Harvard Division of Continuing Education Collaborates on Digital Credentials Project


Harvard's Division of Continuing Education has partnered with eight universities from around the world to develop a shared infrastructure standard for digitally verifying academic credentials in a project called Digital Credentials announced last week.

Along with Harvard, other participating universities include MIT and the University of California, Berkeley, as well as institutions from Germany, Mexico, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Currently, students have to manually contact their former institutions to verify the academic credentials they earned, including transcripts, certificates, and other documentation confirming course completion. The collaborative initiative seeks to create a better system for managing records of student academic achievements. The Division of Continuing Education encompasses various undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree programs and is leading the program at Harvard.

Henry H. Leitner, chief innovation officer for the division, said a global collaboration is necessary to set a standard system for storing and verifying academic credentials. He described the current system as “somewhat cumbersome” and “prone to fraud.”


“Without a shared infrastructure, the usefulness of doing this individually is going to be quite limited. You really need to have collaboration with lots and lots of universities,” Leitner said.

“You want to have degrees, diplomas, certificates — basically credentials — that are tamper proof, that are secure, that are independent of any, you know, third party vendor,” he added.

Though the University as a whole is interested in the project, Leitner said it was especially applicable to the Division of Continuing Education's programs since they offer various non-degree options. For example, participants in professional development programs — which take place over the course of just a few days — are given a credential of participation, but at the moment there is no simple way to electronically record that, according to Leitner.

Leitner said that the Digital Credentials team plans to focus on creating “a solid, ethical standard for verifying academic credentials.” The standard would eventually provide a roadmap for developers to use in designing technology that will allow students to access their credentials.

With this new technology, students will also be able to compile credentials from multiple institutions and safely store this information using a streamlined process. Participating institutions are experimenting with blockchain to bring this project to fruition.

Joshua V. Boyd, a degree-seeking Harvard Extension School student, said the idea of an application that would securely store his academic credentials sounded useful for students.

“As long as they have an internet signal, they can access the app and pull up the files, which is, to me, awesome,” Boyd said.

—Staff writer Lucy Liu can be reached at