There’s no denying it: The past few years have been incredibly turbulent for higher education institutions. The stresses of shifting to remote learning, watching admissions decline, and operating on reduced budgets have taken a toll on faculty and staff.
Further adding to the stress? Student demands for a digital-first approach are increasing. A recent study by Great State found that 91% of students believe their university’s digital services should be as strong as face-to-face lectures and life on campus. Students desire more than just paperless processes; they want 24/7 access to the campus services and systems they need. Whether they're applying for admission, registering for classes, submitting service requests, or scheduling appointments, students expect easy, digital experiences and rapid responses.
But universities are struggling to deliver digitization fast enough. It’s no surprise, considering leaders are dealing with tight budgets, limited resources, and a market that gets more competitive each year. A digital paradox has arrived—forcing universities to deliver innovation with skeleton crews and shoestring budgets.
Yet organizations like the University of Houston, St. John’s University, Augustana College, and the MGH Institute of Health Professions are doing just that. How? Through the power of automated education workflows. Leslie DuPree, Director of Web Services and New Media at Augustana College explains:
This guide provides real-life examples from these organizations that show how they are digitizing processes to better address the needs of students, staff, and faculty. Get step-by-step guidance for building efficient digital processes that can power all areas of your institution.
The Power of Education Automation
Before we dive into the workflow examples, let's review why it’s important for higher education institutions to implement digitization and automation.
When prospective students want to visit your campus or connect with a representative, they expect seamless experiences with quick responses. The same goes for your current students when they seek support from the career center or need to drop a course. If you require them to fill out lengthy paperwork, manually enter data they’ve likely provided before, and wait for a response, you create negative experiences that impact student recruitment and retention.
And students aren’t the only ones who expect digital innovation and ease. Faculty and staff are just as likely to want digital-first experiences that eliminate paper pushing. Whether they work in HR, facilities, student services, or fundraising, employees want to be free from manual work and paper processes.
In fact, our State of Digital Maturity report found that 72% of workers think inefficient processes negatively impact their job. When organizations lack digitization and automation, employees report higher levels of frustration, stress, and dissatisfaction. They end up devoting their time to mindless, repetitive tasks instead of more strategic, fulfilling, and impactful work. How much time exactly? An average of two hours per day, according to our research.
But the negative impacts of manual work don’t stop there. Just one employee wasting two hours per day on inefficient tasks costs your organization about $14,560 a year. The average educational institution in the U.S. has over 1,000 employees, which means this can add up to more than $14.5 million. Is there room in your budget for that labor cost?
The best news is that automating your workflows doesn’t require a massive budget, timeline, or IT team. All you need is the right technology and a bit of guidance. That’s what this guide is here to provide.
How to Automate Education Workflows
Every team across your campus can reap the benefits of automation, from student services and recruitment to HR and facilities. With a tool like Formstack, you can easily build fully automated education workflows that address the evolving needs of students, faculty, and staff.
The Formstack Platform empowers anyone at your school to achieve more in less time. With digital forms, document generation, and eSignature collection, you can create solutions and automate busywork in one easy-to-use visual workflow builder. From completing daily tasks to creating campus-wide systems and processes, you can build the workflows you need without relying on IT or needing to know how to code.
We specialize in helping higher education institutions streamline their processes and take control of their data management across teams, departments, and schools. Here’s how to use Formstack to automate some of the most common higher education workflows.
Workflow Tip: You can build seamless, automated Salesforce workflows with Formstack for Salesforce, an all-in-one form, document, and signature solution for your existing ecosystem.
7 Examples of Workflow Automation in Education
You don’t have to waste countless hours each week copying and pasting data, preparing paperwork, searching for files, sending emails, and entering data. By implementing the education workflows below, you can save around 33 hours per week.
What can you do with all that extra time? Focus on impactful work that improves not only your workday but the lives of thousands of students, faculty, and staff. Let’s get started.
#1: Alumni Event Registration
Building a strong alumni base is a crucial part of securing support and funding for your college or university. One way to keep alumni engaged is by hosting events. Easily gather the information you need from alumni, accept payments, generate tickets, automate emails to registered guests, and follow up with an event survey.
Products: Forms · Documents
Features: Conversion Kit · Email Confirmations and Notifications · Discount Codes
Templates: Alumni Event Registration Form · Event Ticket · Event Survey
Optional Integrations: Salesforce · PayPal · OneDrive
Step 1: Event Registration and Payment
Alumni can quickly register for upcoming events online through a short registration form. Enable discount codes to allow for alumni discounts, and embed your preferred payment processor to securely collect payments. Add Conversion Kit to access important conversion data that can help you fine-tune your form for maximum registrations. Keep alumni engagement officers in the loop by using Data Routing to send them data as it is submitted.
Workflow Tip: Asking for additional donations on your event registration page? You can automatically send donors a donation receipt for their records.
Step 2: Ticket Delivery
Connect your form to Formstack Documents to automatically generate event tickets for attendees. Easily update the ticket template to adhere to your school’s branding and event theme. You can even make tickets a sponsorship opportunity by adding spaces for logos to the ticket template design. Email newly generated tickets to attendees immediately, and store copies for your records in your CRM or cloud storage app.
Step 3: Email Notifications and Survey
When building your form, you can set up automated email notifications in just a few clicks. No need to export any lists or integrate with your email system. Send registrants a confirmation email upon registration, then set a reminder email to send the day before the event. You can also send an email the day after the event with a link to your event survey to collect important alumni feedback.
#2: Donation Management
Empower your fundraising team or advancement department by creating a simple, streamlined donation process. Securely accept online donations with branded forms, and easily create donor documentation, receipts, and thank yous. Give your team more time to focus on donors by automating everything from donation collection and receipt production to personalized letters and donor follow-up.
Products: Forms · Documents
Features: Secure Online Payments · Automatic Document Generation · Dynamic Document Content
Templates: Donation Form · Donation Receipt · Welcome Letter
Optional Integrations: Stripe · SharePoint · Lob
Step 1: Secure Online Donation
Donors can quickly, easily, and securely submit donations to your school or foundation through a mobile-friendly online donation form. Choose from a variety of payment options, and rest assured donations are captured safely with PCI compliant forms. Create multiple versions of your standard donation form, or use Smart Lists to manage field options—such as school, program, or donation level—across multiple forms.
Step 2: Automatic Donation Receipt Delivery
Within minutes, donors can receive a clear, concise, and personalized donation receipt straight to their inbox. Once this document automation is set, you can simply let it run in the background without any manual data entry or manipulation. Every time a donation form is submitted, the receipt generation will run automatically. If you rely on a CRM, like Salesforce, you could also set this donation receipt to generate using data from your CRM.
Workflow Tip: Use Salesforce and Stripe to set up a powerful donation form that can then be connected to Formstack Documents for receipt delivery.
Step 3: Thank You Letter and Follow Up
Automatically customize thank you letters using dynamic content pulled from the data in your donation form, and send to donors within a week of donation. Easily manage mailings with an integration like Lob, which can automate the printing, mailing, and tracking of personalized donation letters. Donor documentation can be sent to external storage, or data can be stored in your CRM, giving donor engagement specialists easy access to donor records. At the end of the year, advanced data routing can be used to compile an annual donor packet.
#3: Campus Maintenance Request
Whether your campus is small or large, managing maintenance requests across sites can become complicated and confusing without a strong process in place. Your facility and maintenance team already has a lot on their hands—simplify their workday with this streamlined system for service and maintenance requests. Easily track new requests, generate work orders, and receive sign-off when the work is complete.
Products: Forms · Documents · Sign
Features: Conditional Logic · Advanced Data Routing · Mobile Signing
Templates: Maintenance Request Form · Move In & Move Out Inspection Form
Optional Integrations: Airtable · Excel · ShareFile
Step 1: Service Request Submission
Streamline campus maintenance by creating an accessible maintenance request form. Use Conditional Logic to ask questions based on a specific location, floor, or service request type. Add a file upload section to capture images of any damages and issues for reference. The form can be embedded on your website or student intranet or added to Portals for easy navigation. Students, staff, and faculty can easily fill out the mobile-friendly form from a laptop, tablet, or phone.
Step 2: Work Order Documentation and Assignment
Use Approvals with the service form to ensure all data needed to process a work order is collected. If further details are needed or the service request is invalid, the approver can deny the form submission or send it back to the submitter for more details. Once approved, data from the form can be routed into a work order document and sent to the maintenance team responsible for the identified school, dorm, or site.
Step 3: Final Sign-Off
Upon completion of the work, the maintenance team member can sign off on the work order. Formstack Sign’s multiple participant workflow will then automatically send the work order document to the service requestor for eSignature to confirm completion of the request. Automate text or email reminders to ensure the service requestor signs off on the document within a specific window of time. If an on-site inspection is necessary, the document can be signed in person by both parties from a mobile device.
Workflow Tip: Confirm when a document was sent, how it was sent, and when it was signed with Formstack Sign’s automatic audit trails.
#4: New Student Acquisition and Enrollment
Capturing prospective student data is crucial to keeping enrollment numbers on track. Offering a seamless student application experience is key to converting prospective students into active ones. If you rely on paper or complicated application systems, you’re probably losing potential students. Simplify the process by offering a mobile-friendly student inquiry, enrollment, financial aid, and scholarship workflow. Your admissions team will love how simple, easy, and efficient this workflow is to build, manage, and edit.
Products: Forms · Documents · Sign
Features: Workflows · File Uploads · WCAG & Section 508 Compliance
Templates: Scholarship Application · College Application · Certificate
Optional Integrations: Dropbox · Trello · Google Cloud Print
Step 1: Prospective Student Lead Generation and Application
Make an excellent first impression on prospective students with mobile-friendly lead generation forms. Use Field Bottlenecks and other conversion optimization features to boost submissions. Make applications for enrollment, scholarships, and financial aid easy to access by embedding them on your website. Prospective students can securely upload their transcript, financial documentation, and letters of recommendation all within one online form. Add Save and Resume to the form to allow students to build their application over time.
Step 2: Financial Aid Approval and Application Review
Once submitted, the prospective student is sent a confirmation email, and Workflows routes the information to the financial aid and registrar offices for review. If data is found to be missing or inaccurate, the reviewer can send the form back to the applicant to edit or update. Sections can be assigned to various team members, allowing different departments to review the application at the same time. Steps in the workflow can be tracked in the Workspace, which minimizes bottlenecks and ensures the process flows smoothly.
Step 3: Application Acceptance and Award Documentation
If the student is accepted and financial aid or scholarships are awarded, data from the form can be routed into an acceptance letter and certificate. To protect financial information and details, extra security can be added to your documentation to ensure it is sent securely. If signatures are needed from the student to accept their spot, financial aid, or scholarship, Formstack Sign is incredibly easy to use alongside Formstack Documents for streamlined eSignature collection.
Workflow Tip: You can easily capture signatures on official documents from prospective students by using our Formstack for Salesforce suite of products.
#5: Student Feedback
Gathering student feedback is key to improving the student experience. But if your student surveys are cumbersome to complete, your submission rate will suffer. Make it quick and easy for students to submit feedback, and route the data to those who need it with this student feedback workflow. Improve submission rates, analyze data, and automatically store student feedback in one accessible location.
Features: Portals · Partial Submissions · Mobile-Friendly Forms · Field Prefill
Templates: Student Satisfaction Survey · Course Survey Template
Optional Integrations: Google Sheets · OneDrive · Salesforce
Step 1: Student Feedback Collection
Easily create mobile-optimized student surveys that can be completed from any device. Build everything from pre-course assessments and mid-quarter surveys to course evaluations and general feedback forms. Use Saved Fields to make form building quicker and to ensure all departments are gathering feedback in a similar fashion. Impress students and improve submission rates by using Field Prefill to auto-fill data like student name, email, major, and year.
Step 2: Automatic Response Gathering
You can plan and deploy the entire semester’s feedback schedule from a single source by using Portals. Set form due dates, automate email reminders, and track form completions for all students from one location. Each course can have its own Portal, and students added to the Portal do not need to have Formstack accounts. After your Portal buildout is complete, you can set it and forget it—emails and reminders will automatically send as the dates approach.
Workflow Tip: You can quickly add students to a Portal by bulk uploading names and emails with a CSV file.
Step 3: Data Sharing and Storage
Student feedback gathered throughout the semester is easily accessible from one location. Use Data Routing to automatically send student data to department heads and deans for review. Data can be analyzed within the backend, exported to Excel, or integrated with tools like Google Sheets for further analysis. Use Advanced PDFs to create official feedback records to upload into cloud storage, or integrate your forms with a variety of tools to send data where it needs to go.
#6: Faculty and Staff Hiring
Getting the right faculty and staff to join your organization is crucial to its success. Ensure every applicant has a great experience by automating your hiring workflow. Easily collect applications, schedule interviews, review applicant data, and send out offer letters through one completely digital workflow. Your team can easily access all applicant information from a single source, control communications, and automatically alert applicants with status updates.
Products: Forms · Documents · Sign
Features: File Uploads · Data Routing · Dynamic Document Content · Multi-Participant Signing
Templates: Job Application Template · Employment Offer Letter Template
Optional Integrations: Microsoft SharePoint · ShareFile
Step 1: Job Application
Start with our job application template and customize as needed. Use Smart Lists to manage evolving lists, such as job openings, locations, and departments. Securely collect files like resumes, transcripts, and driver's licenses with File Uploads, and add Save and Resume to allow applicants to work on their job application over time. Use Email Confirmations and Notifications to automate email messages across applicants, the HR team, and hiring managers upon form completion.
Step 2: Interview Review
By adding a workflow to your form, you can assign team members for each interview and collect their feedback within a single form. Recruiters or hiring managers can select to move an applicant forward or not, which then sends the appropriate messages automatically. Emails are sent within seconds of data submission, ensuring applicants are always alerted quickly about status updates and where they are in the process.
Workflow Tip: You can duplicate this workflow and tweak it as necessary for other types of hiring workflows, such as internships, teaching assistants, or short-term contracts.
Step 3: Employment Offer Letter
Once an applicant is selected for a role, you can automatically generate an employment offer letter with Documents. Use Dynamic Document Content to adjust contract terms, role information, benefits, and other details based on data collected from the job application form. Send the final document through Sign using Multiple Participant Workflows to gather signatures from the new employee, HR team, hiring manager, and dean. Upon employee signing, easily redirect them to a welcome message or new employee section of your website.
Bonus: Forget the days of tracking new employee form completion through a spreadsheet. Formstack’s Portals tool is an intuitive web portal system that acts as an easily accessible hub for your forms. Set automated reminders, track completions, and provide employees a one-stop shop for their entire onboarding experience.
#7: IT Service Request
The IT department is the lifeblood of any college or university. As students, faculty, and staff become more reliant on technology, they’ll become more reliant on IT as well. Ensure requests are addressed quickly and appropriately by creating a robust IT service request process. Easily collect requests, assign them to the correct team member, and track completions in Formstack or your project management tool of choice.
Features: Conditional Logic · APIs and Webhooks · Data Routing
Templates: IT Service Request · IT Hardware Request · Employee Equipment Checkout Form
Optional Integrations: Trello · Zendesk · Microsoft Teams
Step 1: IT Service Request
Use Conditional Logic to build out a master IT service request form that branches into multiple scenarios, covering everything from equipment rentals and password resets to computer repairs and software assistance. If you choose to build out separate forms, use Smart Lists to quickly manage long, evolving lists of field options across all of your forms. Students and staff can quickly submit the request form from a phone, tablet, or computer. Embed the form within your student portal, website, and help site for easy access.
Step 2: Data Routing and Job Assignment
Immediately upon form completion, the submitter receives an automated email notification with their case number, IT rep, and expected service timeline. These details can be added to the automated emails by inserting hidden fields into the form that autofill based on logic and calculations. Data Routing then sends the form data to the employee responsible for the type of help requested. If your team uses help desk software to track IT requests, the form can be connected through one of our native integrations or by using the Forms APIs and Webhooks.
Step 3: Request Completion
Use multi-step Approvals to allow the IT rep to approve the request when completed and then send the data to their manager or department head for final sign-off if needed. Logic and skip functions can be easily added to customize each approval sequence based on request requirements. For instance, issuing a new laptop to a student or faculty member may need multiple levels of approval within IT as well as other departments, such as finance. Upon final approval and form submission, the requestor will receive any necessary follow-up in an automated message.
Workflow Tip: This is just one way you can streamline IT processes at your university. Discover other easy ways to raise the bar on IT ops with task automation.
Start Automating Education Workflows Now
Don’t let inefficient processes burn out your staff and deter prospective students. By investing in education automation, you can build repeatable, efficient systems that improve employee morale, impress students, and save your organization time and money.
Ready to take your workflows to the next level? Our visual workflow builder makes it simple to create, test, and launch any process your institution may need. Get started now with a 14-day free trial or talk with one of our workflow consultants about how to accomplish your goals through workflow automation.