A compelling case for the paperless university

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Grappling with continuing challenges that can threaten their solvency and future, universities have a palate of digital transformation options to choose from, none more compelling than the choice to go paperless. From saving money to reducing waste and increasing business efficiencies, the paperless university is an idea whose time has come.

Micaela Longo
Micaela Longo
July 13, 20237 mins
A woman in glasses writes to a transparent board

During the pandemic, universities found a lifeline in powerful technologies like video conferencing and virtual labs that connected students, faculty, staff, and alumni. In 2019, before the pandemic, one study found that only 13% of universities were actively engaged in digital transformation (DX), with 70% evaluating it or working on a strategy, and another 17% not investing any time or money in DX. Since the pandemic, however, institutions from grammar schools to graduate schools have embraced technology as a virtual learning lifeline. A more recent study among 650 leaders in higher education reveals their efforts to use technologies like cloud services to support critical functions such as enrollment, admissions, staff recruitment, financial management, and student services.

Going paperless is an integral part of a DX strategy with clear benefits. It requires a cultural shift and a mix of technologies and services that span digitization, storage, security, automation, and accessibility.

Promoting a Paperless Culture

Most university-aged students today are seasoned users of digital technologies and services. They expect universities to provide administrative resources, collaboration tools, security controls, and all relevant data online. But for the staff and faculty of institutions, the transition from paper-based processes to electronic and digital processes requires a cultural shift.

Everyone must support the use of electronic forms, such as online registration forms and application forms, to reduce paper usage. Electronic forms can be easily completed, submitted, and stored electronically. The broad use of email and instant messaging can also reduce the need to print paper. For documents that must be printed, faculty, staff, and students can be encouraged to limit the amount of paper used, use recycled paper, and print double-sided.

Other ways to promote a paperless culture include the use of digital textbooks and course materials and online payment options for tuition and other fees. One study found that e-textbooks can be up to 70% less expensive for students than the paper variety.

Paperless Processes

Going paperless is undoubtedly the future, and can be difficult for any organization, which is why an entire industry has evolved to handle it as a service. These imaging and document management companies handle the five paperless processes "• digitization, encryption, storage, automation, and access.

  • Digitization of records involves the conversion of paper records and documents into an electronic format. This can be done through scanning and digitizing paper documents, such as transcripts and financial records.
  • Encryption of personally identifiable information (PII) data and financial records is required for regulatory compliance prior to movement to online storage. Failure to comply can result in severe legal and financial consequences. Encryption helps universities comply with these regulations by providing a secure way to store and transmit sensitive data.
  • Storage of digital files in a centralized document management system provides a digital repository that is up-to-date, secure, and accessible any time, any where. It also reduces the need for physical storage space, creating an opportunity to reduce historically large archives and reallocate the space to enhance the student experience.
  • Automated workflows make stored digital files in the document management system accessible to authorized students and employees, providing flexibility for remote working when needed. This includes role-based permissions for sensitive documents and data.
  • Access is available to students and teachers through user-friendly dashboards or portals, with options to use the data for applications like comparing historical grade averages, evaluating individual student progress, and reviewing other key performance indicators.

Security and Sustainability

Security and sustainability are both major requirements as well as benefits of the paperless university.

With a widening attack surface across remote and mobile users and spiraling cybersecurity threats, organizations of all kinds must provide multifaceted protections for data and documents. With studies showing continued increases in the use of paper, a university that is committed to environmental sustainability and innovation can enhance its reputation and image among students, staff, and the wider community by going paperless.

Companies like Iron Mountain provide secure storage for digital records, ensuring that sensitive information is protected from unauthorized access or data breaches. These imaging and document management service providers can also manage the retention and disposal of digital records in compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. With documents and resources easily available via web portal, university users can securely access and manage their paperless records and resources from anywhere, using a variety of devices. This makes it easier for staff and students to collaborate and work remotely, while also reducing the need for physical copies of documents.

A first step to becoming a paperless university might be assessing an institution’s usage. Conduct an inventory of all paper-based processes and identify areas where digital alternatives could be implemented.

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