College students as a group have always been a nomadic lot. That tendency has increased dramatically with the onslaught of COVID-19 and at-home learning. For a college mail center, getting letters and packages delivered to faculty, staff, and students can turn into a guessing game. Where they were last month has probably changed. It could be a different building on campus, a nearby community, or nearly anywhere that distance learning takes place.
Though the recipients are mobile, packages and mail addressed to them continue to arrive at college mail centers. Fortunately, technology can allow college mail centers to keep students, faculty, and staff connected and receiving all their mail.
Campus Mail Today
Campus mail centers are competing for real estate and resources. Staffing is not at the levels it once was. Space is also at a premium. Areas once allocated to mailboxes now accommodate packages as mail volume decreases, but parcels stack up. Instead of delivery to dorms, offices, and departments, a centralized approach is gaining traction nationwide. Carriers, including the Postal Service, typically do not deliver directly to campus locations. It is the mail center’s job to connect campus inhabitants with their items. This is happening under the constraints of COVID-19 protocols.
In the past, college mail and packages may have been delivered directly to a dorm or office. The mail was sorted into personal mailboxes. In a dormitory, a package was kept behind the desk until the resident retrieved it. The chain of custody was lax. Today, carriers deliver to one building: the mail center. Students and staff receive an email or text to pick up their items. According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll, over 75% of adult respondents believe packages sent to students are safer delivered to a campus mail center and not a dorm or off-campus apartment.
The challenge for college mail centers is optimizing floor space while maintaining timely notification of package or mail arrival. Just like the USPS, a college mail centers’ volume is shifting from letters to packages. Mail volumes have declined by 39 percent since 2008. Package volume and delivery have grown by 21 percent. That number is pre-COVID. Package volumes overwhelmed postal processing centers during the pandemic. Packages take up space and need manual handling. Mail is not going away anytime soon. How can colleges reduce mail’s footprint to make room for packages?
Handling Campus Mail
Campus mail center managers should borrow a strategy from corporate America: digital mail delivery of hard copy postal mail. Digital mail delivery automates manual sorting and delivery. Once opened, equipment scans the envelope’s contents and sends electronic images to the professor, student, or staff member. Powerful rules software finds the recipient’s email address based on the name on the envelope. The equipment scans the front and back of the envelope, date-stamps the entry, and sends the images to the recipient.
A college mail center differs from a corporate mail facility. In a business, inbound mail is repetitive. Documents they receive are often a form or a standard response. Mail is often not addressed to a person per se. College mail is more personal. A card from a mom to her son at the freshman dorm is an example. Opening personal mail is not only bad manners, it is also a federal offense.
Here is where the power of advanced rules software takes over. College privacy administrators decide what mail can be opened and what stays sealed. These instructions are programmed into the digital mail system, which controls the handling of each mailpiece. The system scans the envelope of a greeting card sent to a freshman from his mom and sends the image to the student. If it is his birthday, he knows what is inside. He gets an email asking him to pick up his card. The mail is not opened until he does it himself.
Suppose the next envelope is addressed to the athletic department — a business reply envelope supplied to high school baseball players interested in a summer camp. Each of these envelopes is easily identified and always contains a form and a check. Business rules compiled in the rules editor direct the mail handling console to open the envelope, scan the contents, and send the image to the athletic department. The mail center may hold the checks in a secure location for pickup by an authorized athletic department representative or sent directly to the business office for deposit.
Magazines, Folded Self-Mailers, and Catalogs
Many mailpieces do not present a privacy issue. These documents are already open and do not contain sensitive information, but they are important. People want them. In these cases, the system sends scanned images to recipients as directed by the rules software. The mail center will hold the pieces for pickup.
Tritek Oasis Inbound Mail Processing System
We have discussed the rules editor that applies business rules to inbound mail. The software determines which mail gets opened and scanned and directs envelopes and catalogs to bins for pickup.
Tritek’s powerful rules editor makes it easy to transition from a system that manually distributes every mailpiece to one that lessens the burden on college mail center personnel. Besides the software, Tritek provides the hardware platform that feeds the material, scans front-and-back, opens (if directed), and gathers mail into collection bins. The processing console has a compact footprint, operates on standard power, and can process up to 10,000 mail pieces an hour. The Oasis Processing System helps campus mail centers overcome space and staffing constraints and provides notification in a safe and secure environment.