How Workflow Automation Helps Higher Education Innovate

Over 19 million Americans were enrolled in some type of higher education institution in 2017. As the world continues to adopt new technologies in every sector, higher education is faced with an enormous amount of pressure to adapt and remain competitive. The threat of competition from EdTech, alternative education companies, and increasing student demands are causing many colleges to embrace technology within their internal processes.

In the last 30 years, colleges moved to be technology-centric. Today, the focus has shifted to a new paradigm: Colleges are moving toward becoming process-centric.  Rather than simply investing in the latest technology in and out of the classroom, universities recognize the need to digitally transform the way their institutions engage and complete work. Workflow automation that helps improve internal processes is the answer to the pain points heard in many higher education institutions.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation is automating the sequence of actions for steps in a process, also known as a workflow. Business Dictionary explains how workflow automation can maximize efficiency, stating that “when people perform tasks by hand, they can be time-consuming and prone to human error. When technology is used for repetitive tasks, mistakes are either decreased or eliminated and the time it takes to complete each task is greatly reduced.” Automating workflows simplifies processes, empowering users to increase organizational efficiency at scale.

Despite technical progress in higher education classrooms, too many universities are dependent on manual, paper-based processes busywork and inefficiencies. In fact, 55% of education managers say they are still “spending one full workday per week on manual, repetitive tasks,” according to Formstack’s 2018 State of Education Workflow Automation report.

The management of these processes is tedious, time-consuming, and prone to human error. The staff gets bogged down by their workload and are unable to process faculty and student requests rapidly, and students grow frustrated at the amount of time it takes for staff to communicate and deliver. It’s a broken system in need of repair.

Fortunately, colleges and universities are steadily embracing technology in their offices out of an increasing need to meet rising student demands. Students today expect colleges to mirror their customer service experiences with businesses. By automating workflows, colleges can achieve productivity, operational excellence, and deliver a better student journey at their higher education institutions.

Workflow automation in action

Bill Gates once said, The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” For higher education, hold-ups or mistakes during processes can be costly and disastrous to the student — this is especially true for Financial Aid offices or when a student is waiting to hear a word from a university on admissions. A workflow automation platform can only improve coordination between people and departments if the processes are clearly defined and staff members embrace the need to change.

Workflow automation in education can directly accelerate a university’s communication, cross-campus collaboration, and internal processes once these two factors are in place. For St. Catherine University, understood very quickly the advantages of having a strong leadership team in place to help achieve a college’s long-term goals. Drew Melendres — the university’s Senior Vice President of Enrollment Management, Student Affairs, and Athletics — elaborates on the benefits of centralized leadership over the entire student experience on Helix Education’s Enrollment Growth University podcast.

“We essentially control that student experience from the time [they] hear about us in marketing, right up to the time those students are walking our campus,” shares Melendres. “Minimizing the trade-offs helps students not feel like they have to start all over… our job is to create a customer service level that makes them think, ‘They are listening to me.’ What it does is create a higher level of engagement.”

For universities like St. Catherine’s, connecting existing systems to meet these student demands is paramount to their campus strategy. Technology like workflow automation enables larger, multi-campus colleges to become more process-driven and effectively meet these challenges. Staff members and faculty can easily design and deploy workflows with the click of a few buttons, without the need for the IT department to intervene. A process that normally would take days to approve now takes hours or one day at most.

Well-designed, automated workflows deliver an increase in ROI for investing in these platforms by helping to keep costs down, productivity high, and guarantee a stronger, more pleasant student journey for the students enrolled.

                                                                  (Sourced by Pexels)

Workflow automation improves the student journey

But the benefits of workflow automation far outweigh just the operations among faculty and supporting staff. For higher education, the spotlight is the student. CNBC reports that attending college is causing more concern now than ever, thanks to finding a post-graduation job only getting worse. As a result, younger generational attitudes toward college is waning. Poor student experience by the masses can make or break a college’s enrollment rate and credibility in the eyes of future applicants.

A study published in May 2018 by Civitas Learning indicates that “nearly one in five students who left school without a degree had completed at least 75 percent of their program requirements. Nearly 1 in 10 had completed at least 90 percent.” Among the cited reasons is lack of student support, mostly because of a student perceiving the college to be unhelpful or slow to respond to requests, questions, and important changes. This is beyond the student’s control, suggesting that something must be done on the college management level to help overcome declining retention. With a workflow automation platform like ProcessMaker, applications for graduation, financial aid inquiries, and even access to instant grade changes can reduce the likelihood of an unhappy student. Supported students equal more students staying in college and graduating.

There is mounting research proving faculty can improve their students’ chances of success by working to address student frustrations. One way colleges are doing this is by extending the value of adopting workflow automation on the operational level to that of the student journey. A workflow automation platform connects to another tech like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automate tasks between parties, providing alerts and updates in real-time. Another technology called Robotic process automation (RPA) mimics human behavior to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. This can be configured to have a mouse click on a button, fill out forms, and perform microtasks and system takes normally performed by humans.

With the right intelligent business process management (BPM) platform, your college can take advantage of these technologies by connecting them to one centralized area. The result is greater visibility across the college’s operations, optimization of processes in place, and easy adaptability for university audits, reports, and other regulation.

For Anjli Jain of Unifyed on Inside Higher Ed’s podcast The Pulse, automation is designed to work hand-in-hand with traditional processes. “For schools that have knowledgebase articles, or a place where the workflows are written out, it is important to not destroy that or ‘reinvent the wheel’,” she says. In other words, automation software needs to integrate seamlessly into the college’s current technology systems in order to create better processes. This is critical to any automation software’s success.

Transform your higher education institution.

Colleges are ripe for innovation, especially on the internal process level. By placing a greater emphasis on improving how faculty and staff work together, the student journey is prioritized. Colleges going one step further from just having the latest tech to becoming process-driven empowers universities to address the pain points within the industry.

“Schools must work just as hard on ensuring students succeed in college as they do on getting them to college in the first place,” says Dr. Rito Silva, Vice President of Student Affairs at Del Mar College. Workflow automation helps colleges meet these challenges every day.

At ProcessMaker, we specialize in providing workflow solutions to the higher education sector with our low-code business process management (BPM) and workflow platform. Seeking a  new workflow solution for your university? Learn more at

About ProcessMaker:

ProcessMaker is a low-code business process management and workflow software.  ProcessMaker makes it easy for business analysts to collaborate with IT to automate complex business processes connecting people and existing company systems. Headquartered in Durham, North Carolina in the United States, ProcessMaker has a partner network spread across 35 countries on five continents. Hundreds of commercial customers, including many Fortune 100 companies, rely on ProcessMaker to digitally transform their core business processes enabling faster decision making, improved compliance, and better performance. 

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