Prepared by the AACRAO Fax Guidelines Task Force (1996)

Dennis J. Dulniak, Chair
Janet L. Busekist
Carol J. Cline
Mary K. Jones
Keith M. White

Increased use of fax technology in businesses, including admissions and registrars' offices, has transformed the fax machine into an essential tool. Fax documents are acceptable in both state and federal courts, and by federal agencies. Because a fax is a true representation of the original, it can be considered a reproduction or qualify as an original document.

Though many AACRAO members have adopted fax technology for standard business use, there remains some reluctance to use this technology to its full potential. An overriding issue is the concern by the receiver in accepting any fax document as official. Whether the document is mailed, hand carried, or faxed, it remains the purview of the recipient to treat the document as official. With AACRAO's approval to accept fax copies as official documents, institutions should review their policies with consideration to use fax technology for improving the delivery of services.

Fax Guidelines Task Force Recommendations

Faxing has become a well-accepted means of sending documents. To use fax technology and deliver services to our students and other clients, fax copies may be considered as official and are subject to institutional policy, security measures, and validation procedures. Table A (see below) is the recommended list of fax documents to be sent or received (as approved by the AACRAO Board of Directors, March 1996).

An AACRAO Fax Transcript Directory should be created as a means to report information in a common format regarding the cost and issuance of transcripts, and as a national source of information to be used for validation procedures in the acceptance of fax copies as official. Pending review by the AACRAO Publications Advisory Board and development of budget, process, and Board of Directors assessment, the AACRAO Fax Transcript Directory would be available on the World Wide Web as well as in printed form.

Institutional Policy Formation For Fax Documents

Each institution should review or establish an institutional fax policy, with specific attention to faxed documents in the admissions and registrars' offices. The fax policy needs to be in writing, approved by appropriate college or university personnel, and available upon request. The policy should include references to the following issues:

List of Documents. Institutions should review Table A and determine their policies for sending and receiving faxes as official documents. Table A suggests accepting faxed copies of documents that pass among educational institutions, government agencies, and testing organizations. With established procedures for security and authentication, most documents can be faxed under an official status. Documents recommended as unofficial include: foreign transcripts (disproportionate problems with forged, falsified, or altered documents from foreign sources), military documents (not original source documents), test scores (continued use of electronic means recommended), and third-party documents (not original source document).

Cover Sheet. Cover sheets are to be used to facilitate the use of the document, review for completeness, and help verify the authenticity of the fax document. The institutional fax cover sheet should include the following items: name of institution, telephone number of sending department, name of sender, telephone number of sender, fax number of sender, date, description of the document including the number of pages, student name, ID number or Social Security number (if available), type of document, and name of receiver. An optional comment section might explain why the document is being sent (e.g.. for application to undergraduate or graduate admission, etc.). The fax cover sheets used for sending official documents should be secured to restrict unauthorized use.

Paper. Fax documents should not be sent on safety paper because of the illegibility of the data received and the increased length of transmission. Plain-paper fax copies have a much longer life than heat-transfer paper, which will fade in light and discolor over time. If institutional policy requires extended record-retention standards, heat-transfer fax documents may be copied onto plain paper, microfilmed, or digitized for long-term storage.

Agreements. Institutions are encouraged to investigate establishing agreements with secondary and postsecondary institutions and other agencies. Through such agreements, trading partners may be identified. Documents transmitted between established trading partners should be considered official. The agreement should include the types of documents to be sent and received (as suggested in TableA), agreement on the description of the cover sheet, and any other conditions to authenticate the document.

Fees. Institutions should establish and publish fees charged for faxing documents, describing whether fax fees are paid in advance, with credit cards, or invoiced.

Restriction on Use. Who may use the fax machine and under what circumstances should be determined and included in the fax policy. Fax machines should be available to receive and send documents 24 hours a day.

Deadlines. The issue of institutional deadlines also needs to be addressed. If a deadline is approaching, can students meet the deadline by faxing the documents? The policy regarding fax documents should be consistently applied, including deadlines for document processing. Offices will need to incorporate managing the incoming and outgoing fax workload with existing document processing procedures.

Priority Handling. Fax documents should not receive special handling priority over other delivery systems. Incoming faxes should be treated as regular daily mail without privilege to supersede existing office procedures.

Training. Ongoing training should include distribution of the fax policy, operation of the machine, responsibilities of the operator, security issues, proper handling and distribution of documents received, document authentication, confidential handling, and any other established institution or office procedures dealing with fax documents. Specific office personnel should be designated as experts in the use and maintenance of the machine.

Security Measures

Location. The fax machine should be located in a secure place. To maintain confidentiality, the fax machine should not be accessible to the public nor should sending/receiving documents be visible to the public.

Header Code. In setting up the fax machine, the header line should include accurate descriptive information: institution and office name, fax number, the date and time of transmission, and page number.

Confidentiality. Documents received by fax should be treated in a confidential manner-away from public areas. Training and understanding of responsibilities regarding confidentiality and the handling of confidential materials should be extended to both staff and student workers. Consideration should also be given to having the requestor sign an information statement explaining that documents sent may be received in an area that is not secure. The statement would serve as protection for the sending institution about any lack of document confidentiality at the receiving fax machine.

Validation Procedures

Authentication. Proper authentication procedures are integral in establishing the fax as a vehicle for official copies. To establish the basis for treating fax documents as official, institutions should identify a fax policy. The policy should include standards for the cover sheet, sender ID on the fax header line, and verification procedures. Cover sheets should be used to verify the document. Once the document is validated for completeness and matching with the cover sheet, there is no need to retain the cover sheet. With proper authentication, it should not be necessary for the sending institution to follow up a fax with a mailed paper copy.

Optional items for authentication may include an internal document control number, numbered pages, receipt or acknowledgment fax, logs, and telephone acknowledgment. Institutions may wish to employ additional internal processes of date stamping, coding, entry into database, or whatever is determined to treat the fax document as complete and accepted.

Document Integrity. The institutional fax policy should include procedures to follow up on questionable faxed documents. The sender should be contacted by phone to request resubmission of an incomplete copy or for review of document discrepancies.

Training. Training staff in the established authentication procedures with fax documents should parallel the approach and standards used with reviewing paper transcripts and other documents.

Table A

Recommended List of Faxed Documents To Be Sent or Received*


Recommended/ Institutional Decision

Official/ Unofficial Copy

Application for Admission R O
Application for Scholarship R O
Correspondence R O
Credit Card Authorization R O
FERPA Request Release R O
Financial Aid Application R O
Financial Aid Transcript R O
Financial Statement (Foreign Student) R O
Foreign Transcript I U
Good Student Discount R O
Housing Application R O
Immunization Information R O
Letter of Degree Completion R O
Letter of Good Standing R O
Letter of Intent to Enroll R O
Letter of Recommendation R O
Letter of Verification R O
Military Document (Early Release Form) I U
Orientation Application R O
PC Fax I O
Signature R O
Test Scores (AP, CLEP, ACT/SAT, IB) R U
Third-Party Document I U
Transcript (High School and College) R O
Transcript Request R O

*Subject to institutional policy, security measures, and validation procedure