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Educational institutions are frequently tasked with the management of thousands of student records in multiple formats. Without standardized procedures and processes, it is not uncommon for records management processes to differ between campuses, departments, and faculties within the same institution. In some cases, it is possible that older, paper-based processes have not been updated to properly adapt to the advances in modern technology.

The establishment of a records management strategy within an educational institution can prove to be a challenge, especially if there is a misconception that students and administrators will not benefit from it. However, when implemented correctly, a records management strategy can lead to improvements in student services and overall organizational efficiencies.

The implementation and maintenance of student records are essential to do the following:

  • Manage the relationship between the institution and the student
  • Provide support and other services to the student
  • Control the student’s academic progress and measure their achievement while at the institution
  • Provide support to the student subsequent to graduation from the institution

In this article, we shall discuss the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) recommendations for student records management as well as provide an overview of the new AACRAO Guide as presented by Susan Nelson of Rutgers University.


What Are Student Records and Who Is AACRAO?

Student records can be defined as records associated with managing the relationship between an institution and its students. What makes student records complex is that they may come in numerous mediums (text, image, audio) and varying file formats.

They can be organized into three broad categories, each of which may be additionally divided:

  • Records documenting the contractual relationship between the student and the institution
    • e.g., admission and enrollment, payment of tuition fees, nonacademic disciplinary proceedings, etc.
  • Records documenting the student as a learner
    • e.g., programs undertaken, academic progress and performance, awards, etc.
  • Records documenting the student as an individual and consumer of services provided by the institution
    • e.g., use of accommodation services, counselling services, library and IT support services, career and employment services, etc.

AACRAO first published Retention of Records: A Guide for Retention and Disposal of Student Records (herein referred to as the “Guide” or “ACCRAO Guide”) in 1960 to provide educational institutions with guidelines for the proper management for student records. The Guide has been periodically updated as record management practices and requirements have changed and evolved over the years.

The 2014 edition of the Guide addresses new items:

  • Electronic records including document imaging software, email archiving, web-based warehouses, Cloud computing, and record redundancy
  • Microfilm / fiche retrieval
  • State and accreditor mandates
  • Legal issues


Overview of the Chapters of the ACCRAO Guide

Chapter 1—Student Records Retention and Disposal
This introductory chapter discusses principles governing records retention and disposal of student records. Determining which records to keep and which to discard is made more difficult by vague language in some laws and regulations. AACRAO records managers must maintain a balance between extremes of risk, from retention of everything to disposal of the vital. To direct institutions, the Guide has identified elements which carry the most weight when establishing a student records system. These include compliance with Federal laws and Regulations, assessing discipline-specific requirements and analyzing accreditor requirements.

Chapter 2—Developing a Records Retention and Disposal Program
The second chapter of the Guide expands on the elements necessary to successfully develop a records retention and disposal program. These elements are briefly discussed below:

  • Step 1, Identify need: Institutional and management needs for the records in question must be established and delineated as completely as possible. Several basic questions must be asked:
    • What records exist?
    • Which records are worthy of retention?
    • In what medium should they be retained?
    • How secure will they be?
    • Who needs access to each type of record and with what frequency?
  • Step 2, Inventory of records: The inventory is critical as it provides the basis for sound records. It should collect all information necessary for the identification of all student records as required by law, such as record name, record custodian, record volume, and record reference need.
  • Step 3, Appraise / categorize records: A sound records retention program requires a realistic appraisal of student records with regard to the duration of their usefulness and their value to the institution and to others. A set of appraisal standards should be created to determine the administrative, fiscal, legal / legislative, and historical / research value of each record.
  • Step 4, Create schedule: When all records have been inventoried and classified, a schedule should be created which identifies each record series and specifies the manner and time of its disposition. It is important to secure approval after legal / stakeholder review.
  • Step 5, Publicize and train: Once a record retention and disposal program has been approved and a schedule established, institutions have an obligation to publish these documents in whatever format is deemed appropriate to ensure that all custodians are aware of and can reference them on a regular basis.
  • Step 6, Review and update: It is recommended that you review your policy annually; do not exceed a 3-year review cycle.

Chapter 3—Retention Schedule Recommendations
The AACRAO Guide provides retention schedule templates for professionals in registrar, admissions, recruitment, financial aid offices, and enrollment to assist in the development and maintenance of their respective schedules. The samples provided by AACRAO are meant to reflect some of the most common records across the various disciplines. However they should be customized to ensure that they meet the needs of each institution’s requirements and that they are in compliance with federal laws.

Chapter 4—Methods of Storage
In addition to the retention schedule recommendations mentioned in chapter 3, it is imperative that institutions establish record retention plans that include proper storage and backup processes. This is essential in reducing the overall cost of maintaining hard-copy documents and helps to ensure the long-term preservation of vital permanent records.

As identified in chapter 4, the principal media currently used to maintain and store records are paper, micrographics, computer machine-readable media and document management software (DMS). The advantages and disadvantages of each of these storage media are also outlined in this chapter.

Chapter 5—Security of Student Records
Upon implementation of a records retention plan, it is important to safeguard student records. Security systems are put in place ensure that the integrity of student records is not compromised or access given to staff who do not need it. Security also includes protection against such things as heat, water, media deterioration, power outages, etc.

Security can be improved through the use of enhanced password strengths, a log of updates, physical audits, and periodic audit reports showing changes made in the records.

Here are some considerations that educational institutions should to take into account when implementing a security system for student records:

  • Do you have an identity management program that selectively restricts access to records based on roles and “need to know”?
  • Do you have written agreements with vendors that address items such as secure / encrypted transmissions, secure servers, adequate firewalls, routine / ongoing checking for hackers, etc.?
  • Are copies of your records stored / maintained in a secure, off-site facility to ensure business continuity if needed?


How Can eFileCabinet Help with Student Records Management?

eFileCabinet’s DMS tools are perfectly suited to assisting colleges and universities to comply with the recommendations mentioned in the AACRAO Guide, especially as it pertains to the retention and disposal of records.

One of the main features of eFileCabinet is our document retention system. This tool allows you to automatically determine what should be done with particular files / records at a certain point in time. The document retention system is perfect for easily setting up a retention schedule as mentioned in chapter 3 of the Guide.

eFileCabinet’s DMS solutions are also compliant with chapter 4 of the Guide and provide many benefits as outlined by AACRAO, including the following:

  • Improved access to files and records
  • Time savings
  • Enhanced document preservation
  • Reduction of consumables (reducing the need for paper recycling, printer maintenance, etc.)
  • Space savings (as physical media takes up space)
  • Modest monetary savings (no need for paper records, files, and filing cabinets)

Our support staff is always available to assist should you require further information on how your company can take advantage of eFileCabinet’s systems and tools to develop a records management system for students. Please fill out the form on this page to request a 15-minute demo or to contact us.