At first glance, the issue faced by Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University (Calif.) may not seem too daunting: a few thousand applications a year and 1,600 students enrolled in 16 programs at five campuses. What’s so tough about that?
For starters, the entry of admissions data had always been paper-based and done manually. While prospective students applied online, their documents were printed, and multiple paper versions of their files were created to support varying needs and processes. “It was quite a headache,” says Juan Mena, a web applications developer for the school. “We knew we needed to do something better.”
Each campus’ admission committee also had a unique practice for reviewing applications and supporting files. With campuses stretching from Silicon Valley to Irvine, joint decision making was difficult. The committees met just three times a year, a detriment to the school’s rolling admissions process.
“It’s a very competitive market, arguably one of the most competitive in the country for working adults,” says Darrell Eriksen, director of admission. “We need to get admission decisions out as quickly as possible, and we have school all year around.”
In 2008, the admission and technology services units began working with Pepperdine’s IT department to create a paperless file for each applicant. After two years of development, data from applications now is imported directly into Oracle’s PeopleSoft product, the school’s student information system. Perceptive Software’s Nolij product was implemented for document management and workflow, allowing both for easy sharing of files and for each campus’ admission committee to retain its unique workflow processes.
The new system allows deans, department chairs, admission committees, and others to review documents and make decisions more quickly. Data accuracy has greatly improved, as have storage, confidentiality, and accessibility of the information. Not that the transition was without its bumps. “We needed a culture change,” Eriksen says. “It was a real change to get people to read from the Nolij system to the PeopleSoft system and slowly let go of the paper folders.”
Graziadio officials say the challenge was worth it and cite Nolij as a key factor in revamping business procedures. Processing time for applicants’ files has dropped from weeks to days, and prospective students are notified of admission decisions within 24 hours. Staff overtime is down $15,000 a year, and paper, photocopying, and storage costs have dropped, as well.
Officials did decide to continue on part of the process manually, according to Michael Stamper, director of technology services. And it’s deliberate. “Once the final decision is made, there is a level of human oversight just to verify things,” Stamper notes. “Then they manually put that into PeopleSoft as the final decision. We didn’t feel it was worth the risk to automate that final step.”