A university’s transfer credit evaluation process may be an afterthought—if it is thought of at all. Often, schools are at the mercy of the out-of-the-box workflow process that comes from whichever student information system they use. This might not be an issue for a school that sees few transfer students during the admissions cycle, but at a high-transfer school like the Metropolitan State University of Denver, which admits more than 50 percent of the incoming class as transfer students, a transfer-focused workflow can be the difference maker for a smooth transfer process.
MSU Denver is a public, modified open-access institution located in the heart of downtown Denver. It is unique because it shares the campus with two other schools: the Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado at Denver. MSU Denver is a Hispanic-serving institution, a first-gen scholars’ institution, and recruits 90 percent of its 14,800-undergraduate student body from Colorado. It is one of the most affordable four-year schools in Colorado. All these factors make it a hub for transfer and adult learners seeking a higher education.
The ‘Roadrunner Runaround’
When it was acquiring Hispanic-serving institution status in 2018, MSU Denver’s transfer evaluation process was in the spotlight. Growing inefficiencies in the physical transcript evaluation process presented a student pain point. The issues included
- A lengthy evaluation timeline
- Confusion over whom students should contact for transfer course review
- Communication that was not tailored to the individual student
As the gaps in process efficiencies widened, student support decreased. As a result, transfer evaluation staff, housed under the registrar’s office, were feeling the frustration pointed back on them.
Keah Schuenemann, professor of meteorology and former director of MSU Denver’s general studies program, speaks to her experience with the student runaround issues, colloquially named the “Roadrunner Runaround” in reference to the school’s mascot.
“In the past, students would have to physically walk from building to building in search of department chairs willing to consider their transfer courses for general studies designation credit,” Schuenemann said. “Finding them was like a sport, and for new students unfamiliar with campus, only the bold succeeded. Then the process morphed into a game of trying to track down the email of the correct department chair with the proper permissions to sign off on some PDF form. Many emails went unanswered during busy times.”
In late 2019, MSU Denver began researching what a new transfer evaluation workflow could look like. Meetings began with key stakeholders, including representation from admissions, registrar, IT and faculty, to envision the system that could alleviate pain points. Investigations in modifying the functionality of the existing workflow engine, the Banner workflow, were not going to address the issues causing the backlog. The decision was made to build a semicustom workflow utilizing Slate, managed by the admissions office, as the best way forward.
The stakeholders agreed that the new process had to be more than just a reskin or digitizing of the existing processes. What was built required a seamless process from beginning to end. The process put communication and transparency at the forefront. We built a system that ensured that our most important stakeholders—students—would be aware of what was going on with the evaluation of their transcripts. Knowing that this was a big lift for the institution, we employed the expertise of an external software developer to help build the integrations between Slate and Banner.
A More Efficient Workflow
We broke the process into three main workflows that managed the key point-in-time interactions that happen during the transfer evaluation process:
- Intake of Transcripts
The transcript-intake portion of this project identified that communication to students was key. Many student inquiries managed by the transfer evaluation team wanted to inquire if MSU Denver had even received the transcripts for evaluation. Our new workflow sends students an email once a transcript is received and provides a timeline expectation on their official evaluation. Transcript intake consolidated the management of all types of transcripts and every way we can receive a transcript into a centralized triage point.
- Evaluation of the Transcript
Using the Slate Reader functionality, the transcript-evaluation workflow changes have been the major contributors to a smoother evaluation timeline. The Slate Reader allows the team to see a dashboard of student information that eliminates clicking through multiple Banner screens to process. Within the workflow, the movement of evaluation tasks between team members has become more efficient. Prior to this change, transfer evaluation team members who needed assistance with their queue of work or who were out of the office struggled to get assistance from team members, only because moving tasks between members was cumbersome.
The Slate Reader workflow has greatly enhanced the ability to communicate with students about the content of their transfer evaluation. The previous workflow did not contain any student-specific notes or results of the transfer evaluation. Notes, in a block of text, were pasted on the end of the email that was sent to students. These notes were not standard and required manual typing or copying and pasting from a stored document. Each instance cost valuable time during the evaluation process. The team came together to outline the most frequently communicated scenarios. The Reader form allows the evaluator to track the specifics of the student’s transcript evaluation, including transfer hours, previous credentials earned and information about course review and transferability. These selections create specific, individualized email messages, catered to the student, which the student receives upon completion of the evaluation.
- Faculty Review of Unevaluated Courses
Perhaps the most exciting workflow enhancement has been to the transfer course review by faculty. As mentioned previously, this process relied heavily on students to self-advocate for every course, in an often-confusing navigation process. The previous process was a paper or PDF form, and tracking was just short of chaos.
The review workflow puts the catalyst for course review at the beginning of the transcript evaluation. Courses that the transfer evaluation team identifies as needing faculty review are tagged for review. A file is created directly from Banner containing the student and transfer school and course information. The workflow task is sent to the appropriate approving faculty member, and the faculty member can research the course, work with the student for more information and make their course decision. The decision tree allows for the course to receive transfer credit, exact course equivalency or applicability to the university’s general education requirements. Once the faculty member approves the task, the transfer evaluation team will validate the data. The approved form will then trigger an automated data update into both the student record and the transfer equivalency database in Banner. Finally, students and approving faculty receive communication about the course change.
Schuenemann said, “What this new system does is relieve the student runaround for things they really shouldn’t have to ask for. This process cuts down greatly on students needing to ask for anything, but any time there is a question from transfer staff, an adviser, faculty or student, now there’s a simple mechanism for requesting that a course gets looked at by the proper party. We can track this, and things don’t get lost in email piles.”
These new workflow changes have streamlined the transfer evaluation process at MSU Denver. The transcript intake and evaluation processes went live in October 2021 and were followed soon after with the faculty course approval workflow in December 2021. The evaluation timeline shrank to one week. Students are much less likely to run around campus for transfer course approvals. Improved communication between all parties is central to the success of these processes.
The implementation has not always been a smooth road, though. We have learned that code in a test environment can behave differently than in a production environment. Training is never done, even when you believe you have trained all stakeholders. We have learned that the workflows can break and that the version we rolled out to begin with may not be the final version. These hiccups have strengthened the team and forced us to learn about all technical aspects that run these workflows.
We now have an opportunity to continue to enhance these workflows and communications. This fall the team will look to analyze data from these workflows to inform business process changes, including the structure of course evaluation guidelines. We are largely basing these changes on the faculty course approval information. These new workflows allow us to mine a wealth of data that we previously could not access. It will assist in the direction of changes and process improvement that will be crucial for maintaining a student-centric workflow and timeline. The improvements to the transfer evaluation processes have been game changing to MSU Denver.