The Changing Face of International Credential Evaluation
How WES Workshops Help Keep You on Top of a Dynamic Process
By Alyson Arnold
Manager of Education and Training
Colleges and universities in the United States are today hosting over 500,000 students from countries all over the world. Because students arrive from such a diverse range of countries, with education systems that are constantly shifting and changing, evaluating credentials has become an ever more complex and dynamic undertaking. As credential evaluators, it is of paramount importance that we stay on top of these changes to ensure that our international admissions procedures are as accurate and reliable as possible. Professional training is a vital tool in ensuring that we react to change and employ the most up-to-date resources when evaluating the credentials of international students.
In addition to updating evaluation procedures and resources, U.S. institutions must address declining international enrollments with tactical and more aggressive recruitment strategies. The purpose of this article is to discuss the latest trends in international credential evaluation and enrollment, and how WES workshops can help international education professionals meet those challenges.
The overall objective of WES workshops — drawn from the practices and policies of World Education Services — is to help U.S. colleges and universities meet institutional goals by training their staff in the most effective methods of international student admissions and recruitment. In order to accomplish this, each workshop is individually designed. For instance, workshops focusing on credential evaluation teach participants how to identify and authenticate required documents for each country, and how to identify appropriate online and print resources essential in evaluating those documents. Recruitment workshops provide participants with the necessary tools to use the current international recruitment landscape to their advantage, while developing best practices in building a strategic institutional recruitment plan. Finally, the Bologna workshop reviews three-year bachelor degrees from Europe and other regions of the world and assesses the impact that the growing number of three-year degrees will have for the future of U.S. graduate admissions.
In evaluating credentials, the first issue of concern is ensuring that you receive the relevant credentials from each applicant. You need to know what documents are required from each country and how to communicate those requirements to your prospective international students. You also need to know which countries issue academic documents directly in English and from which countries you will need documents translated.
Obtaining verified, authentic documents is the best, most effective way to ensure an accurate assessment of your international applicants’ credentials. Today, new technologies exist that allow for low-cost and extensive dissemination of extremely convincing, fraudulent documents. Verifying documents through outdated methods of examination such as checking for typographical errors, inconsistency in typefaces, the use of white out, or other such means are no longer effective in combating credentials fraud. Modern technologies and communication methods now allow for more rigorous authentication procedures and expedited correspondence with academic institutions.
WES has instituted a strict documentation policy designed to reduce fraud by preventing the submission of falsified documents at the application stage. This section of our credential evaluation workshop includes details of our documentation practice and how to communicate these policies to applicants.
Verifying the Institutions
Another essential part of the authentication process is verifying the status of institutions from which credentials are issued and ensuring that the institutions exist and are recognized or accredited by the relevant authorities. As the regional accreditation process is unique to the United States, credential evaluators need to familiarize themselves with the recognition and accreditation procedures of countries from which their institutions receive credentials, while staying up-to-date with changes in those systems.
The Internet has enabled diploma mills to proliferate and to mask themselves as legitimate institutions, therefore, our workshops include instructions on how to find and use the best resources for verifying the legitimacy of higher education institutions.
Once you have the correct, authentic documents and have established the status of an institution, you need to have the right tools to perform a fair and accurate assessment of those credentials.
WES credential evaluation methodology is based on establishing the level, scope and intent of the completed program, while taking into account the complex and dynamic nature of education systems around the world.
Essential in the evaluation process is grade conversion. When evaluating grades, you need to understand that each country has its own practice of assessing student performance and that those practices differ widely, even within the same country. An understanding of a country’s education system and the grading philosophy of its institutions are essential tools in judging the accomplishments of your international applicants.
As with grades, the concept of academic credit varies from country to country. Some different scenarios you may encounter when dealing with transfer credit are non-credit systems (India), hour-based systems (Russia) or systems that measure different elements.
Assigning grades and determining transfer credits are vital and complex aspects of credential evaluation. During the workshops plenty of time is devoted to grading and transfer credit exercises, practicing on actual documents including those submitted by participating institutions.
According to the most recent international enrollment data from the Institute for International Education, the number of international students enrolling at U.S. institutions of higher education has been declining since 2003 after more than 30 years of uninterrupted growth. Complex visa procedures and competition from other countries have been cited as contributing factors. In addition, online education and international branches of U.S. campuses enable students to chose from a larger number of programs without having to leave their home countries. All of these developments add up to more choices for students who in the past would have aspired to come to the United States to enroll at one of the country’s approximately 4,000 institutions of higher education.
Because U.S. colleges and universities are beginning to recognize the need to recruit more aggressively, WES offers workshops designed in such a way as to help participants develop solid international student recruitment plans tailored to the needs of their institution.
Three-Year Bachelor’s Degrees
Along with the United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, India and many other countries that issue three-year degrees, 45 countries from Europe and the former Soviet Union have begun issuing three-year bachelor degrees as part of a reform initiative known as the Bologna Process. This process represents a complete restructuring of European systems of higher education and requires that graduate programs in the United States take a fresh look at the way they evaluate three-year degrees.
This new workshop will discuss in detail the elements of the new European three-year degree, while also considering anew the standards for evaluating three-year degrees from other countries such as India.
Our workshops are designed to intensify the learning process by enhancing the role of peer and instructor interaction. Each topic is thoroughly examined through instruction, peer interaction and hands-on exercises over an intensive two-day period.
WES workshops offer vital training and professional development opportunities for personnel charged with recruiting and the evaluation of foreign academic credentials. By learning directly from experienced and skilled evaluators and recruiters WES workshop participants will be better equipped to ensure that their institutions meet international enrollment goals, while reassuring that international students meet their admission requirements. Ongoing changes and improvements to our workshops are made each year to provide the most up-to-date training.
For a complete schedule of WES workshops, visit www.wes.org/educators/workshops.asp.