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Maryville University Packs Diplomas Into Encrypted App For Students

College and graduation illustration
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Maryville University is offering its graduates a digital alternative to paper diplomas and transcripts using blockchain technology.

Future Maryville University graduates will still have the embossed piece of paper with the fancy font to hang on the office wall. They’ll also be able to flash their diplomas on their smartphones.

The suburban St. Louis institution announced this month it’s investing in blockchain technology to help its graduates be more nimble with their education credentials as they pursue advanced degrees or employment.

Administrators admit it may be a few more years before this option becomes more popular than transcript requests, “but it is something we believe is where the technology is going,” said Stephanie Elfrink, Maryville’s vice president for operational excellence. 

She added it’s “the future state of how we believe these documents and these kinds of records are going to be shared.”

Blockchain is a secure information-sharing system that is most widely used in the finance industry. It stores a document or data set in small pieces across several computer servers, making it more secure. 

Starting this fall, all Maryville graduates will download a blockchain-specific app and accept a credential from the university. They can then share a keycode link with a potential employer. Viewers will be able to verify that the diploma or transcript has not been tampered with.

If that’s too complicated, the current way of requesting a transcript online or by mail from the school will still be available. 

“We are not abandoning any of our current processes,” Elfrink said.

Maryville University is a private institute educating just over 9,000 students. It has grown its student body through aggressive investment in online learning during an era of shrinking enrollment at Midwestern colleges and universities.

Maryville is following a small but growing trend in higher education adopting blockchain technology. Central New Mexico Community College is considered the pioneer; Maryville now employs Central New Mexico’s former chief information officer. ECPI University in Virginia and a City University of New York campus have also announced blockchain diplomas. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is likely the largest university to embrace blockchain credentials.

Maryville is not yet accepting cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, for tuition payments, but Elfrink said the university leadership has discussed it.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.