As students “swirl” through higher education, taking classes at multiple institutions either consecutively or simultaneously, the need for institutions to quickly receive and process transcripts becomes more important. To comply with accreditation standards, Houston Community College was supposed to have all transcripts evaluated by the end of a student’s first semester, a goal their paper-based process was not allowing them to meet in 2008.
It takes about 20 minutes to process and evaluate a paper transcript, estimates William Carter, vice chancellor of Information Technology, which equates to 211 weeks of work for one person to process the 25,000 transcripts received during the 2011-12 school year. To meet the goal of evaluating all transcripts by the end of the first term, “I’d have to hire 14 people to be able to do it by hand,” he explains.
Additionally, since student services staff could not access data from a single source, there were many duplicate student records across HCC’s 26 campuses. Realizing the process was time consuming, wasteful, and preventing good service to students, campus leaders knew they had to make a change.
Although the college had been sending transcripts using the state mandated SPEEDE electronic data interchange standard since the 1990s, there wasn’t a fully digital receiving process until fall 2008. “We’ve had budget cuts, so we had to find efficiencies that would allow us to use current staff and technology,” Carter says. At that time, they took the steps necessary to upload and process the files directly into HCC’s PeopleSoft student transcript evaluation and degree audit systems. Since then, the SPEEDE evaluation solution has been used to receive and process 27,869, or about 35 percent, of their student transcripts.
In 2009, they took digital a step further by leveraging the ImageNow system from Perceptive Software to create predefined templates to scan and manage any paper transcripts still being received. “We’ve gotten rid of having to handle large amounts of paper for institutions that send us many transcripts,” he says.
The scanned documents are verified and added to students’ records, allowing them and their advisors to access the data from a single source and determine what courses the student needs to finish their degree program. “Through Fall 2010, HCC has automatically evaluated 39,277, or about 50 percent of our transcripts, which were done manually prior to the software,” Carter says.
“We’ve taken a very paper intensive process and built it into an electronic process that provides fast turnaround to students when they need to know what they have to enroll in.”
In addition to providing students with the necessary information in a more timely fashion, Carter has seen savings in both costs and time. “The project ROI was 5.6 months with 85 percent of our transcripts being processed electronically,” he adds. “Since implementation, HCC has processed 67,146 student transcripts for a $1,009,711 handling and supply savings. It has saved $80,646 in supplies or 67,156 sheets of paper, 5.6 toner cartridges, 1.9 printer drums, and eight trees.”
Take a careful look at your business processes and be willing to change them, Carter advises. Although it can be hard to break out of the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset, the benefits are worth it. Yet, he cautions, “to get it running and effective it will take at least a year. Take the time to get it in place and get the kinks worked out and you’ll see long-term returns.”