Some people bleed blue and white, and are raised on fairytales of a far off land called “ Happy Valley ” where Nittany Lions run freely, futures are made and dreams come true.
Every year over a quarter of a million students express interest in attending the Pennsylvania State University. Of that group, more than 50,000 hopefuls submit applications for admission to this prestigious institution, eager to join the more than 507,000 graduates who have come before them. They hope to be bestowed with the title-‘Penn State Alumni.’
These students spend hours preparing applications, crafting witty personal statements and studying for standardized tests. Then, after the last document is sent, the waiting begins. Students check the on-line web status system countless times to see if a document was received or if a decision has been made, all in hopes of becoming a Penn State student.
Prior to spring 1999, undergraduate applications to Penn State’s twenty undergraduate campuses were sent to Shields Building at the University Park Campus. The files were then processed, copied, distributed and stored for five years. Supporting credentials, such as transcripts and test scores, typically arrived at Shields Building separately from the initial application, and had to be added to a student’s admission file.
The majority of student documents are received between mid-August and early December. Between paper-based and electronic applications, the university receives more than a half million documents in any given year which created hours of manual filing, countless inquiring phone calls and papers shuffled from desk to desk.
In 1999, as part of a university-wide adoption of electronic document management, Penn State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office changed forever. Along with 13 other departments under the Penn State umbrella, the Undergraduate Admissions Office implemented Optical Image Technology, Inc.’s DocFinity® Suite of Products. This adoption of technology has revolutionized the way admissions files are processed and improved service to prospective students.
Applications are received at Penn State in two ways: primarily as a web application and also paper document. Hard copy documents, which typically consist of 10 to 40 pages, are barcoded then imaged and indexed through DocFinity Imaging and DocFinity Barcode Indexing modules. More specifically, by using DocFinity, Undergraduate Admissions has been able to automate processes and increase productivity by using barcodes. Barcodes are created from a student’s PSU-ID number. This number is then indexed and other information is extracted from the mainframe database, and inserted into a SQL table. The application is processed and scanned at one of the office’s four scanning stations. Following this step, the image is migrated into the system with populated index keys and is ready to be accessed by the Undergraduate Admissions personnel. The files are then shredded and destroyed within days of receipt, a stark contrast from previous processes, which included on-site storage of documents for five years.
Applications submitted from Penn State’s Web site are automatically migrated into DocFinity COLD-ERM (Computer Output to Laser Disk-Enterprise Report Management), along with the previously indexed files.
Personnel in the Undergraduate Admissions Office retrieve files through the DocFinity IntraVIEWER® Web client. This allows all users with security rights to immediately access documents, regardless of location. Mark Weaver, Director of Administrative Information Systems for the department, comments, “It really has been an office changing experience… No more paper moving!” He continued, “We’ve had people say they stood on their desks and danced because they were so happy using the software.”
As in all technology implementations, there was some apprehension to the change. Weaver comments, “We made it clear to everyone that no one was going to lose their jobs because of the switch.”
Weaver worked with OIT to train users, some of which had very limited computer skills, on the DocFinity software. The increased productivity gained through the use of the system has allowed personnel to expand their job responsibilities, without the need to hire additional staff. “After we demonstrated the value of the system to the users, they loved it! There’s no way we could move backwards and go back to our old processes,” Weaver adds.
The process which was once characterized by paper shuffling, tracking hard copy documents and sometimes frustration, has now become quick and easy through a few clicks of the mouse. Amy Pancoast, Supervisor of Data Services at the Undergraduate Admissions Office, remarked, “We spend more time removing staples than we do scanning applications and supporting documents into the system!”
The use of the DocFinity solution has also changed the application process for prospective students and parents. Questions regarding the status of a file can now be answered immediately by entering an applicant’s name and PSU-ID number, thus eliminating the need for time-consuming file searching and call backs.
To further enhance efficiencies, the Undergraduate Admissions Office has started a pilot Web-based program to allow selected high school guidance counselors to send documents which will be input into the DocFinity system. This way, the counselors can login and fax high school transcripts, which will automatically create images. These will then be reviewed and saved. This significantly reduces the lag time in receiving complete credentials for application decisions.
Every year thousands of students dream of attending Penn State . Now, through the use of DocFinity, working towards that dream has become easier and more student-friendly.