YU Verify helps secure the integrity of degree diplomas

Above: Students at convocation. YU Verify helps employers and others check York graduates’ degrees and the year they were conferred

York’s Registrar’s Office and University Information Technology have taken a bold step to thwart document fraud by introducing a new Web site where people can verify a person’s degree information instantly.

YU Verify, a searchable online database of people who have degrees conferred by York, went live in October. It is believed to be the first service of its kind at a Canadian university. Other universities use a manual fax or e-mail request system, or use third-party service providers.

Joanne Duklas, University registrar, said the idea for the site was first mooted in the fall of 2007 when the University was looking into using a third-party service provider to help employers and immigration officials confirm people’s York degrees. Exploratory discussions were already underway when the Toronto Star published a story in December 2008 about a local diploma mill that highlighted the problem.

“Document fraud is a challenging issue,” says Duklas, “and the problem isn’t a York issue, it’s broader even than the postsecondary sector.”

Right: YU Verify protects the integrity of diplomas

With the new online service, which is free, anyone can search for a York graduate and get the particulars of their degree and the year it was conferred. It is University policy to make degrees and dates of conferral public but no other student details are shown. The only degree records not available online are those from York’s earliest years that haven’t been manually entered into the database yet (York only began using electronic transcripts in 1982) or those that have been blocked at the graduate’s request. Ordinarily, says Duklas, it is in a grad’s best interests that his or her degree information is publicly available; however, in special circumstances, the record can be blocked. Anyone who needs to verify degree information that is not available in YU Verify can apply by e-mail.

The decision to develop an in-house solution for degree verification came about after the Registrar’s Office conducted a review of practices at other universities and decided against using a third-party service, which charges users for the information. The YU Verify system was developed by the Registrar’s Office and York’s University Information Technology (UIT). Project leads on the effort, which took about six months to complete, were Lucy Bellissimo, associate registrar, systems & communications, and Al Regina, Student Information Systems manager and system architect with UIT.

While cost to users was one consideration, timeliness was another. Employers or other organizations, such as staff at border crossings, often need verification as soon as possible. “I was most concerned about employers as well as immigration officials who also accept diplomas…direct from students or former students or pretend students crossing the border,” says Duklas. “We needed an online system where our graduates and any employer or immigration official…could go in and instantaneously verify that somebody has a degree from York.”

The online system will also cut dramatically the number of requests for verification that have to be processed by staff, said Duklas.

The data that’s presented is in keeping with the Student Records Policy on Access to Records and Protection of Privacy, which is governed by York’s Policy on Access to Information & Protection of Privacy and complies with the Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy Act.

“Since launching the system, it has been used by over 7,300 people. We’ve had about 15 high-profile people contact us because they were graduates before 1982 and they absolutely want their data on the system,” says Bellissimo.

Degree verification is just one part of the solution to the larger problem. Transcripts are also targeted by forgers and sometimes forged transcripts are used by people to gain admission to a university or to apply for jobs. Since the information in a transcript is private, an online solution isn’t feasible.

But as Duklas points out, in most cases, students don’t need a copy of their transcript. If they do, the transcripts are normally sent directly by the registrar to the party that requires them. Those paper copies that are issued to students are marked “issued to students”.

And, when the subject of transcripts is raised, Duklas can’t resist appealing to students to get their requests into the Registrar’s Office as soon as possible to prevent delays at crunch times. For more information on ordering transcripts online, visit the Registrar’s Office Transcripts Web page.