Don’t Make Students Wait: Augment Your SIS to Ensure Service Satisfaction

If the following scenario sounds familiar, you have my sympathy:  A call from an applicant comes into one of the Enrollment-side offices – Admissions, Registrar, Financial Aid. On the line is a prospective student wanting to know if you have received or processed a particular document – a letter of recommendation, perhaps, a transfer transcript or a verification document for aid purposes.  

No one in the office can confirm receipt – at least not quickly enough to answer the student’s question on the first call. A quick check into the student information system (SIS) shows no such document associated with the applicant record. Then, two days later, the SIS record does show receipt – after a staff member manually updated the document checklist once the document finally emerged from the mailroom. It’s three more days before someone notices the update and remembers to call the applicant back.

 To the student, the gap in time between her initial call and the response is intolerable. She decides to salve her frustration by narrowing her list of enrollment options. She won’t be calling this school again.

Decisions beget decisions

The school is behind the times. It needs to reduce, if not eliminate, the time between documents arriving in the office and updates appearing in the SIS – whether that’s PeopleSoft, Banner, Datatel or some other application. Maybe you do, too.

Why? Because your institution should do everything it can to help students make the right decisions. From an enrollment perspective, “right” decisions can be boiled down to these:

  • Choosing to enroll in your institution (rather than at one of your competitors)
  • Choosing to register only for appropriate and necessary course work (i.e., avoiding redundant or irrelevant courses)
  • Choosing to return to your institution through degree completion (and in a timely fashion)

You can ensure that those decisions are made in your institution’s favor. How? By consistently displaying your own decisiveness in interactions with prospects and students. Act decisively, and you’ll leave little room for students’ doubt or hesitation.

 To do this, you will need to arm staff with accurate, up-to-date information – the kind that fully prepares them for fast, confident responses and actions. The holster is the SIS, and the silver bullets of decision-bolstering, trust-inspiring information will be there if you do the following:

Pull  document data automatically

Manual data entry kills speed and efficiency. If your enrollment offices continue to rely on it, they – and their SIS – will always be behind. Consider transfer transcripts. At many schools, transcripts constitute the highest volume of incoming documents to process, including updating the SIS record. It is common for staff to take an hour or more to manually input school, term, course and grade data from a single transcript into the SIS (or degree audit system). It is also common for stacks of transcripts to pile up before being processed or evaluated. Without tools for automating the data grab, there’s really no chance for a staff member to have thorough, timely information at hand in the SIS.

 Post data to the SIS automatically

 Not only do you want to pull data from documents automatically, you want to push data (document data, document metadata, electronic feeds, business process actions, and so forth) into SIS automatically. Again, it’s the avoidance of manual slowdowns. Simple, really.

Post data to the SIS in real-time

Until recently, periodic updates to SIS – hourly, twice daily, nightly – were often timely enough for many enrollment offices. But, as competition for students intensifies, so does the need for a competitive advantage. From a response preparedness standpoint, there’s no better way to be out in front than to always work from the most up-to-date information possible. For that, real-time is the holy grail of SIS updating.

Want to never make a student wait before confirming receipt of required documents? Update the SIS document checklist instantly. Want to know at any moment exactly how the applicant pool is shaping up? Instantly update SIS with decisions made in the admissions review process.

While you’re at it, make those real-time exchanges bidirectional. In one direction, have the enterprise content management (ECM) system update the SIS with newly arriving documents, data and decisions. In the other direction, have the SIS alert the ECM system with new information (e.g., updated student record fields also used for document indexing purposes).

With those real-time updating capabilities in place, you won’t need my sympathy. But, your competitors might.

Tom von Gunden

Tom von Gunden directs Hyland’s market research, strategy and advisory initiatives in higher education. Tom holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and spent more than a dozen years in higher education, serving as a tenured university professor, program director and accreditation specialist. His deep understanding of best practices in deploying ECM (enterprise content management) capabilities comes not only from his direct involvement in system implementations in colleges and universities, but also from his prior work as chief editor of Web and print publications focused on ECM and data storage technologies.

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