Bulletin September 2006
THE
BULLETIN
Volume 74 | Issue 5
September 2006

Cocurricular Transcripts: Documenting holistic higher education

Joe Gutowski

Astin (1985) believed that college students learn best by being involved. But unlike the learning that goes on in the classroom, which can be documented through an academic transcript, there has not always been a way to record the education and learning that students receive from their outside-the-classroom activities. Fortunately for many of today’s students, the use of the cocurricular transcript has grown and developed over the past several years, creating an avenue of documentation for a student’s entire college education.

A cocurricular transcript is a record of students’ out-of-class experiences and can complement the academic transcript of a student’s courses and grades. Other terminology for this record includes “e-portfolio,” “leadership record,” “leadership portfolio,” and “involvement record.” However, the term “cocurricular transcript” is especially significant and appropriate because it not only emphasizes the learning that takes place outside of the classroom, but also creates a link by using words often found in the academic world.

Why use the cocurricular transcript?

Increasingly, students are recognizing that their cocurricular activities allow them to apply the knowledge and skills they learn inside the classroom. As well, educators continue to believe that the experiences that take place in student organizations, residence halls, and other similar social settings are just as important to the education of students as the learning that takes place within the classroom (ACPA, 1996). The active use of the cocurricular transcript can not only serve as an official record of a student’s involvement as an undergraduate student, but it gives them another tool to be used in conjunction with the academic transcript when applying to graduate schools, their first job out of college, scholarships, fellowships, and grants. By starting immediately in their college career, first-year students can use the cocurricular transcript to track their involvement and make better and more informed decisions about how they would like to participate in the life of the campus. Additionally, active use of the cocurricular transcript allows a student to more easily look at the breadth of their involvements and make conscious choices to give themselves a more complete and holistic experience outside of the classroom.

What is included on a cocurricular transcript?

A brief review of institutions that have implemented a cocurricular transcript elicited many common elements. Most institutions ask students to include experiences that fall into one of four categories: leadership activities and roles in a wide variety of student organizations and athletic teams; educational development, including participation in seminars, conferences, and training programs; awards and recognition received from an organization; and community or volunteer service internal or external to the institution. Commonly, with the exception of the community service involvement, all of the activities included on a cocurricular transcript take place on the institution’s campus.

Some institutions go into more detail. Gannon University has a specific section that denotes “Participation” to be inclusive of membership or involvement in any organization or project. The University of Texas–Arlington delineates participation in groups or projects sponsored through a university department. It is up to the individual institution to determine how generic or how specific it wants to classify students’ experiences.

Creating your cocurricular transcript

Most often, students are responsible for managing their own cocurricular transcript, similar to a resume. This means entering data about their involvement, which usually includes the organization or program, date, and any leadership positions held as part of that involvement. Different mechanisms exist at institutions for handling this data entry; some institutions require students to fill out and complete paper forms, while other institutions offer students online access to update their records. A consistent trait of cocurricular transcripts is the ability for students to not only enter data, but to change and update data they have already entered.

However, entering the data into the transcript is only half the job. The other half comes in validating and verifying the information that a student submits. Like with an academic transcript, checks are needed so students do not misrepresent their involvement. The importance of approval and information validation is critical, and institutions emphasize this point to students. In fact, the students are often given the responsibility of obtaining the validation from the proper source. With a few exceptions (e.g., copies of a certificate or some student organizations), the validations are given by faculty or staff members associated with the activity or members of the office that supports the transcript program.

Significance of learning outcomes

Aligning learning outcomes “with institutional outcomes and priorities embeds the work of student affairs in student learning” (Keeling, 2006, p. 13). Therefore, the cocurricular transcript must include more than just an activities list; students should be able to reflect on specific skills they have attained as a result of their involvement. State University of New York–Geneseo has developed a model that allows students to do just that. Its cocurricular transcript program includes six categories of skill development (see Figure I), which the university has identified as critical to students’ growth not just as student leaders but as individuals. Students are invited to identify and discuss in detail skills they feel were enhanced through their involvement in a particular activity.

This process serves several purposes. First, the list of skills that SUNY–Geneseo has created gives incoming students a sense of the proficiencies that they may be able to gain from involvement outside the classroom. Second, students have the opportunity to intentionally reflect on their own growth and development, thus creating more self-awareness. Finally, by identifying the skills that they have enhanced and proactively using the list given to them, students can seek experiences that will allow them to develop a broad range of skills.

But is it really useful?

It remains to be seen whether the use of the cocurricular is a proven asset to students seeking to pursue an advanced degree or their first job following graduation. No research exists at this time to suggest that students who use a cocurricular transcript are more marketable to graduate admissions officers or to employers. Many indicate that a more balanced student is often more appealing when going to the next level but that a simple listing of involvements outside the classroom is only minimally significant without any indication of the skills gained from those activities (Paulson, 2006; Norwood & Henneberry, 2006; Kurec, 2005; Aragon & Kleiner, 2003). Perhaps the cocurricular transcript can serve as an effective introduction to an individual, showing their leadership and varied skills. Additionally, it helps to market the college or university as a place where students receive a holistic education.

Linking academic and student life environments

For the highest level of student development to occur and to allow students to experience a well-rounded education both inside and outside of the classroom, there needs to be a strong link in the experiences between academic affairs and student affairs divisions. Hamrick, Evans, and Schuh (2002) identified five categories of outcomes that can be expected from the collegiate experience: educated persons; skilled workers; democratic citizens; self-aware and interpersonally sensitive individuals; and life skills managers. These are all likely outcomes through experiences that primarily take place outside of the classroom, but there has never been an efficient way to document them. For years academic transcripts have served to demonstrate the outcome “educated persons,” but perhaps the cocurricular transcript, by including students’ education outside the classroom, can demonstrate the rest of these learning outcomes. Together, academic and cocurricular transcripts communicate the entire scope of students’ education—their experiences and the knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired through the entirety of their college career.

References

American College Personnel Association. (1996). The student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 37, 118–122.
Aragon, E., & Kleiner, B.H. (2003). Hiring practices in the amusement park industry. Management Research News, 26(2/3/4).
Astin, A. (1985). Achieving educational excellence: A critical assessment of priorities and practices in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hamrick, F.A., Evans, N.J., & Schuh, J.H. (2002) Foundations of student affairs practice: How philosophy, theory and research strengthen educational outcomes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Keeling, R. (Ed.). (2006). Learning reconsidered 2: A practical guide to implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, D.C.: ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, NACA, NACAD, NASPA, & NIRSA.
Kurec, A.S. (2005, July). Are there any good employees left? How to hire and keep good staff. Laboratory Medicine, 36(7), 401–412.
Norwood, F.B., & Henneberry, S.R. (2006, May). Show me the money! The value of college graduate attributes as expressed by employers and perceived by students. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 33(2), 484.
Paulson, L.D.  (2006, January/February). IT hiring growth modest, but steady. IT Professional, 8(1), 6–9.