Consider school records for individual students. A school record contains critical information about a student that attended the school. While there are no universally used requirements on what records a school must keep in a permanent file, the following are commonly kept:
Students name, address, phone number and social security number
Record of classes taken and grades received
Degrees, certificates or awards
How long are records kept?
In doing research we tried to find if there were any laws or standards that specified how long a school record was kept. It appears that the length of time requirement is set by the local governments or school districts. Some states have specific laws that provide guidance to length of time. For example the Massachusetts Department of education has stated a 60 year retention period would in compliance with Massachusetts state law, but also stated that the requirement was up to each school district. Source.
Many schools, particularly higher education institutions have a policy of permanent retention. Most schools are required to keep records for at least 7 years after a student has left.
There are very few centralized resources for education records, in most states; the record is kept at the school and nowhere else. Sometimes counties or school districts will centralize some records, but there is not a universal system in place. In reality there appear to be more laws regarding rights and privacy pertaining to school records than length of retention.
Why do school records need to be retained?
There are a number of reasons that schools should retain records:
- For application to other education programs: Any student wanting further education will possibly need proof of graduation, transcripts or special certificates to earn acceptance. The applicant is often required to obtain a copy of specific records to prove that certain classes were taken or educational criteria met.
- Employment application: Many employees will require proof of graduation or a diploma as well as transcripts before hiring an applicant.
- Criminal investigation: Law enforcement agencies may request specific school records as part of a background investigation. Attendance records may be valuable in determining/validating alibis.
- Lawsuits: School records may be sought in a variety of legal cases including lawsuits involving discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and other issues that involve a lawsuit.
For a number of good reasons, we rely on school records being retained for a reasonable period of time, if not indefinitely.
How are school records stored?
Today, a student is most likely going to have a digital record stored and maintained on a computer system, although some records may still be on paper. Years ago, all records were kept manually and stored on paper, microfilm, microfiche or aperture cards. At what point student records were inputted digitally vs. paper depends on the school, school district or state. It is safe to say that most schools have thousands of records kept on physical entities such as paper or microfilm. Some schools have entire rooms, floor or even buildings full of records. Most manual records were categorized first by school year, and then stored alphabetically.
Finding specific physical records is a time consuming task that could easily take admin people hours or even days. Without key information such as exact school year, the search process could take weeks. Every time a record is handled, there is a risk of damage or misplacement. The risks can be further convoluted when schools merge or close.
Scanning and digitizing physical records
Many schools are addressing the problem of storing and managing physical records by scanning documents to a digital format and indexing them for rapid retrieval. While at first the idea of digitizing hundreds of thousands of records stored on paper, microfilm, microfiche or aperture cards may seem overwhelming; a digitizing service with special equipment and trained technicians can quickly digitize these records at a surprisingly affordable cost. For example Microfacs digitized over 400,000 documents in less than 6 weeks.
The benefit of digitizing records is obvious, retrieval can be instantaneous. Files can be easily copied and centralized. Retrieval that use to take hours can be done in minutes, storage space can be reduced from large rooms down to a small cubical.
How many school records are still stored in non-digital format? Because record retention is pretty much based locally, we are pretty sure that no one knows the exact number, but our guess is that the it is close to hundreds of millions of records. The solution would need to be implemented by school or at best by school district. The return on investment is significant. Many large schools have 1 or 2 administrators dedicated to record retention and the cost of a lost or damage record is incalculable. Considering that a typical cost is just a few cents a record, it may take only a few months to pay for the initial investment.
Microfacs has implemented major digitizing programs for several schools. Our system provides for privacy as well as security. We can store records to a digital format and index, or we can process digital records to searchable pdfs using optical character recognition.