Rising Above the Pandemic Series: Transitioning from In-Person to Remote Processes

April 23, 2020

Higher education is rising above the challenges of COVID-19. We applaud the speed at which higher education institutions reacted, moving in-person education to 100% online in a week. Some, in just a weekend. 👏👏👏

Under normal, pandemic-free circumstances, it would be ludicrous to automate processes so quickly. But current restrictions require radical adjustment from all organizations, including higher ed. At this point, most institutions have equipped faculty and staff with the necessary tools to continue urgent and important functions, like teaching. Higher ed is now shifting the focus to other functions that need digital transformation, like administration.

In this period of social distancing, what do administrative activities look like when we don’t have the luxury of passing papers? When students finish classes this spring, how will they get approval for graduation? Shortly after that, high school seniors will make decisions about where to attend college. Can the admissions process continue virtually? And when fall courses start back up, institutions must be prepared for other student needs like approving financial aid and changing majors.

Of course, you know this. And you understand that there are dozens of options for automating these processes. You might pass documents around via email. A project manager could be assigned to keep things moving. Maybe IT is working on procuring a new solution. There’s more than one way to automate processes (and skin a cat, but it’s 2020). Let’s talk automation options using the following examples.

Graduation

The process of graduation approval often looks like some iteration of the following: a student meets with a counselor to walk through graduation requirements. When the counselor sees the student has met the requirements, the counselor walks a paper to an administrative assistant’s desk. The assistant then hands that form, with a stack of others, to the department chair who signs each document. The assistant collects the forms and manually enters information into a software system. A waterfall effect occurs and the student receives a slew of emails about graduation.

Obviously, in today’s environment, a form can no longer make its way from desk to desk without software. While an institution could use email as a substitution, a more effective way to manage the graduation approval process might be through a workflow tool. So, rather than sorting through an email chain of “Thanks, looks great” messages, a college dean might open a software, review, and press a button instead. A workflow tool could also show the administrative assistant where the form is in the process. At a minimum, it will make the process faster!

Admissions

From admit rates to financial aid to refunds and remote classes, there are dozens of factors to consider surrounding admissions, many of which are in flux.

While you anxiously wait to learn if you’ll be working from your kitchen office this fall, you can start today on auditing the steps in the admissions process. Which steps include paper traveling from one person to another? How do students apply for financial aid? Can they request to delay deadlines due to COVID-19?

Previously, a student requested information for financial aid by calling a phone number or scheduling a meeting with the financial aid office on campus. Today, students can’t use those methods. Rather than connecting via phone, administrators could direct students to a form, created in a form building software. Students could fill out the form instead of sharing sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable information over the phone or in person.

In a best-case scenario, this form software would be integrated with email so that each time a student in the School of Engineering, for example, requests information on financial aid, the appropriate person would be notified and could respond in a timely manner.

Course Management

During my first year of college, I wanted to change my major, as freshmen do. I met with three different individuals in three different offices. In between one of those visits, I had to wait a period of time to allow for office A to call office B. This process was jumbled and confusing even when I could speak to someone in person, face-to-face. How much more confusing might it be online?

This clunky process could be remedied quickly with a digital form software. The student could fill out three forms rather than meeting with three individuals. Perhaps the student could even fill out just one form that could then be shared with the three offices. This would simplify the process for the student, and save everyone the hassle of making time to meet face to face when a form would work just as well. A form can’t replace every interaction on campus of course, but this is one case where it could be used effectively.

David Rosowsky, former provost and senior vice president at the University of Vermont, thinks student-facing processes should be clearer than ever upon the return to campus. “Reduce alternative pathways, reduce redundant steps, reduce back-door options, and strive for uniformity in expectations.”

If there has ever been a time to analyze and upgrade student-facing processes, it’s now.

The examples above are just a few of the many processes that institutions must transform. We hope you have the tools you need. However, if your institution is searching for a forms and workflow tool to take some of these processes into the digital realm, Kuali Build can help. You can learn more or get in touch with a person here to talk about your institution’s specific needs today.


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