While colleges and universities have always collected information about their students, the sheer volume of data that they manage has increased exponentially over just the last few decades. This change is due to higher education institutions’ desires to learn how to increase graduation rates and cater to unheard, under-resourced populations.

Some higher education institutions are attempting to manage all this additional data using traditional document processing and collection processes. Not only is this approach extremely inefficient, but it also hinders institutional agility and negatively impacts the student experience.

In 2020, the challenges brought about by the pandemic forced colleges and universities around the globe to reevaluate their data management processes. The lack of flexibility created by manual document processing made it challenging to rapidly transition students to remote or distance learning opportunities. Unfortunately, for this reason, higher education institutions are projected to have lost billions by the time the pandemic ends.

Digitizing and automating previously manual processes can provide some much-needed relief to colleges as they seek ways to:

  • Serve their students better
  • Increase efficiency
  • Contend with financial losses
  • Become more agile 

These institutions should consider implementing business process automation technologies to ease their challenges, transform their document-centric processes and data analysis capabilities and foster sustainable data analytics.

Let’s examine ten critical considerations that colleges and universities must know when starting their automation journey. This information will help facilitate a more seamless transition while highlighting the need for these technologies in the educational setting.

1. The Demand for Distance Learning is Increasing

In the fall of 2019, there were 19,637,499 individuals enrolled in post-secondary institutions. Of these, 17.6% (3,450,125) of students were exclusively enrolled in distance learning courses. Another 3,863,498 students (19.7%) took at least one distance learning course. Fast forward to 2020, and over half of college students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course. 

While this surge in distance learning is undoubtedly related to the pandemic, there is a high likelihood that many students will stick with online or hybrid learning for the foreseeable future. The private sector is experiencing a similar trend, as millions of workers expect to continue working in remote capacities. 

So how does this relate to automation? Even when institutions were predominantly in-person, processes were often manual and labor-intensive. Once workers and staff were remote, a lack of automation slowed many processes down even more, especially processing admissions, records, financial applications, transcripts and other documents. This development paves the way for higher education institutions to implement business process automation technologies.

2. Many Tedious Manual Processes Can Be Automated

Higher education institutions hesitant to implement digital transformation initiatives often do not realize how many tedious manual processes can be partially or entirely automated. They would immediately recognize just how valuable these technologies are to their learning institution if they did. 

Some standard processes that digital transformation can automate in higher education include:

  • Enrollment and admissions management
  • Financial aid
  • Transcripts
  • Human resources processes
  • Invoicing and purchasing
  • Auditing
  • Compliance
  • Operations

Those are not all that digital transformation can offer. By automating even a few of these repetitive processes, universities can significantly reduce the workload of human employees and increase operational efficiency. 

3. Digital Transformation Does Not Occur Overnight

Like any change to an organization’s infrastructure, facilitating a digital transformation by strategically deploying automation technologies can seem overwhelming and disruptive. However, the benefits deliver long-term, impactful results. 

Higher education institutions must approach their automation journey with the understanding that the process will not be completed overnight. Instead, it will involve incremental changes implemented over weeks or months. The good news is these efforts will pay off and deliver a positive ROI.

4. Automation Technology Enhances Operational Efficiency

While automation technologies offer many benefits, one of the most noteworthy is drastically enhancing operational efficiency. Several prominent higher education institutions have successfully implemented automation technology into their business processes. 

For instance, Pepperdine University adopted several digital transformation improvements, leading to a 95% increase in document processing efficiency. Automating their processes helped multiple departments that were struggling to keep up with the demands of remote learning.

5. AI and Machine Learning Solutions Provide Invaluable Insights

Combining AI and machine learning technologies, such as automated intelligent document processing, allows higher learning institutions to convert unstructured, trapped data into actionable intelligence. Staff can eliminate manual processes, driving efficiency, productivity and better student and employee experiences.

6. Business Process Automation Increases Organizational Agility

Business process automation solutions are a highly effective way of increasing organizational agility. By deploying these technologies, colleges and universities can:

  • Alleviate common back-office pain points
  • Improve data collection
  • Reduce administrative overhead costs

Implementing intelligent automation solutions has dramatically improved many higher education processes. 

7. Robotic Process Automation (RPAs) Are Only Part of the Equation

While many higher education institutions are already using robotic process automation in some capacity, this technology alone cannot impact an entire suite of business process automation solutions. 

If colleges and universities want to achieve high-level hyperautomation as part of their digital transformation, they must implement several different technologies. Examples include:

  • Integration platform as a service (iPaaS)
  • Intelligent document processing software
  • AI and machine learning solutions 

8. Automation Tech + Workflow Software Produces Better Student Experiences

If universities hope to foster and maintain a positive reputation within the higher education community, they must provide students with an exceptional learning experience. One of the easiest ways to do this is to streamline front-facing administrative processes that impact students. These processes include admissions, financial aid and registration-related tasks. 

Workflow software and automation technologies offer the ideal solution for producing optimal student experiences. Using these technologies, administrative staff can reduce friction along key touchpoints between students and employees. 

This approach will allow counselors, professors, financial aid personnel and other staff members to provide a higher level of service to their college students. 

9. Automation Solutions Support FERPA Compliance Efforts

Regulatory legislation such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires schools, including post-secondary educational institutions, to protect the privacy of certain student records. Maintaining compliance with FERPA guidelines can be quite challenging when an institution relies on manual processes. 

Conversely, intelligent document processing and other automation solutions can enhance data governance and oversight capabilities. This approach will make it easier for colleges to ensure compliance with privacy laws like FERPA while also protecting the confidential information of their students. 

10. Choosing the Right Digital Transformation Partner Is Key

There is no question that implementing automation technologies can revolutionize how colleges and universities interact with and manage their data. However, the key to any successful digital transformation is the right technology partner. Selecting a technology and implementation partner with experience, flexibility and proven technology success is essential. Are you ready to automate?

If your institution seeks to work with a trusted partner who has experience working in the post-secondary education sector, connect with Ephesoft or learn more on our higher education webpage.