UW Information Technology

May 19, 2020

Digital transformation pays off big during pandemic

Team working by group video call sharing ideas on a pc screen showing all six multi ethnic young people.
No slow down for UW’s Office of Admissions in processing applications — and in great shape to process first-year applications in the fall.

By Ignacio Lobos

When the paper-based admissions processes for transfer and post-baccalaureate students went entirely paperless last year, no one expected that a coronavirus pandemic would put the system to the test so quickly.

In prior years, thousands of transfer and post-baccalaureate applications received each year at the Seattle campus were processed by hand, producing an equal number of manila folders filled with multi-page applications, transcripts and supplemental documents that weighed heavily on Admissions staff. Last spring, a new system came into place, allowing the Office of Admissions to handle about 8,000 applications with nearly no paper in sight.

So this spring, when Admissions staff were in the midst of handling just as many applicants — and then were directed to work remotely due to COVID-19 — they were ready.

“If our review process had not been modernized and we were still using paper files, we would not have been able to complete the review and admission of transfer and postbaccalaureate students without putting Admissions staff in danger,” said Paul Seegert, Director of Admissions in the Division of Enrollment Management.

Admissions worked with UW-IT’s Academic Services Student Program to complete the latest phase of the Undergraduate Admissions Modernization project last year, integrating Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Ellucian Recruit software into the admissions process.

“We did not have a COVID-19 situation in mind when we launched the latest phase of the project,” said Wes Greenberg, business system analyst in the Student Program. “But thank goodness we had these new systems in place when it happened.”

Now 95 percent of the Admissions workflow can be completely done online, from reviewing an application, to sending an acceptance letter, Greenberg said.

“With the new system in place, Admissions was perfectly set up to weather this storm,” he said.

New system reveals competitive advantage for UW

The pandemic is far from over and may continue to affect University operations well into next year, but the modernization project has put the UW at a competitive advantage in attracting new students.

“When Admissions Modernization was first envisioned, a major reason for the investment was to mitigate risk,” Seegert said. “However, the types of risks we imagined at the time were long snow events, earthquakes, or fires. It turned out that the first actual disaster was one that none of us predicted. Modernization came just in time.”

“Not only did it allow us to complete application review and admit transfer and postbaccalaureate students remotely, but we were able to do so on time,” he said.

What mattered most was not slowing down the application process, because there were thousands of students waiting to hear back if they were admitted to their dream school.

Without new undergraduate students, we would not have a university. — Paul Seegert

“Admissions Modernization saved us. It saved the University and preserved the educational dreams of thousands of Washingtonians.”

The same system also supports use of the online Coalition Application for first-year applicants, with about 45,000 applications expected this fall.

“If we need to work remotely at any point next fall or winter, we will be able to review and admit the freshman class remotely as well,” Seegert said.

The ultimate goal behind modernizing admissions is to centralize application handling for greater efficiency, so that Undergraduate Admissions can continue to process ever-increasing numbers of applicants and remain competitive in attracting and admitting high achieving students.

“We set up these systems to be versatile, to be completely online and capable of handling thousands of applications at a time; and yes, we set them up to be able to weather the storm,” he said.

And so far, they’re succeeding.