Covid proved universities could rapidly innovate, don’t stop

“Issuing digital credentials, authenticating in Blockchain-secure digital wallet, verifying with the click of a button. This is all possible now”

As the Colorado Avalanches – the Denver-based ice hockey team – played for their spot in the Stanley Cup, tertiary education admissions teams discussed the avalanche of international student applicants this year. The NAFSA international education conference was in town.

Naturally, the conference mood was positive. People were happy to be back in person at the famed NAFSA event. It had a real sense of “business as usual”. The conference theme was “building our sustainable future”, but the talk in the expo hall was all about getting numbers back to pre-Covid levels.

Pent-up demand will result in healthy international student enrolment numbers this year in the US.

Institutions were proud of their quick pivot online as Covid struck. The pandemic showed institutions could install digital change rapidly when forced. According to one case study, departments that said it would take one-two years to implement a particular digital system, made the change in two-three weeks.

They had to change. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for innovation.

In the years ahead, they will have to change once again due to the brute force of demographics.

As has been widely reported, the birth rate in the US declined precipitously following the great recession in 2007. It never recovered and Covid has likely compounded the decline. This smaller cohort is about to enter tertiary education. The pool of US students is about to get much smaller.

Pre-Covid, the tertiary education industry was anxious about this trend. I hope the enrolment sugar hit institutions are about to receive does not mask the looming challenges.

International students will have to pick up the slack as overall enrollment numbers continue to decline.

Big brand universities will carry on as normal, but smaller universities without the brand to attract international students will struggle. For these smaller teams, getting back to pre-covid levels will not be enough.

These institutions innovated during Covid and will need to maintain this pace and continue to digitally adapt.

Most institutions have a digitisation strategy. Implement it. It usually involves adopting cost-saving and time-saving applications. My advice is to start with credentials.

My goal for the conference was to gain insight into the admissions process for international students. It was an eye-opening experience. The issuing, management, and verification of credentials is often an archaic paper-based process. A mishmash of email, CRM, and outsourced verification and evaluation. I didn’t get the same answer twice.

Short-staffed admissions teams are overwhelmed.

It is time to completely digitise this process. Issue digital credentials. Authenticate in Blockchain-secure digital wallets. Verify with the click of a button. Automate elements of evaluation reporting using AI. This is all possible now.

You will save time, save money, improve admissions yield, address fraud challenges, and enroll students who deserve to be there. You will connect the issuer, the holder, and the verifier and add a new layer of trust.

Don’t give the conference theme of sustainability lip service. Digitise your credentials.

And in case you were wondering, the Avalanches made the Stanley Cup. Perhaps a good omen for admissions teams back home dealing with a growing pile of international applicants.

About the author: Joe Robb is director of Marketing for Veri Once, a digital ecosystem that brings individuals, employers, universities, and training providers under one roof to share and verify credentials. Veri Once’s blockchain technology secures the ecosystem and adds the necessary trust. And importantly, credentials only need to be verified once and can be used for a lifetime, saving everyone time and money.