Considerations for Paperless Document Management when evaluating SIS providers

Look around your office. Are your administrators still enrolling students with hard copy paper files?

An easy web search for paperless document management solutions provides a lot of options. An interesting article stated “Employees can spend up to 2 hours looking for files every day. If you consider the numbers within the whole year, the costs begin to add up.” *1
The article estimated that a typical 100 employee organization could save over $500k in annual costs; paper, storage space and lost administrative time.
When I first introduced the concept of paperless document management as an embedded feature of a Student Information System to a Financial Aid Administrator the reaction was classic. Her remarks started with “Oh my God, I don’t know when the last time I saw the top of my desk was!”

Many legacy SIS solutions pre-date the move to paperless. Many schools may even have contracted with third party services to augment their dated systems. But then people must provide the linkage between the two technology services. A comprehensively embedded document management solution within the SIS is a critical feature when evaluating your technology infrastructure.

Considerations to evaluate when looking at an SIS Solution

All files must be easily attached to a student or contact record within the system. The document and/or an image of that document must be easily retrievable and viewed with a single click from within the same record.

They need to be categorized not just by name but towards the required documents as specified by your compliance related licensing requirements; State, Accreditation and Title IV.

Documents can be submitted in many ways.

  • • Prospective students may bring them into a financial aid interview to be scanned by the administrator then attached to the contact record.
  • • Submitted via an email as a document in typical formats, PDF, Word documents or Pictures which can then be attached to the student record.
  • • A good feature to look for is a Student Portal that allows students to submit required documents directly attached to their student record.
    • o This has the added value of saving administrative time related to scanning, uploading, and categorizing.

Some documents that need to be tracked are school generated. Some typical examples.
  • • A program related cost estimator for the actual program tuition, estimated financial assistance and projected student out of pocket costs
  • • A tailored student enrollment agreement to the actual program intended for enrollment.

When it comes to these types of created documents an easy-to-use document creation and eSignature feature is an important consideration. Look for one that can easily embed data merge and signature fields into standard document creation software like Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Third party eSignature applications can accept these types of documents but they tend to charge a transaction fee for each document processed. Look for an embedded tool within the system that eliminates the need for these services. This can be a huge annual cost savings.

Selecting a third-party document tool for storage and retrieval is only a two-dimensional solution to the typical postsecondary educational institution challenge. Compliance is the third dimension. Categorizing documents by type before storage is important for easy retrieval with respect to circumstances directly impacted by the institution’s compliance oversight.

A couple of examples of features you should look for include,

  • • Reviewing future class starts to identify students missing required documents as per your onboarding regulatory procedures.
  • • Ability to quickly access and download at a student level only specifically categorized documents required by the agency; State, Accreditation or Title IV.

A critical consideration in the ultimate paperless document management module within an SIS is a recent trend from the COVID experience, Remote Accreditation Audits.

A story relayed to me about a specific accreditation experience during the great lockdown was the development of remote re-accreditation reviews. As it relates to this topic, verification of document management procedures began with a request for an unduplicated student population report during the review time frames.

Then the accreditor randomly selected a sample of the students and requested the institution upload the required accreditation documents for each of the students in a secure drop box within a specific time frame.

Originally, this time frame was a 15-minute window per student. It was later expanded to 30-minutes to accommodate the challenges of paper records being pulled, scanned and uploaded.

When you are looking at a paperless document management solution keep this evaluation point in mind. How fast can you retrieve and provide an auditor with access to the documents necessary to ensure procedures are being followed?

Conclusion, A fully embedded paperless document management solution within the administrative software that is incorporated into the operational workflows as mandated by compliance oversight is an important technology decision factor when evaluating Student Information Systems.

Footnotes 1. The Paperless Office: How Much You Can Save by Ken Choi | Updated September 21, 2022

Paul Rutledge, Director Sales and Marketing with Campus Cloud Services
(717) 314-8338