Until recently, applicants to the University of North Carolina, Wilmington’s Graduate School mailed in their applications, which were then walked - as in, physically carried - across campus to the school’s 46 different programs for review. Graduate coordinators often discovered necessary documents were missing, necessitating either another cross-campus trip to deliver the retrieved information or a resubmission by the applicant, which triggered the process anew. Once the application was deemed complete, graduate admissions committee members had to visit the appropriate coordinator’s office to check out the application for review or request that a copy be sent to them. These inefficiencies were costing the Graduate School many promising students and frustrating university officials, says project manager Sandie Sue.
“Graduate students need an answer quickly,” Sue explains. “They need to know who’s going to offer them the most money, whether they’re a teaching assistant or a research assistant, because a lot of times graduate students are nontraditional. They need to make plans for their life; it’s not just them they’re considering.”
UNCW implemented a Perceptive Software imaging system that handles the entire process, beginning with a prospective student’s application, electronically. Supplementary paper documents are scanned and attached to applications, and packets are sent from computer to computer, obviating the need for time-consuming hand delivery. Graduate program coordinators and committee members receive electronic notification when applications are completed and available, and they conduct reviews and make their decisions online.
“There was an intentional desire to increase the number of graduate students on campus; it was part of our strategic direction for the university,” says Leah Kraus, associate vice chancellor of the information technology systems division. “With the prior model, there was no way we could do that without increasing staff, and that’s not happening.”
The new system resulted in a 30 percent increase in graduate applications in 2008 and a 40 percent increase last year, culminating in a 30 percent bump in enrollment, all with no additional staffing. Imaging and electronic routing have significantly reduced errors, while the workflow processes have greatly cut down on the time it takes for an application to move through the system.
“Before, sometimes, it took months,” says Sue, who oversaw the implementation of the new system. “Now it can be done in a matter of two days or, if it’s a rush, less. It’s not even affected if it’s close to the deadline.” The Graduate School has saved $4,500 in photocopying costs over the last two years. And, eliminating the need to store paper files has allowed the school to install two computer stations for work-study students. Applicants have near-instant access to admissions officials if they have questions, and the system not only requires them to fill in their applications fully and correctly before they are able to submit them, but also allows them to verify that those applications are complete and submitted correctly. “The strategic direction and the need for improved efficiencies collided,” Kraus notes.