K-12 districts are up against many challenges when it comes to managing and processing student records, from physical and digital security to extra work for district staff. Keep reading to learn the top 7 struggles associated with paper-, PDF-based records management processes for districts.
Data security, both physically and digitally, remains a grave concern of K-12 education institutions. First, there’s the ongoing risk of catastrophic events and natural disasters, including fires, floods, and extreme weather conditions that can lead to the destruction of physical records and documents.
Secondly, there’s the ever-increasing risk of cyber attacks, especially since the shift to digital classrooms which was accelerated by the recent pandemic. According to the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REM) Technical Assistance (TA) Center, “school districts face a myriad of challenging hazards and threats. In addition to natural hazards, technological hazards, and biological hazards, they now have to prepare for human-caused cyber threats. These incidents can be accidental or deliberate and disrupt education and critical operations; expose sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) of students, teachers, and staff; and lead to high recovery costs.”
- 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).
- 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 document management 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 records on paper or within microfiche-based systems, there are no audit trails. Consequently, staff have no register of who has viewed a record, when, why, or what’s been done with it. Finally, adhering to compliance regulations such as FERPA, SOC 2, or CIIS compliance is difficult, if not impossible, in the absence of a proper records management system.
Lack of accessibility for students and families
When records management is paper-based, it’s difficult for students and families to make records requests, let alone allow for timely processing. Many districts with paper-based processes require students, families, and third parties to visit a school or district office in person to submit a request and pay for the order if necessary, which is often inconvenient. Those requesting records may also have to call or email a district office to check on the status of their request. This can be especially stressful for students if a deadline for records needs to be met. Furthermore, school districts frequently require payment to be made with cash (which lacks a paper trail), check, or money order, which are relatively outdated ways of making payments, creating a complicated, multi-step process in a fast-paced, otherwise digitally driven world.
Extra work for district staff
This manual process creates extra work for district staff too. They must locate the record in question, which sometimes requires driving off-site to a warehouse (especially for alumni). Administrators must also oversee records requests from multiple sources and answer verification calls or emails from students or third parties. In some cases, staff may have to mail a record by driving to the post office. Finally, they’re obligated to track requests to ensure fulfillment.
Many states have regulations about turnaround times for records requests, which can be hard to meet when working with paper-based systems, and turnaround delays can negatively impact students if records are requested for a job or college application. In fact:
- 84% of all colleges receive PDF transcripts.
- In 26% of post-secondary schools, the majority of transcripts received are electronic.
- In 38% of post-secondary schools, the process is automated specifically for electronic transcripts. This is of particular importance when admission decisions are competitive, such as in the case of private not-for-profit schools and accounts for 29% of those schools (AACRAO).
Lack of data for district staff
A common source of records requests come from families who move to a new school district. When students and families move, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine their whereabouts when relying on paper-based processes. This data is essential, as it directly impacts funding and accreditation.
As districts serve more students each year, space becomes limited at schools, central offices, and warehouses. It’s not uncommon for school districts to maintain rooms filled with filing cabinets to the point of near overflow.
The average sheet of paper costs $0.02 - 0.08, not considering printing costs. That might seem small, but it adds up significantly over time. District offices of all sizes spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on paper each year, whether on records themselves or the flyers and other tools needed to communicate about processes.
Do you relate to these issues associated with paper-, PDF-based manual records processes at your district? Learn how districts across the country are solving these challenges by downloading The Ultimate Guide to Records Management by filling out the form below.
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