The paperless society that technological advances were to have fostered never happened; we are more awash in paper than ever before. At University of the Arts, in Philadelphia, the problem has been compounded by a 16.5 percent increase in enrollment and a nearly 50 percent spike in applications over the last decade. All of the extra paperwork generated by the burgeoning interest in the school has to go somewhere, of course, but with office space at a premium due to consolidation - admissions, financial aid, and student billing had been rolled into a single enrollment management division - UArts was practically drowning in a sea of forms, print-outs, and transcripts.
Taking their cue from the university’s registrar, who had implemented something similar a year earlier, enrollment management officials in the fall of 2008 began working on a document-imaging system featuring automated workflows. While IT staff created the workflows and protocols, enrollment management began scanning both existing records and new documents, and within a couple of months, by early 2009, the entire division was paperless.
“We’re a pretty lean operation,” says Barbara Elliott, vice president for enrollment management. “We don’t have a lot of secretarial support. Historically, the admission counselors did the filing for their applications. It was getting to the point where they were spending at least 20 percent of their time filing and looking for documents and checking to see if files were complete. It took a lot of time that could be better spent actually doing the work they’re trained to do - working with families to solve problems.”
The new system - Perceptive Software’s ImageNow - automatically monitors the status of required application forms and funnels the scanned documents to the appropriate admissions counselor for review; he or she then sends the information along to the director of admissions for a final review and decision. The software also tracks deadlines and pings counselors to follow up with students, families, and guidance counselors as needed if information is missing.
According to Elliott, processing time for admissions decisions was reduced from one week to 48 hours, and the financial aid verification process dropped from weeks to days, both thanks to the new ability of enrollment management staff to review forms at any hour of the day and from any place with internet access. The number of decisions UArts is rendering in its rolling-admission cycle is at an all-time high, exceeding a five-year average by nearly 40 percent, and student satisfaction has improved. And all of that has come without having to hire new staff. Counselors’ offices, once clogged with files, have become more welcoming, and office space previously dominated by file cabinets has been repurposed into cleaner, more efficient areas.
Given the massive amount of paperwork UArts is now shuttling around campus with just the press of a button though, perhaps the most significant benefit is something Elliott noted whimsically in her Models of Efficiency application: “No paper cuts.”