K-12 districts are up against many challenges when it comes to managing and processing student enrollment applications and forms, from physical and digital security to extra work for district staff. Keep reading to learn the top 6 key challenges associated with paper-, PDF-based enrollment and choice processes for districts.
Securing student data is a key priority as families and students trust school districts with personal information.
Enrollment or specialty program applications, for example, require the processing of personal information. Manual, paper- or PDF-based processes are inherently unsecure, often putting data at risk. It’s not uncommon for parents or administrators to innocently leave paper forms containing student data atop an office counter. Filing cabinets often serve as the storage method of choice post-processing, filling quickly and posing the risk of destruction via catastrophic events like fire or flood. Moving to an online solution can make these processes more secure, but there are important measures to consider.
Districts and schools must address these critical security considerations in their search for an online solution:
The risk of cyber attacks is always increasing. In fact, since 2016, there have been 855 cyber incidents publicly disclosed by U.S. schools and districts. There were 348 in 2019 alone, nearly three times the number in 2018 (K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center). Additionally, in 2020, there were a record-breaking number of publicly reported cybersecurity incidents — “408 across 377
school districts in 40 states” or “a rate of more than two incidents per school day throughout 2020.” Microsoft Security Intelligence found that 79.92% of over 6.3 million malware encounters reported came from the education sector, making it the most affected industry by far.
Lack of authorized users and audit trails
Without a proper system, school administration has limited ways to control access to documents, as well as potential difficulty accessing data for authorized users. When it comes to physical paper applications, there are no information trails. Consequently, staff have no register of who has viewed an application, when, why, or what’s been done with it. Finally, adhering to compliance regulations such as FERPA or SOC 2 is difficult, if not impossible, in the absence of an online system.
Reputable software-based solutions are certainly more secure, but they’re not all created equally. Here’s what you should look for:
- FERPA and SOC 2 compliance
- Appropriate backups and protocols
- 256 encryption/encryption at rest
- Desirably located data servers (according to your needs)
- Configurable data accessibility
Ownership of student data and student data privacy
Most people don’t take the time to read privacy policies, thus most people don’t necessarily know what happens to their data when using a mobile application, for instance. When it comes to enrollment software, specialty program applications, or lottery management, families and students trust that schools understand those policies and uphold their best interests when it comes to data privacy.
If your school system is relying on a third-party vendor, ensure that your district maintains ownership of student records; and if the vendor relationship is terminated, that records will not be withheld. Many third-party vendors’ privacy policies allow the sale of student data. Ensure you choose a partner that keeps student data private.
Family expectations and accessibility
As interactions become more digital, it’s commonplace to receive text, email, or app-based updates on how students are doing in the classroom. The same expectations apply to the enrollment or application process for specialty programs, and it’s important to offer equitable access to district resources for all families and students. Whether parents speak a language other than English, have incompatible schedules, are without access to printers or scanners to submit documents, or lack a computer and only have a smartphone, there are many scenarios wherein it’s difficult for parents to connect with school systems.
Staff time, resources, and accountability
The student enrollment process is lengthy:
- Receiving and organizing documents
- Processing applications
- Coordinating meetings for programs requiring interviews or auditions
- Managing phone calls, emails, and faxes
- Following up with parents & guardians
- Documenting correspondence
When it comes to lottery-based programs, accessibility is critical, but ensuring fair selection and accountability can be incredibly difficult with manual systems. Paper or PDF-based processes make it easy to lose applications. Additionally, programs often rely on video-recorded excel randomization or selection of bingo balls for lottery management.
These responsibilities make for a major undertaking for staff. Errors and miscommunication because of paper-based processes are common. The right online solution can eliminate all these issues and allow school systems to more effectively engage and service students, families, and the community.
Every step in the enrollment process takes time, therefore requiring labor and budget. Whether an existing enrollment or a new one, it must be keyed and reviewed. Often, processors must pursue parents and guardians for missing documents. If families do not speak English, translation services can be another large cost not often considered.
In addition to staff time, enrollment and first-day-of-school packets are costly to produce. When multiplied
by the number of schools in a given district, plus the cost of printing, machine maintenance, filing, and
storage – costs can be tripled.
When school districts offer educational Choice options to students and families, opportunities for success grow. A 2014 American Economic Review study found a correlation between public school students that were able to attend their top Choice school program and higher college attainment rates. This is a powerful indication that Choice offerings can change the trajectory of a student’s academic path. If your district or school is considering implementing a Choice program, finding a partner who can manage large amounts of student data, application requirements, and even lottery management is important.
Do you relate to these issues associated with manual enrollment and choice processes at your district? Learn how districts across the country are solving these challenges by downloading The PreK-12 Technology Guide to Enrollment, Choice, and Lottery Management through filling out the form below.
Download The PreK-12 Technology Guide to Enrollment, Choice, and Lottery Management