A Clean Slate In Higher Ed: How ECM Technology Can Ensure Clean Data And Engage Students

Children who grew up in the digital age are now college applicants. Technology has advanced so quickly over their lifetimes that they’ve become accustomed to a lifestyle of instant gratification – they want better results, faster. During the typical 21st century college application process, they usually get them.

“We have created an audience that expects things better and faster. It used to be a novelty for a college applicant to receive a confirmation email from a college on his phone as soon as he left a college fair, but it’s expected now,” said David Bethune, Customer Account Manager at Perceptive Software. “That’s good, but it can also get a bit overwhelming – both for schools and for students.”

Even more than instant gratification, students want correct, clean results that won’t waste their time or clog up their inboxes.

“These days, communication needs to be intelligent, personalized and deliberate,” said Bethune. “Universities are looking for that competitive advantage and a way to do more with less.”

An excess of connectivity and conduits to information means that schools relying on paper-based records and primitive technology risk getting bogged down in unclean duplicate data, costing themselves money and tarnishing the seamless application process for students.

In older to mitigate these risks, they turn to enterprise content management (ECM) and data upload solutions specialized for the needs of higher education.

“Electronic data has been significantly increasing year-over-year, and Perceptive DataTransfer can help with the burden caused by this increased data,” said Danielle Whitney, DataTransfer Product Manager at Perceptive Software. “The solution ensures that data is transformed the same way every time and according to individual institutions’ very specific business rules. Our goal is to provide an easy-to-use tool that will automate processing, ease the data entry burden and ensure data accuracy.”

Data upload solutions in action
Prior to implementing a data upload solution specifically designed to help their admissions department better manage electronic data, Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., dealt with an overwhelming number of applications.

“I remember spending day after day from November through April in a room surrounded by stacks of paper and stressed out co-workers. We spent all day trying to enter data from applications and transcripts as quickly as possible without making mistakes or creating duplicate IDs,” said Margie Conway, Assistant Director of Admissions at Western Washington University. “Each time there was a change in the review process or a system upgrade, everyone had to be re-trained.”

Data upload solutions allow schools to repurpose staff so they’re no longer data entry clerks, according to Bethune. “They are able to repurpose staff time to work directly with students, and that’s a value-add. It is a direct result of having technology to do the remedial heavy lifting.”

A system bogged down in duplicate data is detrimental to employee productivity, material costs and school reputation. An appropriate data upload solution, however, is intelligent enough to determine which entries are duplicates, misspellings, or otherwise erroneous.

“After we went live with Perceptive DataTransfer, we carefully checked each record thinking it was too good to be true,” said Conway.  “Once we finally convinced ourselves that Transfer was processing each record accurately, I turned it to batch mode and took a walk around campus with a co-worker. When we returned to the office about 15 minutes later, we found that the system had done the work that would have taken an employee hours to complete.  And Perceptive DataTransfer had done the work accurately without creating any duplicate IDs.”

The case of the three Jim Smiths
Imagine this: a high school junior has his heart set on attending the state school a few hours’ drive from his hometown. Halfway through his junior year, he visits the college website and requests information under his nickname: Jimmy Smith. Less than a week later, a personalized 4-color brochure shows up in his parents’ mailbox. Fast forward until the next year, when the same student attends a college fair and signs into the college’s booth using his iPad app – he types in his name as Jim Smith. As soon as he leaves the booth, his smartphone buzzes with a personalized email thanking him for taking the time to visit. Around the same time, unbeknownst to Jimmy/Jim Smith, his father (an alumnus of State School) fills out a tear-away form for his son, James Smith, and drops it in the mailbox.

Suddenly, State School has three separate records in its system: Jimmy Smith on Oak Tree Rd; Jim Smith on Oaktree Road.; and James Smith on Oak Tree Road. Using traditional data entry methods and more primitive content management solutions, schools struggled with correctly populating data into the student information system.

The result was costly in terms of hours of manpower, the expense of accidentally sending four informational booklets to the same person, and potential damage to its reputation as a school that cares about each of its applicants individually.

“The newest data upload solutions are able to standardize names and addresses system- and campus-wide,” said Bethune. “They have the ability to collate and cross-reference ‘Jimmy’ and ‘James’ and ‘Jim’. Schools can set up algorithms to identify: this record says Jim, this one says James, and they share the same address. They can be automated to push through as one record, or you can choose to have the data checked by human eyes. This way, a school can avoid sending two information packets, one addressed to Jimmy and one addressed to James, to the same applicant.”

Four colors, one recipient
Enrollment marketing has become extremely competitive, and schools put a lot of effort into marketing programs. Information packets are universally thick, four-color booklets that are expensive to produce and ship. As quickly as schools can get bogged down in applications, students can begin to feel overwhelmed by marketing materials that, when distributed incorrectly, can seem like junk mail.  Students need to feel that their chosen school knows who they are and will treat them like a person, not just a number.

“Feeling wanted can be crucial for the student. A feeling of “they know me, they like me, they want me to come to their school” is extremely important. I don’t know how to assign measurable value to that, but it’s very obvious in the enrollment world,” said Bethune.

Conway confirms that the implementation of Perceptive DataTransfer has positively affected the way students view their interactions with Western Washington University.

“Because our processes are streamlined and our data is organized and accurate, we can focus more staff time on comprehensive application review and building relationships with students,” she said. “Our applicants hear back from us much more quickly – and much more accurately – regarding their status and our application decision.”

Cost savings and measurable ROI
Reputation and interaction may not be quantifiable, but data upload solutions provide many benefits that are measurable in time and dollars. “In the very first year that the University of Tampa implemented Perceptive DataTransfer in the admissions department, their ROI was equivalent to the solution’s annual license cost plus the cost to implement and train their employees to use the product,” said Bethune. “That’s a big number for a first year return.”

“We used to hire five or six temporary staff members during the busy application season to handle processing,” Conway added. “We now receive more applications and store more data from each application, yet we only hire two temporary staff members during the busy season.  Additionally, training time has been drastically reduced and accuracy has drastically increased.“

Beyond admissions
When data upload solutions first began infiltrating the higher education world, they were used primarily in admissions departments to track student inquiries, applications and enrollments. To this day, when schools implement the systems, this is still where they tend to begin. However, as schools (including Western Washington University) realize just how much time and money the solutions save the admissions departments, they begin to start utilizing them in additional ways.

“Transfer is a campus-wide operation that doesn’t need to be re-installed or re-worked upon expansion to multiple departments. I’ve even seen parking departments running their parking ticket and parking pass data through the system, so that the name standardizations are all the same and each student truly has one record,” said Bethune. “I thought that was brilliant.”

Conway has seen a tremendous impact on customer service. “I can’t say enough about how this technology has improved the way we do business in the Admissions office at Western Washington,” said Conway. “We’ve been able to utilize other technology and provide much better customer service because of the streamlining accomplished using Perceptive Software products.”


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