June 27, 2013
When I first entered the international education profession in 1982 as a junior level credential evaluator, there were less than 10 companies engaged in providing credential evaluation services. Today, there are more than 300 such companies spread across the U.S. Question that I get asked is how does one go about picking the company they can trust?
First and foremost, selecting a credential evaluation company cannot be solely contingent on price and turnaround. If so, the door is open to hucksters and scam artists, looking to make a quick buck at the expense of the student and the academic institution. How carefully a credentialing agency is assessed and vetted is crucial in establishing trust and confidence in the educational equivalency reports an institution receives.
Everyday, I come across websites of yet another newly created company. And some, brazenly and blatantly make uncorroborated claims of professional membership, affiliations and accreditation, and in the case of a bogus company we discovered recently, plagiarize our company’s information directly, word for word from our website! What I find odd about many of these entities is their lack of transparency. In an industry where one’s professional expertise and knowledge base on world education and evaluation of credentials is tantamount to the legitimacy of services provided and equivalencies recommended, the nonexistence of who is running the show is highly questionable. They do not disclose the identities of their leadership team or professional staff (and if they do its either false or a pure case of identity fraud), yet they tout their wares by offering special discounts, and speedy service, as though the process of evaluating academic credentials is no different than a visit to the local dry cleaners. Not so.
I founded ACEI (Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.) in 1994, following in the footsteps of those giants in the profession who were my teachers and mentors. I received my training from the best of the best. It was under the tutelage of titans like Inez Sepmeyer, Gene Dean, and Ted Sharp that I acquired my basic knowledge of evaluating international credentials. I also benefited from participating in various in-country research projects, boot camps for credential evaluators, where recognized and respected international education experts like Jim Haas, Jim Frey, Rebecca Dixon, Caroline Aldridge, Gloria Nathanson shared their knowledge and expertise. My contribution to the field continues to this day whether through my regular blogs on international education-related topics, presentations at conferences or through webinars and publications on world education systems.
Today, I chair the Credentials Committee of the AACRAO – Special Task Force on International Credentials Evaluation, Recruitment and Research. We’ve been assigned the task to help define standards for the profession and help bring about the recognition and acknowledgement it deserves. In addition, the formation of The Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals (TAICEP), of which I’m a Charter Member, is to serve as a forum for individuals in the profession to exchange and share their expertise working toward maintaining standards of best practices.
The point being made here is: credential evaluation is not a game. People’s academic and professional careers depend on accurate and trusted evaluations prepared by companies managed by trained and respected professionals. Before you accept a company’s promises for faster and cheaper evaluations for your students, find out who is running the company. What is his/her expertise? For that matter, inquire the expertise of its professional team engaged in credential evaluations. What contributions have they made to the field of international education? Is the company a member of one of the two nationally-recognized professional associations: AICE and/or NACES? How many years have they been in operation? Ask around; ie. inquire about them through colleagues at other institutions of higher education. Find out their methods of verifying academic documents. Do they work directly from copies or official transcripts?
Several years ago I served as Chair of the ADSEC (Admissions Section) Committee at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. We were tasked with the assignment of preparing Guidelines to help NAFSAns with the selection of a credential evaluation service. The suggestions recommended in these guidelines are available for your viewing on the NAFSA website for its members. To view these Guidelines, please click on this link: http://www.nafsa.org/resourcelibrary/default.aspx?id=8817.
In the past 30 years, the proliferation of companies vying for a piece of the international education market, has given rise to the chatter about the absence of standards in the profession. Entrepreneurs backed by investors are looking into dipping their toes into the profession claiming that they can do this better and faster. Standards do exist. Just look at the existence of the AICE and NACES and professional associations such as NAFSA and AACRAO and the myriad of publications and research projects sponsored on world education systems, credential evaluation methodology, placement recommendations, and best practices. The burden of selecting a reputable, trustworthy, experienced and respected credential evaluation agency also rests with those at U.S. institutions who wish to refer their students to a private service for the evaluation of their credentials. A little homework on the part of the U.S. institutions by checking references, just as one would hiring a new staff member or any other company offering its services, goes a long way.
Due diligence is a two way street. Just as much as we at ACEI are committed in doing our part by ensuring the validity of academic documents through verification, recommending accurate educational equivalency reports through evaluation, and maintaining and enhancing our knowledge of world education systems, trends and policy changes through professional development programs, the same level of commitment and collaboration is needed on the part of our colleagues at U.S. institutions. By adhering to the general principles of best practices, together we can help maintain and uphold standards in our profession.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI