar's office.

"I think it's a thing of the future," he said.

Nordhoff High School in Ojai will be the second school to use Docufide, Harris said, and many more are waiting to sign on.

About 100 colleges have agreed to accept transcripts through Docufide, Harris said, including Pepperdine University in Malibu.

Paul Long, dean of enrollment at Pepperdine, said transcripts are the only portion of the school's undergraduate application process not yet handled electronically.

"It's the one document that students can't control, and there are always mix-ups," Long said. "This, to me, will be very beneficial once we get it in place."

Last week, Oak Park sent Pepperdine the first test transcript using the software, and it looked great, Long said.

But other higher education systems, including the University of California and Cal State University, want to develop their own systems rather than rely on a private company.

Officials at UC and CSU are waiting for an electronic transcript process expected to be available through a state project called California School Information Services, said a Cal State spokeswoman, Colleen Bentley-Adler.

That system won't be ready for another several years.

Registrar to Benefit

At Oak Park, Pat Ramirez may be the person who benefits most from the transition to electronic transcript transfers.

As the school's registrar, Ramirez ensures that each record is printed out, signed, stamped certified and mailed to colleges. She handles as many as 2,500 requests a year.

"It's quite time-consuming," she said. "This is going to really free me up to better help students."

Kelly Smith, an Oak Park senior who is filling out 10 college applications this fall, said she also will appreciate the time saved.

The transcript task is not only onerous, Smith said, it's nerve-wracking.

She said she has heard a number of nightmare stories about lost transcripts. "This way seems a lot safer," the 17-year-old said.

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