IU Document Services takes pride in printing pristine diplomas for all graduates

During his tenure as president of Indiana University from 1938 to 1962, Herman B Wells insisted on signing the diploma of each and every IU graduate by hand. Though the process for producing IU diplomas is dramatically different now, it would be hard to differentiate a diploma hand-signed by Wells from one sent to a student graduating this December.

Herman Wells signs diplomasView print quality image
Former IU President Herman B Wells signs diplomas in January 1950. Photo courtesy of IU Archives

That's because the team at IU Document Services, which prints more than 25,000 IU diplomas every year, prioritizes preserving the integrity of each one given at IU campuses across the state.

"President McRobbie really emphasizes the importance of the quality of our diplomas, and so does the entire staff at Document Services," said Judy Blanton, digital content manager for Document Services. "Everyone from our prepress department, our IT manager, the press operators and our couriers -- we all take a great pride in producing these documents. Students work hard for these, and they deserve to have them be as close to perfect as possible."

IU has been printing diplomas in-house with Document Services for nearly a decade. Blanton and Neil Hugentober, now the director of Document Services, were part of the team that proposed updating the process, which at the time required every graduate's name to be hand-keyed instead of automated. The update not only saves the university money, it ensures more accuracy and a quicker delivery of diplomas to students.

While graduates of IU's professional schools receive a 16-by-20-inch diploma, all other IU graduates receive an 8½-by-11-inch diploma, whether it's their first bachelor's degree or third Ph.D. Production of the 8-by-11 diplomas starts on an offset press printing four "Indiana University" headers to a sheet. After the headers are printed, the sheets of four are cut on an automated trimmer. Diplomas are then shipped to a vendor in Indianapolis that adds a foil IU seal.

This is when Debbie Satterfield steps in. She merges data about each graduate from the Office of the Registrar into templates made for each school on every IU campus. The digital version of every diploma is checked by staff from the registrar's office and Document Services before Satterfield prints them in a secure room. Document Services staff do quality control on each printed diploma, checking for alignment, stray ink and any other aesthetic issue before the diplomas are sent to the registrar's office to be checked once more and hand-stuffed for mailing.

This is a yearlong operation, with an uptick in activity at the end of each semester after commencement. Document services prints about 6,000 diplomas each December and 14,000 each May. Doctoral diplomas are printed year-round, as are reprints requested by graduates whose diplomas have been lost or damaged or need updates.

From the top: Diploma production starts on an offset press that prints four "Indiana University" headers to a sheet; diplomas are then cut and shipped to a vendor that adds a foil IU seal; finally, data about each graduate is merged into templates and printed in a secure room. Photos by Eric Rudd, IU Communications

Every template Document Services uses is archived on a secure server so that reprints are exact replicas of the original. While diplomas are no longer hand-signed, Blanton said many deans feel it's a rite of passage to see their signature appear on a diploma for the first time.

Sometimes special circumstances require Document Services to tweak their production process. Last year, with the help of IU braille transcriber Chris Goodbeer, Document Services produced IU's first braille diploma, allowing the IUPUI student who requested it to read his name on the diploma without any assistance.

A few years ago, a terminally ill graduate hoped to receive her diploma before she passed away. Blanton interrupted a Board of Trustees meeting to receive a signature from IU Kokomo Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke on a Friday and ensured the diploma was presented at a special ceremony by Sunday; the graduate passed away that Tuesday.

Similar accommodations are made for diplomas presented posthumously so that they can be displayed during memorial services.

"Those are the moments when you realize that what we do is about so much more than a piece of paper," Blanton said.

The pride she takes in her work causes Blanton to inspect every framed diploma she comes across, whether it's in a colleague's office, at the doctor or in a friend's home. She said the system that Document Services has in place will ensure that diplomas printed 50 years from now will still be indiscernible from those that were hand-signed by Wells.