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Business Officer Magazine
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Automated System Streamlines Student Transfer

From "Business Briefs" department in June 2010 issue of Business Officer

College students often face frustrating and time-consuming obstacles when they decide to change schools. Not so if they choose to transfer to University of Maryland University College, in Adelphi. To assist our students—not only with transfers but with confirmation that they have completed all courses required for their degrees—UMUC has moved aggressively to adopt technologies and processes that increase accuracy and speed in processing credit-transfer requests and conducting degree audits.

This has made a huge difference, considering that UMUC is one of the largest state universities in the United States. UMUC enrolls more than 90,000 students each year and serves many military students, who often enroll after first earning college credit from other institutions. We estimate that more than half of all UMUC students transfer to the university after first attending a community college.

Efforts to dramatically transform the degree-audit process were launched in the summer of 2006. A new system was designed to replace an entirely manual audit process, which included little automation and resulted in a degree audit that would take, on average, two to three months to complete. Other issues included inconsistent results, a high error rate because of misplaced or mistyped documents, lack of tracking ability, and an overall inability to serve students well.

Electronic document retention (the scanning, indexing, and archiving functionality of the new system) went live in October 2006; the workflow process followed, going live in February 2007. By 2008, UMUC's new, automated system—built around Hershey Systems' Singularity Suite document management system (DMS)—had proven so effective that it was showcased at the U.S. Department of Education's national summit in Chicago and praised as a benchmark for efficiency. A review that might in the past have taken eight months can now be completed in three days—and we continue to work on streamlining the process.

But the benefits may go beyond saving time. By implementing all planned changes, including the next phase of automation, we estimate the cost of conducting a degree audit might well be reduced by about two thirds. Prior to this investment, an audit cost about $65 to complete; now it costs about $25.50. Of course, each institution's experience will differ based on a number of variables, including volume of audits processed.

Scanners Digitize Data

We engineered this transformation by investing in optical scanners to digitize transcript data for storage in the DMS, which also helps control workflow by routing courses to the appropriate faculty member for evaluation. The system can also queue files that are ready to go through the degree-audit process, routing them to auditors who complete the official evaluation or showing how many credits will transfer into a student's declared degree plan.

In addition, we have taken steps to further streamline the transcript evaluation process by first analyzing enrollment data and identifying those colleges and universities that send the most transfer students to UMUC, then evaluating those schools' entire course catalogs. This process has yielded a transfer credit database that already includes more than 500,000 individual courses—and is still growing.

At UMUC, the degree-audit process is further complicated by the university's broad international footprint, with the university's stateside operations serving as the audit service center for approximately 40,000 students in Europe and Asia. To streamline efforts, we have invested in infrastructure and worked to build our transfer-credit database. We have reorganized audit teams as well, aligning them by geographical division and implementing business processes that ensure that audits are prioritized before they are processed.

Implementing the new systems required staff realignment, faculty training, and managerial and cultural changes. For the first time, productivity data for course evaluations and audits could be pulled from the integration systems. This capability has supported the transition to a metrics-based system of responsibility and commitment to service quality. Finally, implementing the system does not immediately eliminate all previously created paper files. To take full advantage of the efficiencies that the new system brings, the transition requires that paper files be scanned into the system as quickly as possible to ensure that staff performing degree audits are not split between automated systems and paper files. This scanning effort is an additional task that must be planned and executed either by the school itself or by an outside vendor.

Monthly Audits Triple

The improvements to this component of student service have been dramatic and lasting. Currently, we complete about 3,000 official audits each month—up from about 900 per month before the system was implemented—and perform on-the-spot, temporary audits as requested. This marked increase in efficiency provides academic advisers with the information they need to accurately assist students, while at the same time contributing to student success and bolstering student retention.

UMUC worked within the guidelines of existing budgets to invest in the license, fees, equipment, and staff needed to improve this student service. And, while investments such as this can have significant up-front costs, the expense returns dividends in terms of student recruitment, student satisfaction and retention (by avoiding the very real possibility that a student will interrupt his or her classes while awaiting the results of a transfer credit evaluation), and helping students make more predictable and timely progress toward completing a degree.

Additional benefits include the ability to share transcripts electronically and to scan and automatically analyze paper transcripts, using the captured data to populate a draft degree plan with the appropriate transfer credits. Any transfer course that is not already part of the database is sent electronically to a faculty member for evaluation.

SUBMITTED BY Susan C. Aldridge, president, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi

RESOURCE LINK For a complimentary DVD with more information about UMUC's automated transfer credit system, e-mail president-office@umuc.edu.