Woman typing on laptop computer with smartphone near registration software

Google Forms or Registration Software: Which is Right for K-12 Schools?

Offering online forms for K-12 registration is a no-brainer for a multitude of reasons: they eliminate paper, they save administrative time, and families prefer them too. But how do you choose the right registration software for your district?

If you’re considering online registration forms for your K-12 schools, you might be wondering if you can get away with using a free tool like Google Forms. The answer is: you probably can, but should you? 

The Google suite of free, cloud-based tools helps make our day-to-day easier in both our personal and professional lives.

Google Docs and Sheets allow multiple users to work in a document at the same time. Google Drive offers more storage than we’ll ever need. And Google Forms easily collects information in a survey format.

While Google docs and forms are simple to use and free, you also have the option of software built specifically for K-12 registration. Here are the top items to consider when deciding which is right for your district. 

Convenience

icon of hand snapping with sound portrayed as lines and stars convenient registration software

Online registration forms are just plain convenient. Families can fill out and submit them whenever they want and anywhere there’s an internet connection. Your staff isn’t tasked with a mountain of paperwork to process and all the information is easily accessible in the cloud.

What happens next, however, is the difference.

With Google Forms, you import the data into a spreadsheet upon the completion of registration. Then you’re left with a humongous file that has to be manually imported into your SIS. This action leads to potential data entry errors and a lot of administrative hours (similar to the process if you used paper forms to start with). 

K-12 registration software automatically syncs with your SIS as forms are submitted, saving time and eliminating the potential for errors.

Features

plus sign icon on green dot features registration software

Google Forms helps collect basic information. It has an easy-to-use interface allowing you to create custom (but limited) fields and stores the collected data in a cloud-based spreadsheet, making it a great way to send a quick survey or plan an event.

For an intensive process like K-12 registration that has hundreds or thousands of submissions and large amounts of data, you might need a little more out of your tool.

Here is a list of features you gain by investing in an online registration software.

Payment Collection: Gather payments within registration, streamlining the process and improving your collection rate. 

Analytics: Dynamically create custom reports on submission data in real-time.

Custom Fields: Create registration fields customized for your K-12 school without limits on length.

Language Options: Offer the option for registration forms to be presented in multiple languages.

SIS Data Integration: Seamlessly integrate registration forms with your SIS so that data is automatically uploaded.

Notifications: Automatically notify returning students and families when it’s time for registration.

Cost

piggy bank icon with coin falling in on green dot registration software

Free is good. Everyone loves free stuff. Tools like Google Forms and Google Sheets are completely free and they work really, really well.

It can be difficult to imagine spending a portion of your budget on something that could be done for free. We get it. Plus, you can absolutely make K-12 registration work with Google Forms. 

Here’s the thing. How does the cost of K-12 registration software compare to weeks and weeks of administrative pay for manual data entry? Not to mention the other features you gain from a tool made for school registration like payment collection.

You’ve got options; weigh your costs to help decide what’s best for your district.

While paying for convenience (and a lot of other cool features) is an investment, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Right now, Registration Gateway is offering a Rapid Registration package, a turn-key solution that grows with your district. 

Security

lock icon on green dot security registration software

When gathering sensitive information about students, security is of the utmost importance. This is especially true with cyber attacks on K-12 schools more than doubling year over year

Data becomes vulnerable when it’s downloaded into an accessible spreadsheet and then changes hands for manual entry.

During the registration process, private student data and payment information are collected. This data should be treated exactly the way it is when it’s in your SIS: only accessible via single, permission-based logins and nestled safely behind firewall protection.

The bottom line is hosting an unprotected spreadsheet on a staff member’s computer with multiple hands manually inputting data is a security risk.

Using online registration forms with built-in security mitigates your risk and you can rest easy knowing all sensitive information is being automatically funneled into your secure SIS.

Support

hands shaking icon on green dot support registration software

Gaining customer support is another huge benefit of a paid service over a free service in nearly all scenarios. Online registration software providers like Registration Gateway have a team of people who guide you through product onboarding. They then serve as your day-to-day contact thereafter. 

We never want to think about a scenario where technology goes terribly wrong at the worst possible moment, but it happens. When it does, having an account manager or customer support team to call makes all the difference. 

Free or Paid Registration Software: Choose Your Own Adventure!

Google Forms is a fantastic tool for gathering basic information such as names, email addresses and phone numbers.

The forms are super simple to create and use. They make collaboration easy and eliminate the need for paper forms. For use cases like volunteer forms or surveys, Google Forms might be your go-to option. 

On the other hand, online registration form tools like Registration Gateway come with a robust set of features specifically built to manage registration for K-12 schools.

Plus, you gain other benefits too like improving user experience, getting paid faster, streamlining administrative tasks in a centralized platform, and gaining insights from data in real-time. 

K-12 registration has a lot of moving parts, includes sensitive student information, and has the potential to be crazily time-consuming.

Selecting a solution that reduces administrative work and includes accessible support could make this the year for seamless and stress-free K-12 registration. 


Family sitting in their living room doing something on a computer online school registration social distancing rapid registration CTA
two hands typing on a computer with a green overlay online student registrations

Manual or Online Student Registrations: Which is Safest?

 

We know that safeguarding your students’ data is a high priority. From birth dates to phone numbers to home addresses and grades – student records are a treasure trove of sensitive information. But if your school or district still relies on manual processes over online student registrations, you are exposed to a gamut of risks. 

Switching to an online registration solution reduces risks like misplaced student files and data entry errors. It also helps both parents and staff make the registration process paperless, secure, and efficient.  Continue reading Manual or Online Student Registrations: Which is Safest?

What does your school look like when the dust settles?

Let’s face it – going back to school is a drag for everyone involved. Kids whine, parents have to replace all the outgrown school clothes and fill out all the paperwork, but the school staff have it worst of all – they’re left with the kids still sluggishly getting back into their school routine AND the mass amounts of documentation that comes with them. Registration packets may seem easy from the parents’ point of view, but registrars must tap into their inner cryptologists to decipher thousands of different handwritings, make calls to summon parents who left blanks in their paperwork, and then delegate all the paperwork to the proper person or file without losing a single sheet of paper. And that’s not even the half of it.

For most school districts, school choice is decided by a complicated set of factors, not just the potential students’ residential addresses. Economic status, special or gifted education needs, older siblings already assigned to a specific building – all these reasons and more can be used to assign students to the proper building within a district. This can be a slow, tedious, error-riddled process during registration time, because secretaries and registrars must work as fast as possible to make sure every student has a seat in their school on the quickly approaching first day. Throw in all the parents who register their kids on the last acceptable day and you’ve got utter chaos.

Once the registration information has been given and the students have been delegated to their proper buildings, those enrollment documents still have a long way to go before they can rest in their folders back in the main office. Copies of medical information must be made for the nurse, who must then relay health information to cafeteria staff, athletic staff, and to specific teachers. Address information must be given to transportation, and bus routes must be made quickly and with the utmost efficiency. Teachers and aides must be given student information pertaining to any specific needs of the children under their supervision.

After the chaos of registration is over, and all the students have a seat on their bus, in their classroom, and away from any allergens in the lunchroom, the documents must be sorted into their proper homes, usually within large file cabinets near the secretary (who may be looking a little too weary for just the first day of school).

Intervention Time.

Schools using a paper-based system have become very used to the whirlwind of tasks that comes right before the onset of a new school year, but there will always be mistakes. Parents will always leave blanks on forms, secretaries will always make typos when translating parent handwriting, and paper will always tear or go missing.

So it’s time for an intervention. It’s 2016 – it’s time to go digital. There are now highly sophisticated software solutions that allow technology to handle all student data from registration information, to automation of school choice decisions, to storage of student information in an easily accessible yet intensely secure digital warehouse.

It’s too accessible and secure not to switch to digital document storing, just ask the East Baton Rouge School Parish System, who just last year had a case of confidential student files stolenby an employee and hidden for over a year – some files are still missing. It’s too inconvenient for staff not to allow parents to register their children for school online (and the parents won’t complain, either), just ask the registration staff from Millburn Township Public Schools, who have eliminated months of staff effort and manual data entry in preparing for student registration by implementing Registration Gateway. It’s too simple and honest not to ensure the fairness and equality of a school lottery process using technology, just ask the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates, who just this month have flagged 253 charter schools for using discriminatory admissions processes.

How can software solutions help with these processes?

Online portals can allow parents to enter registration information, including school choice preferences, which immediately becomes available for review by the secretary at the office. With thorough digital processes, parents cannot move on to the next phase of registration without filling in all information deemed necessary by the school. Handbooks can even be scanned and made available during this process, saving a few trees and ensuring that parents must go through every page and accept the school’s terms and conditions. This saves a ton of money in paper and printing costs for school districts and simultaneously gathers the signed contracts from the parents. This is just one example of the flexibility of new digital record technology. What sets certain solutions apart from cookie-cutter digital forms is whether or not this information can flow directly into the SIS.

As aforementioned, each school district has a unique way of setting the rules for their student lottery. This may be to ensure that bus routes are as efficient as possible, or to make sure that each building within a district has the same amount of students receiving free and reduced lunch. School choice automating software uses algorithms to take a district’s specific rules and apply them fairly to students entering the lottery. It assigns a “weight” to each student measured by the factors determined by the school, and this allows the system to decide in which building the student should be assigned. This prevents parents from crying foul play if their child doesn’t get their first choice. It also prevents school personnel from tampering with the fairness of the process.

Finally, record-keeping software can provide a digital warehouse where each student’s file lives – saving a lot of space in the office previously inhabited by filing cabinets. It stores every document within the system, from the photocopy of the guardian’s ID card to the photo waiver that needs signing in order to take pictures of the kids during school. In short, every piece of data that has been in paper form – report cards, detention slips, hearing and vision tests – can now be stored online. This means that piece of paper with Johnny’s allergies – the one that went from doctor to parent to secretary to school nurse to cafeteria staff to teacher and back to the file – has simply been online the whole time. No photocopying, no lost documents, no liability.

There are a thousand reasons to go digital, but only one solution to all these issues – and that would be the Gateway Suite.

How paperless solutions can help fix common problems within the US education system

Schools throughout the U.S. education system face common challenges that interfere with the quality of student learning. Online systems designed to enhance tasks like conference scheduling and organizing student cumulative folders can help schools reduce the impact of these issues. Here are two obstacles that paperless solutions can help schools overcome:

Poor parent involvement 
According to the Center for Public Education, research has shown that an estimated two-thirds of teachers believe their students would do better academically if their parents were more involved in their children’s education. Meanwhile, 72 percent of parents agreed that students with uninvolved parents were far more likely to “fall through the cracks” in school, as students with more attentive parents often receive the most attention from teachers.

Students whose parents are more involved in their education do better academically. Students whose parents are more involved in their education often do better academically.

School solutions can enhance parent involvement by making important student documents digitally accessible. Systems like SRC Solution’s Central Records Gateway offer parent-sharing features so they can log in from home and have updated documents like progress reports and behavioral assessments at their fingertips.

Automated conference scheduling systems, such as SRC Solution’s Conference Gateway, also increase parent participation in parent-teacher meetings, enabling parents to conveniently select an open meeting time online. This encourages parents to attend parent-teacher conferences, as it allows them to work around their own schedule and more efficiently plan ahead. They can also note specific questions or topics they want to discuss at the meeting so that the staff can better prepare beforehand and truly personalize and improve the quality of their parent-teacher relationships. This is important, as the National Education Association explained that only 48 percent of parents feel teachers hold efficient conferences, so detailing discussion points ahead of time can drastically improve the outcomes of meetings.

Lack of funding 
The Atlantic noted that recent reports have shown schools across the U.S. are expected to do more for their students with increasingly less government funding as the years go on. This has put a lot of pressure on schools to reserve the money they do have for important student programs and other essential needs. Going paperless can assist districts in cutting back on yearly expenses. According to Aiim Community, most organizations that do away with paper-based workflows save over $500 per person each year in supplies like ink, paper and printers.

Address fraud is another common issue experienced by K-12 districts that ends up taking key funding away from schools. If it goes unnoticed, address fraud can cost schools millions each year. For example, The Hechinger Report explained that schools in Beverly Hills, California – which deal with at least one case of registration fraud each month – are charging parents with $150 for every day that their child was enrolled illegally in their schools, as they believe this is a fair equivalent of the funding they lost as a result. SRC Solution’s Address Purification Gateway automates the process of identifying falsified addresses to ensure your district’s money is spent properly and residential students are receiving the education they deserve.

Registration Gateway