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Jeannine Bell, President, TAICEP

Jeannine Bell is the new president of The Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals for 2020-21. As former senior assistant director of International Admissions at the University of Colorado Boulder, Jeannine spoke to The PIE News ahead of the TAICEP conference in October about coronavirus and international credentials, exam cancellations and how best to determine students’ prospects at university.


"I love the possibility of being part of an organisation that helps students make their way through the admission process"

The PIE: How has the pandemic impacted international credentials?

Jeannine Bell: International credential evaluation professionals are a diverse group. They own companies or work for private companies and are often doing credential evaluation in tandem with university admissions offices and secondary schools, community or junior colleges and higher education institutions.

“The last thing anybody wants is for a student to come such a long distance and then not do well”

They work in government agencies for purposes of professional licensure, immigration and refugee resettlement. TAICEP represents so many facets of international mobility. As a result, experiences with credentials during the pandemic have sometimes been quite different.

Credentials and exam results are not currently available in the way that credential evaluators and admissions officers have traditionally required. The issuance of the final degree certificate may be delayed.

It’s difficult to have documents properly attested and certified, and we have to adjust our expectations regarding timelines for the submission of completed documents.

TAICEP members in the US have mentioned that many of those seeking credential evaluation now are people already living in the US. It might be internal mobility as opposed to cross border mobility that’s driving the need for credential evaluation.

The PIE: How has moving from an admissions background to becoming president of TAICEP been for you? 

JB: I love the possibility of being part of an organisation that helps students make their way through the admission process, sometimes with a different language, sometimes coming from a completely different education system.

We also help those who are seeking a better life by proving their past competencies and skills to attain a job, a promotion, a raise as well as for other purposes. I find that incredibly fulfilling.

The PIE: Is there a country that is renowned for being difficult in terms of getting credentials accepted and recognised?

JB: There are a number. The more challenging countries are those that have had terrible civil strife, where schools have been bombed, have been burned out, and where there are massive refugee encampments.

How do you determine what types of credentials to ask for and how to validate them for individuals experiencing such extremely difficult circumstances? While we have been able to help thousands, it is not an easy process.

The PIE: Some have suggested that admissions teams should be more involved in the recruitment cycle. What are your thoughts on that?

JB: Many educational institutions have done exactly this for decades. Some have their own recruitment teams whose mission is to meet with students, to present information about their university, to help students understand the admissions process, and help secondary schools understand how they might guide students through the process.

But a large part of it is to make sure that it’s a good fit because the last thing anybody wants is for a student to come such a long distance and then not do well. That isn’t good for the student, the instructor, fellow classmates or the institution.

The PIE: Will exam cancellations affect the admissions process now?

JB: Yes, and no. A number of US and Canadian schools had already suspended their requirements for entrance exams.

Many US students are admitted to the university during their last year in secondary school – admitted prior to taking exams.  Admissions officers were accustomed to working with unofficial and incomplete documents.

Official credentials or verification would not be required until after students had accepted admission or started classes. This may become a test of flexibility after the start of the term at the point at which credentials will be required.

The PIE: And in other universities, was there was a more significant impact?

JB:  Yes. When the exams were cancelled, even the exam boards were trying to figure out how to assess students fairly and accurately. Universities are trying to determine eligibility for admission in the absence of these assessments.

“Entrance examinations might become more of an option as opposed to a requirement”

As a result, a lot of educators are becoming more flexible. Obviously, you want qualified candidates, but you don’t want to put unnecessary barriers in their way or penalise them for conditions beyond their control.

When Covid-19 hit, there was the realisation that you had the ability to change the submission timeframe of a document, and that that could help the student still be admitted, come to campus once the borders are open and still thrive.

The PIE: And what if those students can’t then provide those official documents?

JB: Some of it is going to be a bit of a waiting game. Institutions of all sorts are working very hard to find a way to issue these documents.

We are also working very hard for solutions that allow for mobility once again. I believe that some of these new flexibilities may become permanent. For example, perhaps the requirement for entrance examinations might become more of an option as opposed to a requirement.

The PIE: Are there any risks with making particular entrance requirements – like entrance exams – optional? 

JB: Ultimately, there’s more to a student’s ability to succeed than whether or not they do well on exams.  Some test well but don’t live up to their potential once they arrive.  Others don’t test well but succeed exceptionally well.

“Ultimately, there’s more to a student’s ability to succeed than whether or not they do well on exams”

It’s one of many ways of determining whether the student will do well at an institution. For example, some universities [do] holistic admission, where the academic piece is the most critical and the examinations could be an assist to that.

I should note that in licensure, such as for physiotherapy, the credential acceptance is often regulated by professional boards, councils or associations, and as such, there is much less flexibility in easing documentation and practical requirements.

The PIE: How may this move to hybrid education at universities all over the world affect credentials? 

JB: Many institutions have been offering online degrees for years. They’ve established their curriculum, their degree requirements and have already determined what kind of credentials they need for entry.

Coronavirus has emphasised the need for more global online issuance and validation of credentials. Many education institutions and examining boards already offer online verification of credentials or exam results.  A lot of the infrastructure is already in place.  This is an area in which we need to see more innovation and progress.

The PIE: With talk about blockchain and qualification passports it seems like it’s quite an innovative sort of sector. Are institutions keeping up with this, or do many still rely on paper?

JB: That’s actually the subject of a lot of webinars, sessions at conferences, and discussions in the hallway among credential evaluators. I think the culture is moving toward some form of electronic transference of the information.

“In the last decade or so, it became more important to be able to determine documents were valid”

In the course of working at the university, especially in the last decade or so, it became more important to be able to determine documents were valid and authentically represented the student’s accomplishments.

The actual document wasn’t required if these other items could be met. For example, some testing providers offer online verification. So if a student sends me a photocopy of their certificate, I can validate the information online from an authoritative source.

The PIE: And you have the TAICEP conference coming up.

JB: We were scheduled to go to lovely Glasgow, Scotland this year but due to Covid-19 we are offering a virtual meeting, and it will take place October 5-30. The conference theme appropriately is inclusive, digital and accessible, which is especially apropos this year.

In closing, even with all that’s going on, I’m very excited about the future, and the growing role that TAICEP is playing in international mobility through credential evaluation.

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