Enrollment process for Gaston College’s College Now program goes online

Enrollment process for Gaston College’s College Now program goes online

Gaston College, like other educational institutions, businesses and organizations, has needed to find ways to continue to operate effectively despite COVID restrictions. The College’s Educational Partnerships division, with the help of the Technical Services Department, met the challenge by transitioning from a manual paper-driven process to an online process for students to register for College Now courses.

College Now is a dual-enrollment opportunity for high school students to take tuition-free college classes from Gaston College in a schedule and format that works for them. Prior to making the change to the online system, paper registration request forms for the program were used. Students interested in participating in College Now would complete the forms and return them to their high school counselors for signatures. In order for Educational Partnerships to get the forms back, the counselors could either drop them off at one of Gaston College’s three campuses, scan and email them to the College, or a staffer from Educational Partnerships would go to the high school to pick up the forms. A time-consuming, tedious processing system involved passing packets of forms to advisors, admission staff, and back to Educational Partnerships for registration. It also entailed a lot of printing and driving between campuses and high schools to get all the signatures necessary to remain compliant with state regulations.

The existing process was not sustainable under COVID-19 restrictions, so Dr. Jennifer Nichols, Vice President of Educational Partnerships, and Savonne McNeill, Chief Information Officer, worked together to create a workable plan. They turned to DocuSign, a company with products that allow organizations to manage electronic agreements, and developed DocuSign “envelopes” which contained the College Now Registration Forms. The envelopes are delivered via email, eliminating the need for paper enrollment forms. The migration to this online process took a few months, and the project was implemented just before registration began for the Gaston College fall 2020 semester.

“By utilizing DocuSign,” said Becky Smykowski, Advising Specialist for Educational Partnerships, “we now have a contactless method of distributing registration request forms, auditing those forms, completing admissions requirements, and registering students. We also use less paper, less printer ink, and require fewer mileage reimbursements.”

Desiree Lackey, a counselor at East Lincoln High School, has been working with the Gaston College College Now program since 2014. In a typical year, at least 120 juniors and seniors take College Now courses each semester. She has found that the online registration system has many benefits. “The transition to the online system has forced students to be active participants in the enrollment process, which I think is a good thing,” Lackey said. “With the online enrollment, students must consistently check email for communication from Ed Partnerships in order to sign off on their course registrations. This has created a new habit of students regularly checking email, and that helps at the school level.”

As the only East Lincoln High School counselor who registers students for College Now, Lackey said, “The online enrollment has helped me streamline my process and transition to electronic record keeping as opposed to paper.”

Cassey Wright, Advising Specialist on the Lincoln campus of Gaston College, assists Lackey with the program. “Cassey has been my go-to person in Educational Partnerships for the College Now program,” said Lackey. “She is incredibly organized and knowledgeable, and she goes above and beyond to help my students and me.”

At Piedmont Community Charter School in Gastonia, counselor Karen Bunch has been enrolling students in College Now courses since 2016. The number of students taking the courses is growing every year, with 57 percent of seniors graduating with college credit and 41 percent of juniors taking a College Now course this year. PCCS students earned 494 college credits during the fall 2020 semester.

“When Gaston College decided to change the registration process to an online system,” said Bunch, “I wasn’t happy about the change. I thought I needed to have paper copies of student registration forms. Now that I am familiar with the online process, it saves me time. No more scanning and filing registration forms, no more waiting on parent signatures and forms not returned in a timely manner. I have more space in my files.”

Bunch appreciates the support she receives from Gaston College. “I would like to recognize Becky Smykowski for her outstanding work in the whole registration process,” she said. “Ms. Smykowski helps me stay organized. She will send me a detailed spreadsheet of Piedmont students enrolled and what classes they are registered for. If students have questions that I can’t answer, then all I have to do is pick up the phone and the student has a quick response. She created three videos that we posted on our website to help with the College Now registration process. Gaston College is very fortunate to have such an outstanding employee.”

“Moving the College Now paper enrollment process to an electronic process is a silver lining of COVID,” said Dr. Nichols. “Our team and the counselors at our partner high schools have been very enthusiastic about the change, and we will continue to use the new system even after the pandemic has passed. Although there is a small expense related to each DocuSign envelope that is emailed out, in my opinion, the added expense pays for itself in saved hours, travel, paper/ink and processing time.”

For more information about College Now and how to apply, visit gaston.edu/college-now.

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