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I've been offered a few adjunct teaching positions recently, and the colleges have said that degree certificates don't count in verifying my credentials and that only academic transcripts are acceptable.

Given that I finished my degrees 20+ years ago, what is the reason for this?

I eventually managed to get my transcripts, but no one has ever asked for them before, my degree certificates were perfectly acceptable (including tenure-track positions in Australia).

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  • Perhaps I'm reading inbetween the lines, but I think the OP's secondary question is 'how do I resolve the fact I don't have access to my transcripts if it's required?'. – SSight3 Jun 25 at 14:34
  • @SSight3: You can explain the circumstances and ask the hiring institution to waive the requirement, or offer to provide something else instead. This is usually possible, but may require the approval of some high-ranking administrator. But you'd only want to do it if the required documents are truly unobtainable - if it's possible but merely inconvenient to get them, you're expected to get them. – Nate Eldredge Jun 25 at 15:20
  • @SSight3 For me, that wasn't a real problem. Both universities had the option of me paying extra to have my transcripts scanned and available electronically, which is what I did. – Peter K. Jun 25 at 15:20
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Most applicants for positions at US universities will have been educated in the US, so US hiring practices are based around the sorts of records that US universities provide. And US universities don't really have such a thing as "degree certificates". The paper diploma from a US university is considered purely ceremonial and not used for any official purpose; it often doesn't even have complete information about the degree (major, honors, etc). For most US universities, the only official academic record they produce is the transcript. Hence, that is what a US university expects when hiring.

Note that in some cases, a hiring decision may be based on more specific details about your education than the simple fact that you have a degree. There may be formal requirements, coming from university regulations or accrediting agencies, that you have a certain amount of coursework in certain areas, and the transcript is the only way to verify that.

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    In comparison with degrees in many other countries, bachelor's degrees in the US are so flexible (with various concentrations, elective credits and so on) that it's very hard to evaluate a candidate simply on the basis of the degree. – Brian Borchers Jun 24 at 0:54
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    @PeterK.: The time span is simply irrelevant. If educational details are going to be a factor, then the hiring university is going to require verification in the form of transcripts from everyone they hire, regardless of time since degree or anything else. – Nate Eldredge Jun 24 at 2:19
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    Thanks again! I’ll leave it for a day or so to give the check mark, to see if someone else has a better explanation but this seems pretty good to me. – Peter K. Jun 24 at 2:21
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    @DavidRicherby I think Brian Borchers' point explains that discrepancy nicely: degrees in the UK are much more often "single honours", with a reasonably fixed syllabus, so "BA (Hons) in History from the University of Wherever" tells someone a lot more than the equivalent would in the US system. – IMSoP Jun 25 at 9:02
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    And you can't find out what parts of that syllabus I actually paid attention to, because my third-year transcript just says "Paper 7", "Paper 8", "Paper 9", "Dissertation", and each of those three papers contained a mix of questions from multiple different courses. – David Richerby Jun 25 at 10:03
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At the heart, the approach chosen by universities is because a piece of paper, however elaborate, can be forged. It is much more difficult to forge the transmission from one university's degree verification office to another university. So in some sense, the request is simply to make forgeries harder.

It's not part of your question, but worth telling stories around it. The kind of requirement you are encountering makes it much more difficult for people from other countries to satisfy the formal requirements. I have colleagues who were professors for 20 years and, when accepting a position somewhere else, where asked to provide a way for the new university to verify their PhD -- which they had obtained in the 1980s in Eastern European countries that no longer exist, at universities that no longer exist and whose archives were affected by years of civil war. I don't recall how that was eventually resolved, but it seems unlikely that the new employer ever got what they were asking for.

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    That is not just a "historical" problem. I know a refugee from the Bosnian war (classified as an army deserter by one side of the conflict, and an enemy combatant by the other side - not a good situation to be in if you want to live long!) who wanted to continue his academic career as a postdoc in the UK. The official records of his PhD were somewhere in the rubble of what used to be Sarajevo university before it was destroyed by bombing. A leading UK university allowed him to take a subset of their next round of MSC examinations, as proof of his academic ability. – alephzero Jun 24 at 9:36
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    Funny you should mention that. My wife wanted to teach in the elementary / middle / high school system here in the US. Even her transcripts were not enough: she had to get all her degrees (BSc, MSc, PhD) certified by a US authorizing agency before she could apply. I haven't had to do that for college-level teaching. – Peter K. Jun 24 at 14:49
  • But this depends on how the transcript is provided. It sounds as though two US institutions would send it directly - but if I request a transcript from my UK university, it will be sent to me. It will be sent sealed in an envelope that I am supposed to leave closed, but if I were capable of producing a convincing forgery of a degree certificate, I don't imagine a sealed envelope would be too much challenge. – Flyto Jun 24 at 17:07
  • @flyto: Universities abroad can send their documents directly to whatever entity wants to verify them in the US. At least that's what worked for me -- I just had to sign a waiver that my employer then used. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jun 24 at 19:09
  • @WolfgangBangerth Yes. Mine also had the option of sending electronic copies of transactions directly to the US colleges, which worked for them. They received emails directly from my alma mater; I just had to provide the US college contact’s email address. – Peter K. Jun 24 at 22:16
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Accreditation to teach specific classes.

For example, the college I work at is covered by SACS. With just an AS degree and a metric ton of experience, I can teach IT courses that don't count towards a BA/BS degree at a "real" University. Linux administration, Advanced Java (but not intro to programming w/ java), MySQL, etc. They qualify for vocational certs and AS degrees though.

In order to be able to teach specific courses - IE, "CGS1000" titled as "Intro to college computing" which DOES go towards AAs and 4 year+ universities, I have to either have a masters or terminal degree in a specific named field, or have X number of hourse (18 IIRC) of post-grad course work in a specific list of courses. It is that last bit that requires a transcript, and it requires someone to evaluate the transcript, compare substitution codes by FICE codes (to see that your schools ABC123 mapped to what SACS calls ABC101), etc.

A good example of this is someone I work with who has a BS in software engineering and a masters in project management but he can't teach the CGS1000 course because he didn't have any educational technology related courses at the masters level.

Edit - explanation of terms

SACS - Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Accreditation body for SE USA.

AS - Associates of Science degree. 2 year terminal degree (nursing, X-Ray tech, Resp. therapy, etc). Minimal gen-ed stuff, doesn't go to a University to become part of a higher degree

AA - Associate of Arts. First half of a BA or BS degree, gened type stuff.

FICE - Federal Interagency Committee on Education - defines a nationwide list of code numbers to reference schools and/or courses for cross-institution communication of academic info like transcripts, etc.

  • Thanks! An interesting variant. I don't think that applies in my case - except that they prefer adjuncts with masters degrees, which could have been verified with the degree certificate. – Peter K. Jun 25 at 15:19
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    What are SACS, AS, AAs, FICE, ...? Please remember that not everybody works in the same environment as you, and acronyms that are totally familiar to you are alphabet soup to people from different places. – David Richerby Jun 25 at 15:23
  • @DavidRicherby - Would've though these would be more common with a US focused question, edit added for what they are. – ivanivan Jun 25 at 16:47
  • @ivanivan Thanks. I agree the question is US-focused but answers should still be understandable to people outside that context who might be curious. – David Richerby Jun 25 at 16:48

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