Colleges and universities are continuously revamping operational guidelines and return-to-campus plans as the upcoming fall semester nears with increasing uncertainty about the future of the pandemic due to the heightened risks of the COVID-19 Delta variant surge. Although the local public health ordinances seem to be changing often, key COVID-19 prevention strategies outlined by the CDC — including COVID-19 vaccinations, contact tracing, testing, flexible work arrangements — seem to be ubiquitous for most organizations well into the second year of the pandemic.

According to the Department of Education’s COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 3, “increasing institutional capacity to safely operate with in-person learning is more critical than ever to support high-quality learning and postsecondary experiences for students and maintain institutional stability.” The spread of COVID-19 with newer variants, however, poses challenges for institutions of higher education — so how can they plan to welcome back students, faculty and staff to campus while preserving their health and safety?

For Linn-Benton Community College in Oregon, accelerating the digital transformation of mission-critical processes became the key that unlocked the ability to swiftly shift operations and protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and community. Using Laserfiche Forms, the college created a work process in under 48 hours to manage the mandatory paid sick and family leave per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). “The main benefit of using Laserfiche has been that we’re able to quickly create an automated process, and have that process save all the necessary documentation, contain all the right information, and be seen by the right people so that we can get these activities done right the first time,” said Michael Quiner, CIO at Linn-Benton Community College.

Beyond enabling higher education institutions to seamlessly manage COVID-19 sick leave requests, here are three additional ways workflow automation can support a safe campus for the upcoming school year following CDC’s prevention strategies:

COVID-19 Vaccine Registration and Wait List Search

As they become increasingly available, COVID-19 vaccines are a critical part of campus reopening. Serving thousands of enrolled students and personnel, higher-ed institutions can leverage workflow automation to rapidly develop and roll out an efficient, digital system to facilitate vaccine registration, with minimal coding required. Organizations tasked with managing vaccine registration and distribution can quickly set up an online portal where individuals can access waiting list information and an electronic registration form. Electronic registration forms enable applicants to input information and schedule vaccinations on-campus or through third-party partners. With this online system, colleges and universities can communicate waitlist updates and the latest information to students, faculty and staff through automated email, text and phone calls, while also keeping track of vaccination numbers and automating the secure filing of information as needed.

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing and efficient sharing of data about local cases is an important measure in mitigating community spread of COVID-19, especially as variants emerge. Using electronic forms and workflow automation, colleges and universities can develop systems to facilitate the exchange and analysis of up-to-date information, helping them to rapidly make informed decisions while monitoring COVID-19 cases on or near campuses. Institutions can quickly customize electronic forms to deploy to students, faculty and staff for exposure reporting, symptom tracking and case investigation to promote a safer learning and work environment. By automating these workflows, institutions set up standardized processes that can be easily modified as guidelines change. The time-intensive and cumbersome process of following up with individuals who report exposures, symptoms or positive test results can be automated, reclaiming time for staff while supporting community health.

COVID-Cleared for Campus Form

Assessing the health of returning students and broader campus community is a massive but critical undertaking for colleges and universities. Electronic forms and workflow automation enable institutions of higher education scale their efforts to collect necessary information while safeguarding individuals’ privacy. Students can submit an electronic form to report that they are free of virus symptoms or have not recently interacted with symptomatic individuals to clear them for a return to campus. Students and staff can also access electronic forms conveniently ahead of their return to upload a negative COVID test. With workflow automation, information is automatically routed to the departments that need to be informed or provide clearance to students and staff to return, and all submitted information can be securely stored in a central repository according to records retention.

While institutions continue to navigate constantly shifting policies and public health challenges, workflow automation provides opportunities to quickly streamline and scale up processes that would otherwise require significant employee time to execute, building trust in the organizations’ return-to-campus policies and procedures. Allocating federal stimulus such as the American Rescue Plan HEERF grant funding for strategic digital transformation investments, forward-looking higher education institutions are well equipped to not only provide a safe learning and working environment, but also lay the groundwork to create success for their students, faculty and staff now and into the future.

Planning digital transformation for your campus operations in line with the American Rescue Plan HEERF Grants? Join our education IT leadership panel for inspiration!