LesLee Eicher, President, TAICEP, US
The Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals is an international association to support and serve international credential evaluation. The PIE spoke with TAICEP president LesLee Eicher about the growing need for trustworthy credential evaluation and standardised global practices in a world where more and more students are looking to study abroad.
The PIE: What does TAICEP do?
LesLee Eicher: TAICEP was created to support the work of international credential evaluators. We are the only association devoted to this profession, and we are an international group with members from 18 countries. We establish standards, provide support for professionals and in turn support those who cross borders with their educational documents so they can be appropriately placed in further education, employment and other endeavours that require education.
“We’re based in the United States, but we’re truly international”
International credential evaluation varies from country to country and region to region. For instance, where I’m from, the US, we don’t have a government body that regulates international credential evaluation for us, and so we were doing similar work but under different parameters than the rest of the world. And, we were doing it in relative isolation; we had relatively few venues where we could compare notes with evaluators from other countries, making sure that we were adhering to similar standards and principles of best practice.
Then one day, my colleagues in international credential evaluation here in the US decided let’s get together a group that spans not just the United States but let’s connect with our colleagues around the world.
The PIE: And how has it evolved?
LE: First and foremost I’d say that we are proud of the idea that TAICEP is an international association, we’re based in the United States, but we’re truly international. And so we found how valuable it is at our conferences just being able to connect with credential evaluators from other countries and we realised at that point, oh we’re all doing the same thing, we’re just doing it under a different regulatory framework than the rest of the world is.
So for instance, in the UK you’ve got government bodies that fund offices that do research, and there are government standards that credentials are evaluated by, and in the US, not so much.
Most evaluators operate under principles of best practice, but they don’t have to. So that’s really what made it different in the United States and why we wanted to reach out to the rest of the world. To pull everybody in, make sure that we are adhering to best practices, good standards, based on research. And that’s really how TAICEP came to be.
So now I’m pleased to say that the channels of information are going back and forth among US evaluators and British evaluators and evaluators from South Africa, Australia and Mexico. We’ve got colleagues from all over the world coming to our meetings.
The PIE: And in terms of that kind of difference in the regulatory framework, what sort of differences do you mean when you say that?
LE: As I mentioned, in the United States, there isn’t a government body that regulates the profession. So if you wanted to start a business in the United States as an international credential evaluator, you could do it. Nobody tells you what assessments to make, what the comparability are; it’s just wholly unregulated.
In other countries, there are government bodies almost always that regulates the profession. So that’s one thing that we had to get over when connecting with colleagues from around the world is this idea that in the United States is like the wild, wild west of credential evaluation.
The PIE: Why is it so important to professionalise the credentials sector?
LE: Standards are very important in our profession as the world gets smaller and we have so much interaction with other countries. If you go back 60-70 years, there wasn’t this kind of connection that we have with the rest of the world as far as travel and communications go.
“The United States is like the wild, wild west of credential evaluation”
The world is getting smaller and credential evaluation is a really important part of exchanging employees and academics and refugees. So we must have these standards. It’s vital that our profession is recognised as important and that credential evaluators are getting training.
So I think professionalising this profession, bringing it up into the public eye, helps both the evaluator and the recipient of the evaluation. When credential evaluators are trained, and they have the resources they need to do accurate assessments of persons coming to their own country, that benefits everyone.
The PIE: And in terms of your work who are you helping first and foremost?
We’re helping students, and we’re helping professionals, we’re helping employees, anybody who has some education and needs to use it in another country requires a credential evaluation.
So if you’re going to study in another country, you need your credentials evaluated. You need to know how to be most accurately placed into the receiving education system. If you’re an employee and you want to work overseas, your employer needs to know how to interpret what you’ve done in your country.
Especially for professionals –teachers, doctors, engineers, attorneys – there is a great need for credential evaluation. And then refugees are one of the hot topics right now.
Refugees land in a foreign country and sometimes they come with nothing they have didn’t have time to find their transcripts when they were fleeing a war situation in their own country. And so understanding that and creating systems for being able to reconstruct their education or recognise it is all very important and it hinges on a lot of things.
I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that a person’s success can hinge on credential evaluation because we need to be able to use the credentials that we’ve earned in the place where we land.
The PIE: What trends are you seeing and what are the issues that you need to overcome?
LE: We’re working on several things. Digital documents are one of them– how do institutions and organisations send and receive them? And at TAICEP we’re honing in on overcoming the way that, especially academic institutions, can push back as far as receiving digital documents.
“I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that a person’s success can hinge on credential evaluation”
So that’s one big thing there – standardising the way we do digital documents. I mean it runs the gamut — everything from PDFs to blockchain.
There’s a lot of information out there, and not everybody’s familiar with everything. And especially when receiving international students people are concerned about the authenticity of documents. And that segues into another big issue that we are working on: determining the authenticity of documents.
So evaluators need these to do the work that they do, and so we’ve got a verification database that’s cooking right now. It’s been announced publicly it’s not finished yet. So that’s been important. We’re in talks with a variety of organisations about coming to support it whether by staff-hours or funding that type of thing.
We are connected with the UNESCO convention too, on the global convention on the recognition of higher education qualifications. That’s something that we’re very proud of as a new organisation – to get that kind of recognition and be invited to be an observer at the UNESCO global recognition convention talks is something really cool.
Additionally, we just formed a research committee that works on engaging researchers to work on projects that are of importance to credential evaluators.
The PIE: How long have you been working with digital documents – has that been for decades, or is it a new trend?
LE: Digital documents for the international exchange of records has only been on my horizon for maybe the last ten years. But for perspective, I can tell you that my employer, AACRAO, has been involved with the digital exchange of records for probably 30 years now.
It goes way way back. But even in the US, we don’t have systems set up for the exchange of digital documents. We’ve been working on it for a long time. And like I said, anything from PDF to the blockchain, it’s all over the place, and some US institutions are still only exchanging paper.
The PIE: And then your conference is coming up in October…
LE: Generally we have a North American Conference and a Europe conference, and we alternate between the continents in that way.
We’re at nearly 300 members now and have, at last count, 18 countries represented. As we grow, we may expand our range of conference locations.
But for now, that’s how we alternate. And so we’re back in Canada this year, and we have over 40 sessions on international credential evaluation topics. Some of those are sessions, and some of those are pre-conference workshops. An example of one of our pre-conference workshop is one on transnational education. This is really a hot topic right now in our field because there are so many articulation agreements and agreements set up for dual degrees, sometimes triple degrees offered by different countries.
“We’re at nearly 300 members now”
So that’s an example of a session you might go to at a TAICEP meeting. I would say that our conferences are designed not just for experts we try to tailor our sessions both to newbies to the field and people who have been international credential evaluators for a long time. So I think there is something for everybody.
In supporting international credential evaluators, we’re not only providing them with resources, training, networking and professional qualifications, but we’re also benefiting the universities, the higher ed institutions, the government agencies, and the employers that employ international credential evaluators.
Anything that we can do to professionalise our profession, create standards and add resources is going to be helpful all the way down the line.