The academic calendar maintains its own particular cycle and pivots on its own particular axis. Critical dates, such as deadlines for the submission and changing of grades, must be honored. After all, should the calendar lose its adherence, the effects can be negative.
“Students need that grade in getting scholarships and other initiatives,” says Oakland University (Mich.) Registrar Steve Shablin. “The grade is very important. Unfortunately, there are a whole host of reasons why grades need to be changed.”
Oakland found its efforts hampered by a grade change process that was paper-based and manually handled. Incorrect information—the wrong name, the wrong student ID number, or the wrong course reference number, to name some examples—was often entered on the form. In addition, delays were common, as the paperwork needed to make its way from the faculty member to the approving academic official to the registrar’s office and, in the case of bad data, all the way back again.
After hearing recommendations from external auditors and from a group of undergraduates enrolled in an HR class, the Registrar’s Office worked with University Technology Services and Academic Affairs to put the grade change process online.
A web form developed internally allows faculty members to input changes to students’ grades, and the system is able to detect errors from the beginning and immediately call for correction. If the instructor enters the wrong ID number, for example, she will realize immediately that the student whose name pops up in the form is not actually in her class. Once the university’s Committee on Instruction signs off and Shablin’s office records the grade change, automatic emails go to the student and his faculty member to inform them.
Oakland officials estimate yearly savings of $30,000 in paper and labor costs, as well as time saved as instantaneous electronic communication replaces tedious paper handling.
Under the paper-based process, the best-case scenario saw grades changed in five business days. The electronic process reduced that to under a day. And because it’s web-based, the process can continue after hours.
“Much of this work can be done after the normal 8 to 5 [day],” Shablin says. “The faculty member can go online and do it at 10 p.m., and if the Committee on Instruction representative is on, and they often are, they can approve it at 10:01 p.m. and forward it to my office at 10:02 p.m. When we come into the office the next day, all of the grade changes that have been approved are sitting in one of my employees’ inboxes to make the change.”
Faculty focus groups helped Oakland officials refine the form before rolling it out. Once it was launched, administrators visited academic departments across campus to explain the new process. According to Shablin, it’s a hit, and for a variety of reasons.
“We’ve eliminated paper, and we’ve reduced the time from the grade change submitted to the time it’s entered in our student information system,” he says. “We just started in March of this year, and we’ve already had approximately 800 grade changes completed through the online form. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback. It’s a sweet process.”(Note: This story features a campus department that was recognized in the University Business Models of Efficency program, sponsored by Higher One. The program honors those departments that have found ways to increase efficiency by technology or busines process enhancements. Learn more about Models of Efficiency at www.universitybusiness.com/modelsofefficiency.)