Applying Lean to Admissions Applications

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University was established in 1879 as the first public veterinary college in the U.S. Each year the school graduates approximately 150 new Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, adding to the over 6400 who have already passed through the institution en route to serving the world.

A cooperative program with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln allows 25 Nebraska students annually to enter a program whereby they attend their first two years of veterinary classes in Lincoln, then transfer to Ames to finish the final two years of their program. The first class under this program began their third year of study at ISU in the fall of 2009.

Each fall, the college receives over 1000 admissions applications for one of the coveted spots in the next incoming class. As part of the agreement with Nebraska, ISU also acts as the final admissions administrator for those pursuing the cooperative program.

Due to external factors, the influx of applications is highly concentrated with roughly 90 percent received within a one-month time frame from mid-October through mid-November. The process is further compounded by the diverse set of information which each perspective student is required to provide (most of which comes from different sources) in order for an informed decision to be made:

  • The standard Veterinary Medical College Application Services (VMCAS) application which member schools require
  • An Iowa State Supplemental Application
  • Transcripts from all post-secondary schools attended
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) standardized test results

The college takes its responsibility to choose the most deserving students very seriously. College admissions personnel are tasked with the job of collecting all of the pieces of incoming data and organizing them with the appropriate candidate. They are also responsible for manipulating all objective data (e.g., transcripts, GPA, and GRE scores) via an involved algorithm in order for each applicant to be ranked for prioritization of the subsequent steps in the admissions process, which includes a subjective applications analysis and finally in-person interviews.

To say that the task was daunting would be an understatement. For example, when one considers that it is not unusual for a given student to have transcripts from over five previously attended institutions, the complexity becomes clear. As a result, the admissions evaluation period was a time dreaded by admissions personnel and faculty committee members, resulting in long work hours and high stress.

We tackled this process together in a Business Process Kaizen (BPK) event. A cross-functional team of admissions personnel and faculty created a detailed swim lane map of the current process. Training on waste, especially geared for administrative processes, was conducted and team members were challenged to identify waste within the current process. Finally, the creativity of the group was harvested to develop a superior process. Aspects of the improved process included:

  • Establishing a single web-based database to collect all data. This greatly reduced the number of data translations required and provided continuous real time data access to all users, including applicants.
  • Transferring responsibility for monitoring application completeness from the admissions staff to applicants. This was consistent with the desire to admit responsible students.
  • Developing Standard Work and Gage Repeatability and Reproducibility (GRR) procedures for the academic review process to ensure a consistent review regardless of the reviewer
  • Creating a timeline with clear deadlines for critical activities

In addition, further improvements were identified which could not be implemented in time for the upcoming cycle, but offer promise down the road:

  • Establishing incentives to applicants for early submittals
  • Reducing components included in the admissions data algorithm. Using Six Sigma methods, a statistical analysis investigating the relationships between student success for members of the past five graduating classes with their incoming objective admissions data revealed that the algorithm is more complex than needed

Following up with admissions personnel during this year’s peak period, they report being much more organized and lower stressed, despite the fact that the number of applications is on a record pace. Work continues by college information technology employees to automate various features of the collection database, which will lead to further improvements. In addition, admissions personnel identified and eliminated additional hand-offs which is a key tenant of Lean administrational processes.

The success of this project has prompted the ISU Vet Med College to explore an Extended Engagement relationship with Brimeyer LLC.

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