In 1906, Englishman J. J. Thompson challenged the scientific community’s understanding of the atom with his “plum pudding” theory. The model ultimately led to scientific evidence of the first subatomic particle, the electron. Thompson and subsequent pioneers of subatomic theory proved a powerful point: changing the unit of measurement can radically alter how we engage with the natural world.

Contrast this scientific revolution with our experience in the dynamic and changing world of higher education. For too long, higher education has relied on 19th-century definitions and measures to solve for 21st-century needs. The yardstick of academic progress—the transcript—has been the instrument...

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