Solving Attendance Challenges for Trade and Career Schools

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Career and trade schools differ from traditional colleges and universities because programs often require accurate and detailed records of attendance and participation. If it’s not correctly recorded, then students might not qualify for their certifications and financial aid. Many schools still rely on outdated, manual time keeping, which creates more work for administrators and faculty and puts students’ success at risk.

Fortunately, there are better ways to manage credit-hour and clock-based attendance. Modern student information systems offer integrated solutions to record and track your students’ progress. By upgrading to a new platform, schools can improve their record keeping and streamline operations. That’s a win-win for your entire community.

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A Modern Approach to Higher Education Admissions

A well-managed admissions team is essential to a school’s growth and success, but many schools still rely on a manual admissions process or use outdated software that creates extra work and leads to costly errors.

And with admissions departments facing a staffing crisis, your small-but-mighty admissions team simply doesn’t have the time and resources to follow up with prospects, track and manage applications, and keep all the trains running. As a result, you could be missing out on prospects and revenue.

For small and medium-sized schools, admissions is a key revenue source and having a well-trained, fully supported admissions team is essential to growing enrollment. Modernizing the admissions process can help reduce errors from manual work, increase departmental collaboration and improve cooperation between the school and applicants. This allows your lean team to stay organized and improve productivity and efficiency.

Sounds like a path to success, right? In this post, we’ll cover:

The Biggest Hurdles Admissions Teams Face

A major obstacle to successfully moving prospects through admissions is having the resources to execute on an effective admissions process. Admissions teams tend to be small crews, and they need support and resources to follow up with potential students, monitor and process applications, and maintain current and accurate information on every prospect. At a time when there is a shortage of qualified workers at colleges, universities, career and trade schools, it would be wise to rethink your admissions software and processes. While schools are having difficulty recruiting and retaining talented staff, supporting your current admissions team with creative and efficient processes can give your school a competitive edge.

Today, many higher-ed professionals want to work remotely or on a hybrid schedule, but with legacy software that can be difficult. A cloud-based student information system centralizes admissions data and can be accessed from anywhere. This way, schools can provide staff with more flexibility without compromising access to data and file sharing.

For many smaller schools, the admissions process is largely a manual. Teams are cutting and pasting information from databases into templates, individually writing and sending emails, searching for documents and saving to multiple drives. While the work may seem mindless or harmless, this manual approach comes with significant risks:

  • Delayed Follow Up – Failure to quickly follow up with a prospect is inevitable without real-time notifications, leading to missed revenue opportunities. Students are applying to multiple institutions, so teams have to be quick to pounce on new leads.
  • Time Lost From Disorganization – Looking for information, notes and data drains time that could be dedicated to targeting and following up on high-value prospects. If details on prospects aren’t recorded properly or even lost, that interested student could fall through the cracks.
  • Failure to Meet Your Goals – Prospective students are a hot commodity. If your team is not engaging in clear and consistent communication, then you won’t meet your enrollment goals and your school’s budget will suffer.

10 Attributes to Look for in Integrated Admissions Software

As more schools look to upgrade from legacy, onsite technology systems to integrated, cloud-based student information systems, it is important to make admissions software a top priority.

Admissions is the nerve center for any school, so you want to make sure your student information system lets the admissions team follow a prospect throughout the entire admissions cycle. Here’s are 10 components to look for:

  1. A Centralized Hub: There’s a lot of documentation involved in the application process, so everything needs to be stored in one location to maintain a Single Source of Truth for admissions teams and applicants alike. This means no more searching multiple databases or spreadsheets for the right information.
  2.  An Easy User Experience: Prospects and admissions teams need a system that’s easy to use. Applicants need the ability to pause the process and restart applications, and your team can easily keep track of how many applications are ongoing and completed, and follow up when necessary.
  3. Built-In CRM and Communications Platform: A robust student information system contains a CRM to track applicants and any communications between them and your school. This should be regularly updated and monitored to ensure follow-up communication with prospects is quick.
  4. Real-Time Notifications: It’s easy for prospective students to get distracted and end up with incomplete applications. That slows down your school’s admissions process and could keep a student from joining your program. To help students stay on track, the system can be configured with email, text and push notifications to remind students to submit forms, upload documents or check their email.
  5. Data Protection: Applications and financial aid forms contain a lot of personal information, so it’s important to be able to restrict access to sensitive personal data from within your team and outside your organization.
  6. Project Management Capabilities: An integrated system lets your school build customized workflows for project routing, review and approval. With an easy-to-use interface, staffers from admissions, as well as other key departments, can manage the system with minimal training.
  7. Financial Aid Integration: The vast majority of students need financial aid, which means your school needs to collect documentation, send out notifications, and submit reports to the government and students. An integrated student information system is capable of accurately coordinating these critical functions as a part of the overall admissions process.
  8. Collect Fees and Deposits: After an application is submitted, you might need to collect an application fee or a tuition deposit once they’ve been accepted. Students should be able to easily make payments directly in your integrated system.
  9. Seamless Hand Off: Once a student is admitted, your enrollment, registrar and financial aid teams will need access to the information supplied by the admissions team to help students select classes, process housing, and finalize and receive financial aid. All of that information is easily accessible in an integrated student information system since there’s no transfer of data between systems it reduces the likelihood of errors.
  10. Duplicate Management: There will always be interested students who submit multiple inquiries or someone who starts and then abandons an application and then starts a new one. To cut down on duplicate inquiries, you want a system that is able to recognize the same student by matching on key fields like email, social security number, address or phone number and merge these applications together.

>>See how Campus Cafe Software’s admissions module manages all stages of the admissions process<<

How Integrated Admissions Software Benefits Career and Trade Schools

Unlike nonprofit universities and colleges, which have a set calendar for the admissions cycle, career and trade schools accept students year-round and have multiple program start dates. That means admissions is a more continuous – and complicated – process of data entry, tracking and management.

Career and trade school admissions officers need a better way to manage student data. Instead of manually updating prospect and student information, here are two strong arguments for a student information system with an admissions module.

1. Fast-Track Government Reporting Requirements

The federal government requires many schools to submit regular reports on their student body, including the race, gender and ethnicity of the students, as well as attendance and graduation rates. For schools that participate in Title IV federal student financial aid, there are additional reporting requirements. Since much of this information pertains to admissions and enrollment, it helps if your student information system can generate the right reports.

By upgrading your admissions process with a cloud-based student information system, trade and career schools can save time and improve their recruiting and application process. School officials can track prospective students, monitor follow-ups and application status, and keep admissions running smoothly.

Campus Cafe, for instance, includes a library of pre-built reports for admissions and enrollment data. This helps your school organize and sort data, and then build the right reports in less time.

2. Help Your Admissions Team Be More Proactive

Can a student information system really improve your admissions process? The answer is yes. From large nonprofit universities to specialized trade schools, the key to continued growth is attracting new students, and your school is only as successful as the students that you attract.

But your small team needs help to boost admissions. They’re used to working with a lean operation, but you don’t want them to burn out and leave. When they can easily access and share information, it saves valuable time and resources. And when your admissions team saves time, they can enroll more students, which creates a return on investment that pays for itself.

In short, a modern, easy-to-use student information system with an integrated admissions module can save valuable time and resources so your team can work smarter, faster, and help build a robust student body and successful institution.

The Bottom Line

Campus Cafe’s admissions module keeps all stakeholders informed and aligned. Ready to see how it can help your admissions team work more efficiently and effectively?

Contact us today for a free demo.

A Three-Step Process to Boost Admissions

In higher education, admissions is key to a school’s success. By building a robust and engaged student body, your school can help students achieve success in their chosen area of study and professional lives. Creating that community takes a lot of work and collaboration. Behind the scenes, your small admissions staff and faculty may need help keeping information accurate and organized. Rethinking the admissions lifecycle can help improve the entire process. The most effective admissions process involves planning, coordination and follow up, and documenting it all along the way.

At a time when students are rethinking what they want out of a post-secondary education, a reevaluation of admissions is a smart move. Consider these findings from a survey conducted among high school students

  • 38 percent of seniors say they are considering a college closer to home 
  • 89 percent of seniors said they are very concerned about paying for college

To stand apart from the competition and win over prospective students, schools can deploy a three-step process to boost admissions, leveraging data every step of the way.


For many schools, recruiting the next group of students is essential to success. Marketing ranges from hosting in-person events and virtual open houses to digital and social media campaigns. It’s a good strategy to emphasize the quality of engagements over quantity. For example, a student is likely to be more responsive when they receive a personal email emphasizing their interests than an inbox full of generic messages.

To find interested students, your school needs to generate leads.The best idea is to meet students where they are (yes, that may include TikTok and Instagram). With today’s students, digital media and social media are important channels to target potential students: 69 percent of high school seniors say they’re relying more on college search sites, student reviews, and social media to review and make college decisions, while 71% report using virtual tours and online events. 

Specifically, schools can generate leads by utilizing:

  • Online forms
  • Mass communications that can be personalized
  • Digital tours and meet-and-greets
  • Using marketing automation software (i.e. Hubspot, Salesforce, Zapier)
  • Social media posts and videos
  • Emails from current students and alumni
  • Texts, emails and phone calls

Another useful tool is to analyze your institution’s web activity and see where prospective students are spending the most time. Your marketing team can use that information to customize outreach assets and to create a roster for follow ups.

If you don’t have a good system for capturing and reporting leads, all that hard work could be lost. You don’t want to lose these potential students! Student enrollment software helps your team to communicate with prospects by email, phone and text, and stores all their information and engagement with your outreach efforts in one centralized location for easy follow-up. 


Once your school has identified qualified candidates, it’s time to develop these relationships. College recruiting is all about capturing the interest of prospective students and getting them enrolled. It’s important to identify students who fit well with a school’s programs and community. In an ideal scenario, all of your students earn their degree and find gainful employment in their chosen fields. If schools recruit the best fit students, it increases the likelihood they’ll make it to graduation.

An integrated student information system can be a huge asset to recruiting. Through your school’s student management software, your team can contact prospects via email, text and phone, and record that outreach in the customer relationship management (CRM) system. The system can also assign team members to specific leads and responsibilities, and schedule campus visits, information sessions and interviews. To keep prospective students on track, the admissions module can send out reminders through text and email to nudge students and parents toward action.   

A student information system can also create more personalized outreach to prospective students. For example, when a student visits a club page or a program specific page for your school, that’s an opportunity to create customized marketing. A customized email can introduce that student to your school, its offerings and suggest ways to obtain more information. This is an excellent way to keep your school top-of-mind or to re-engage with a student.  

To maximize your school’s admissions efforts, your team should focus on working quickly and efficiently to direct personalized communications to qualified – and interested – prospects. 

Marketing communication shouldn’t stop with prospective students. Parents and caregivers are instrumental in the higher education decision-making and financial aid process. It’s smart to engage this cohort by email, social media and direct mail to educate them on a school’s value proposition, financial aid options and programs of study. 

Application Management

Once students know about your school, schools need to shift them from prospect to applicant to enrolled student. The easier that this process can be for prospective students, the better. For instance, students should be able to access a dashboard that shows their application progress, missing and completed forms, deadlines, make deposits and payments, and allows them to download and upload documents. 

Ideally, an advanced student information system for higher ed will contain an application hub that centralizes admissions documents, personal information and financial aid forms. That makes the process convenient for students and helps monitor a student’s application status and overall volume. Finally, the hub allows schools to easily communicate important information to applicants – including missing forms, deadlines and any needed follow-ups.

At every point during the three stages of the admissions process, teams need to work in concert to meet deadlines, make sure information flows to the right departments and foster communication. A process-oriented approach to admissions can help small teams stay organized and create a seamless workflow.  

To keep all key stakeholders on the same page, McKinsey recommends having a group representing admissions, enrollment, financial aid, marketing and analytics meet frequently throughout the year to coordinate their activities, including weekly during the fall and winter and as often as daily during crunch-times for planning in spring.

The Challenges of Integrating Third-Party Customer Relationship Management Tools

If your school wants to use a third-party CRM or billing tool, rather than an all-in-one solution, then it’s important for it to integrate with your student information system. That way, you can have closed-loop reporting. However, if you opt for a third-party app, consider these guidelines:

Marketing CRM: Ideally, a third-party CRM would be used for marketing purposes, and then your team would use the student information system for recruiting and application processing. That way, the marketing functions can seamlessly integrate with the advanced steps of admissions and other key functions, including financial aid, billing and registration.  

CRM for Higher Ed: It’s important to have a CRM that is designed for higher education that can process your student data and is built for the needs of a college or career school. Most third-party CRMs don’t have application management hubs built for higher ed. A generic or retrofit CRM designed for sales may lack the functionality that your school needs and may not be able to handle your applicants’ needs. 

For instance, a robust student information system will automatically process a student’s document requirements based on criteria including program, veteran’s status or international student status. It can also track application status and send out automated alerts about document submissions and completions.

Integrate at the Top of the Funnel: If you opt for third-party software, it’s best to use it earlier in the admissions funnel, rather than in the later stages. That’s because it can be difficult for software to integrate with your student information system later in the funnel. If the systems don’t communicate well, you could lose critical information or students might experience glitches in documents and submitting their application, as well as missing financial aid information and payments.  

How an Integrated Student Information System Supports Admissions Teams

Even the most experienced admissions team needs support. Integrated student information software can help the admissions process run more smoothly, minimize errors and improve efficiency. 

Boost Marketing Efforts: Your recruiting team could hit it out of the park, attracting scores of interested students, but if their information isn’t stored properly in a CRM, those valuable contacts could be lost. A student information system helps the marketing team track their efforts and then hand that information on to admissions to maintain and manage. If no one follows up, they may never walk your campus.

Enhance Recruiting: Today’s prospective students are digitally savvy, so your school needs to connect wherever they are, including social media, email, text and online ads. Your website and social presence are critical. Combined with events and traditional outreach, that’s a lot to coordinate and manage. A modern student information system can help organize your recruiting efforts, and data can be used to measure the successes of recruitment efforts.

Improve the Application Experience: When interested students go to apply to your school, it should be easy and intuitive. If they find your application process disorganized or cumbersome, they are likely to abandon the application. A modern student information system includes an admissions module with document management, forms, dashboards and application management. To keep students on track, a student information system can be programmed to send notifications via email and text.

An integrated student information system helps transform your admissions process into a smooth and efficient operation that sails from prospecting to enrollment. When your admissions team can leverage analytics and data collected on prospects, it increases the chances a student will apply, enroll and graduate. Having admissions data stored in one central location helps your key stakeholders stay up to date and informed every step of that student journey. 

By creating a well-coordinated admissions process, your teams can work smarter and faster, bring in high-quality candidates and set them on a path to success.

Ready to see how Campus Cafe’s admissions module can boost your school’s enrollment? Contact us today for a free demo.

How a Single Source of Truth Improves Student Data Management

For years, experts have warned business leaders to prepare for the coming digital disruption. But realizing the potential of new digital technologies requires businesses to overhaul how they manage data, with many finding it easier to push tricky data questions into the future.

Fast-forward to 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic upended the entire higher education business model. As we witnessed across industries, the most resilient businesses are those with a strong handle on their data, using real-time information to make strategic decisions.

Now many post-secondary schools are fast-tracking the digital transformation plans that they initially kicked down the road. But before jumping into a new student information system, it’s wise to first improve your school’s data practices, so everything is in place for transformation success.

The Benefits of Establishing a Single Source of Truth

To improve data quality and visibility, many higher education systems are turning to integrated student information systems over best-of-breed solutions. An integrated system creates a “single source of truth,” which provides only one access point to all of an organization’s knowledge. This means that everyone has access to the same information in one centralized location. 

Additionally, a single source of truth will utilize the system’s best functions, like automated workflows, to decrease manual tasks and free teams to focus on more strategic initiatives. 

Read More: Six Steps to Successfully Implement a Student Information System

Why Best-of-Breed Solutions Fall Short

Finding student data or pulling reports often means time-consuming manual searches across different platforms, with results often undermined by outdated database records or human errors. Integrated student information systems now use hundreds of data points from admissions, registration, billing and financial aid to bring together a complete picture of the entire student lifecycle.

The overall result is that administrators and executives are all looking at the same data to make decisions that impact: 

  • Budgets
  • Enrollment and admissions
  • Government aid, such as Title IV financial aid
  • Faculty and staffing
  • Recruitment and marketing

A best-of-breed approach requires staff to pull data from multiple different systems, which creates data silos and keeps stakeholders from quickly accessing important information.

Why Accurate Management of Student Data is So Critical

In many cases, untrained staff underestimate the complexity that underlies seemingly basic information like addresses, contact information, financial details and documentation. 

Often, inaccurate and outdated records are held across multiple departments in various databases, with no ownership of the data or the maintenance process. This results in flawed reporting, bad analytics and poor decision-making.

Examples of Bad Data Management

Even innocent errors can lead to big headaches. Consider the following:

  • Manual data entry should be minimized. For example misspelling a prospect or student’s name creates duplicate entries, makes it difficult to assess the full lifecycle or ROI of a marketing campaign. At best, fixing this mistake requires extra work to consolidate the information. Even worse, your school’s leadership can make critical business decisions based on incorrect information – all because of a wrong keystroke.
  • Lack of coordination around data leads to missed opportunities. If marketing generates a hot lead on a prospect, but the system fails to flag the proper follow-up, by the time it’s realized the prospect could receive an offer from another school.

How a Single Source of Truth Future-Proofs Student Data Management

Properly managing your student data is an ongoing process. As schools come to view their data as a core business asset, your leadership team and other departments – especially those tasked with managing Title IV financial aid – will be able to work more efficiently on issues like regulatory compliance. Here’s what else can be gained from an integrated student information system:

  • Helps employees do their jobs better and faster. Cloud-based technology reduces inefficiencies and provides painless integration, user-friendly interfaces and increased workflow especially for career, technical, vocational or smaller schools. 
  • Boost data accuracy. With a reliable implementation partner, you can instill a culture of data awareness and openness to innovation.
  • Improve collaboration with students, faculty and staff. To be truly effective, a student information system should increase the efficiency in managing the student lifecycle in all stages — from prospect to enrollment to career placement and beyond.

 At the end of the day, a high-quality student information system must simplify the increasingly complicated admissions process. The submission, review, approval and management of applications should be in one easy-to-use tool where team members never have to search their inbox or hard drive for the latest information or keep an Excel spreadsheet to manage their prospects and leads.

 A student information system, powered by analytics and reporting engines, represents a significant opportunity to increase productivity, achieve better compliance, reduce time to enrollment and improve accuracy in reporting.

Ready to see how Campus Cafe’s admissions module can boost your school’s enrollment? Contact us today for a free demo.

The Definitive Guide to Title IV Student Financial Aid

With the cost of college and professional training soaring, Title IV federal aid is a financial lifeline for many students. Non-profit universities and colleges, career schools and trade institutions play a critical role in helping students fund their education with federal loans and grants. 

Administering Title IV financial aid is a complex process that requires tracking tremendous amounts of data and generating reports that are mandated by federal regulations. Schools can’t manage these complexities on their own. A best-in-class student information system (SIS) gives your team the tools to administer Title IV financial aid in-house or with a third-party provider. 

Whether your school is just starting the process of gaining eligibility for Title IV federal aid or looking to better coordinate financial aid management and reporting, you need to have a clear understanding of how to track and report on Title IV funding. 

In this article, we’ll outline the key components of Title IV financial aid and reporting:

Overview of Title IV Funding

In 2021, 10.5 million students received $125 billion in federal student aid through the U.S Department of Education to help cover the cost of college. These include fixed costs like tuition, fees, and room and board, as well as expenses like supplies, computers, books and transportation. These funds are distributed in the form of grants, loans and work-study programs, and are only available to eligible students enrolled in eligible programs at qualified schools.  

How Schools Manage Student Financial Aid

The federal government requires schools that receive federal financial aid to distribute these funds to their students. The most common forms of financial aid are administered by the U.S. Department of Education under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. This program helps millions of students attend college, but there are stringent rules for reporting and it requires a lot of organization from your financial aid and business teams. 

This is why a student information system is so important for Title IV financial aid. Federal rules require schools to submit reports on their students’ eligibility and attendance, data on their student population receiving aid, and to track the disbursement of funds. That adds up to mountains of data and information that needs to be sorted, analyzed and packaged.

The best student information systems help schools more efficiently manage financial aid reporting in-house or integrate with third-party financial aid providers. With the right software, it can provide you with detailed and accurate information to process student aid quickly. 

A fully integrated student information system with a financial aid module centralizes student communication, billing, packaging and government reporting. This makes your financial aid work more reliable and keeps your school compliant with Title IV requirements. 

If reports are wrong or improperly filed, your students might not receive their payments and, even worse, your school could lose its Title IV eligibility, forcing students to withdraw from your programs and hindering your future recruiting efforts.  

The Federal Student Aid Process and Types of Aid

To qualify for Title IV funds,  a student needs to be a U.S. citizen, demonstrate financial need, have completed high school or an equivalent program (such as a GED certificate), have a valid Social Security number, and be enrolled or accepted into a degree or certificate program at a higher education school that is eligible for Title IV. (There are some qualifying exceptions and circumstances.)

Once a student has established their eligibility, they must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA application determines their financial aid eligibility for Title IV programs, including loans, grants and work-study programs. 

Next, schools prepare a financial aid award letter notifying a student of the type and amount of federal aid they will receive. These include loans, grants and work-study programs.

Federal Student Loans

Also known as government loans, this type of aid lets students and their parents or guardians borrow money for college directly from the federal government.

  • Direct Subsidized Loan (Stafford): The U.S. Department of Education pays interest while the student is in school and during deferment and grace periods. Subsidized loans are determined by the school and cannot exceed a student’s financial need. (Sub Loan limit: $3,500-$5,500/year)
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan (Stafford): Unsubsidized loans are not need-based and are determined by the school based on cost of attendance and other financial aid received. Students pay or accrue interest as soon as the loan is given. (Total Loan limit: $5,500-$12,500/year for undergraduate; up to $20,500 for graduate)
  • Direct Graduate PLUS Loans: Given to graduate or professional students or to parents of undergraduates enrolled at participating schools.

Federal Student Grants

The U.S. Department of Education offers federal grants to students attending four-year colleges or universities, community colleges and career schools. Unlike loans, these do not have to be repaid.

  • Federal Pell Grant: Amounts change yearly, but the maximum award for the 2022-23 academic year is $6,895. An individual student’s award is determined by the government based on financial need, school cost and attendance plans. This grant is not repaid by the student.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: If your school participates in the TEACH Grant Program, students can be awarded up to $4,000 not based on need, but rather on their commitment to a career in teaching. Students must sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve; if they do not fulfill the obligation, the grant is converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG): Specifically for students with exceptional financial need, the SEOG awards range from $100 to $4,000 per year. The U.S. Department of Education provides a certain amount of SEOG funds to each participating school, which can offer awards based on other aid received and the availability of funds. The SEOG is not repaid by the student.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: The U.S. Department of Education provides funds to help pay for the educational expenses of students who lost a parent or guardian in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan, based on specific requirements.

Federal Work Study Program

Administered by participating schools, federal work-study allows students to work part-time, on- or off-campus, earning at least minimum wage to help pay for college as they go.

Once a student qualifies for Title IV federal aid, they must retain their eligibility to continue to receive funds. If they withdraw or drop out, they may have to return some of the funds they receive. A student information system tracks this information so any adjustments to aid packages can be easily made.

Achieving and Maintaining Title IV Accreditation 

Offering Title IV financial aid to your students is a major selling point for your school. Today’s students need help financing their education and it is challenging to navigate the federal loan process. If your school offers federal financial aid, you’ll be a more attractive choice for their education. 

If you’re not currently a Title IV institution, it can take years to qualify, but that’s no reason to not work toward it. To earn eligibility, the U.S. Department of Education requires that schools offer a certain level of quality instruction and training, and to demonstrate they can meet the requirements to administer federal dollars, including financial responsibility and sufficient cash reserves. Schools must also offer financial aid counseling and reconciliation of fiscal and financial aid offices, among other eligibility requirements.

Once your school qualifies for Title IV accreditation, your school must actively work to maintain accreditation. Higher education institutions are certified for up to six years before they must reapply. 

Tracking and Reporting Title IV Financial Aid Data

Once your school is accredited to administer Title IV financial aid, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes. Schools are required to maintain databases of student information, including who qualifies for aid and which type, and how and when the funds are distributed. You’ll also need to provide information to students and the IRS. 

In addition to the initial disbursement of funds, schools can also face situations that require an extra layer of management. For example, over-awarding aid due to a change in a student’s financial situation or having to return Title IV funds if a student withdraws from the school. 

An integrated student information system can help your school manage and track all the necessary data and generate the proper reports on time. That keeps all the trains running on schedule, gets financial aid funds to your students on time and maintains your Title IV obligations.

Common Reports, Forms and Documents for Title IV Reporting

Here are some of the most common items that a school will need to track and report. Campus Cafe has a library of pre-built reporting templates so you don’t have to start from scratch. What’s more, these forms are updated whenever there’s a change in requirements, so your team will always have the correct reports and forms. 

National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS)

The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS database is the central source of truth for student federal aid containing all the necessary data for federal student aid loans and grants). To facilitate the submission of data to NSLDS, schools can utilize the National Clearing House, which is a free service for reducing friction and data accuracy in the enrollment submission process.  

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 

IPEDS collects data for the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the Department of Education. Schools with 15 or more full-time employees are required to report to IPEDS on subjects including the following:

  • Enrollment: Information on your students’ 12-month enrollment that includes the number of full- and part-time students; race, gender and ethnicity; instructional activity; and full- and part-time enrollment. 
  • Completion: Schools must collect information on what degrees students have earned and the number of programs completed. They also need to submit data on race, gender and ethnicity of those students, and if degrees were distance or in-person. 
  • Graduation: Information on the number of full-time, first-time degree or certificate-seeking students, as well as the race, gender and ethnicity of those students. You’ll also report the number of students who complete their coursework within 150 percent of the normal program time, as well as those that have transferred.  

Federal Financial Aid Reporting Requirements

  • Disbursement by Award: Schools must distribute federal aid funds, including loans and grants, to qualifying students. These payments are usually made in one or two installments. 
  • Entrance and Exit Counseling: Based on the type of federal loan a student receives, they’re required to participate in entrance counseling to ensure they understand their funding, repayment requirements and how to manage educational expenses. When a student graduates, goes part time or leaves school, they’re required to complete exit counseling. 
  • Master Promissory Note (MPN): This is a legal document where the student promises to pay back any loans, fees and interest to the government, and it outlines the terms and conditions of a loan. In this letter, the school advises the student on what loans they’re eligible to receive. 
  • Verification: To establish a student’s eligibility for federal aid, you’ll need to collect documentation including tax returns, W-2 statements and 1099 forms and verify it matches the information the student submitted on their FAFSA application.
  • Reconciliation: To ensure that federal funds are used as intended, schools are required to regularly compare their Title IV aid records with Department of Education records and report any inconsistencies. Schools are required to document their reconciliation and retain the information in case of an audit. It is recommended schools perform a reconciliation monthly and have both their business and financial aid office participate.  
  • 90/10 Summary: Under federal law, schools can only derive 90 percent of their revenue from financial aid and the remaining 10 percent must come from alternative sources. 
  • R2T4 Return to Title IV: If a student withdraws from school during an enrollment period after receiving federal aid funds, schools must calculate how much the student received in aid and what needs to be returned. 
  • FISAP for Federal Work Study and FSEOG programs: Schools use these forms to apply for campus-based funding and to report expenditures from the previous year. This information is submitted to the Department of Education. 
  • Tax 1098-T: Schools are required to file a tuition statement reporting a student’s qualified tuition and related educational expenses with the Internal Revenue Service. This form must be available to the IRS, students and their parents. 
  • Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP): Schools are required to monitor the academic progress of their students receiving federal financial aid. They must report successful completion of coursework or programs towards a degree or certification. If students do not maintain minimum grade requirements, they could be placed on probation or lose their federal aid eligibility.
  • Gainful Employment: While currently suspended, this former requirement mandated that schools report comparisons of their graduates’ earnings with their student debt, and provide information on completion rates and debt by program. If students earned too little after graduation, schools could lose their ability to administer federal aid. The rule was removed by the former Trump administration, but President Biden’s Department of Education has proposed reinstating regulations.  

Keeping Up With Financial Aid Reporting Cycles 

To add to the complexity of financial aid reporting, federal regulations require schools to submit information on different schedules. For instance, IPEDS, FISAP and 90/10 data must be submitted annually. Form 1098-T must also be filed annually. An R2T4 must be submitted every time a student drops or withdraws from a course. And it’s recommended that schools perform reconciliation at least monthly.   

How a Student Information System Makes Title IV Financial Aid Reporting Easier

From tracking internal data to required federal filings, administering Title IV financial aid requires extensive data management and organization. If deadlines are missed or information is inaccurate, students could lose their funding or face delays in disbursement.

Schools with an integrated student information system that includes financial aid software can manage every important detail, coordinate between departments, and efficiently and accurately generate the right reports every time. 

Want to see Campus Cafe’s financial aid module in action? Contact us today for a free demo.

Six Steps to Successfully Implement a Student Information System

Six-Step Process for Implementing a Student Information System

In higher education, deadlines usually apply to students rushing to turn in papers or finish exams, but IT deadlines can be just as important. When you’re ready to upgrade to a new cloud-based student information system (SIS), it’s best to partner with a vendor that not only builds great software but also specializes in getting the system up and running. 

A successful implementation is a highly coordinated collaboration between your team, who best understand the current data and administrative processes, and the software vendor with expertise in areas like data conversion and project management. 

The SIS market is growing quickly and tech partners are getting better at bringing new systems online quickly and smoothly. What’s at stake? The global SIS market is expected to hit $9 billion next year, so competition is fierce. 

Implementation is a bit like an orchestra rehearsal: You need different sections, such as strings, wind and percussion to come together and create a unified sound. With an SIS, you are pulling data from different departments, sometimes working on disparate systems, and integrating it all together to create a new single source of truth. 

There are bound to be hiccups and glitches, but with a good partner and by adhering to the process (think of it as rehearsals), a successful implementation leads to a finely-tuned debut.

A successful implementation requires coordination with your IT leaders and key stakeholders, and timely training for your faculty, staff and students. To ensure a successful transition, your new vendor should follow a detailed multi-step implementation process. When done right, your school will be up and running with a SaaS solution that improves efficiency and effectiveness. 

One more bit of insight: The best concertos weren’t created in a day, and neither is a new SIS implementation. Be patient! Approach your migration as a phased-in process. Start with the foundational elements, get those running smoothly, and then add more advanced features such as third-party integrations, as your team gets more comfortable with the software.

A multi-step process that covers data conversion, data management, validation & training

Step 1: Set a Schedule That Reduces Stress and Boosts Success

When you’re making a new major change to your software and technology stack, you want to set a timeline that causes the least amount of headache and stress. In higher education, the beginning of a semester is a flurry of activity and the final few weeks are too. Those high-activity periods are probably not a good time to take your computer system offline and implement a new SIS.

It’s also important to consider the financial aid year and timing of student federal loan origination. You don’t want to transition to a new SIS during these critical windows and potentially disrupt financial aid disbursement or reporting schedules.

To select a go-live date, look for a lull in your school’s activity and target those dates for the final stages of migration to a new student data management system. For example, a semester based school might opt to implement a new SIS during the summer vacation, while a cohort or asynchronous school could use the December holiday break or a cohort break to make the transition. Be sure to give your team enough time to implement, and train your users on the new system before the majority of your students return to the classrooms.

Step 2: Determine How Much Data to Convert to the New SIS

Data conversion is the process of taking your school’s old data and putting it into the new student management system. That might sound simple, but it is a very complex task. It’s also the most important step – your new SIS is only as good as the data you feed it.

Here’s the process: Moving from legacy software to a new higher education data management system involves transferring hundreds of thousands of data points (maybe even more for a larger school) to another system without deleting information or introducing errors. 

The more data your school has, the longer this process will take. If different departments like financial aid, marketing, admissions and billing operate multiple software platforms, then the process is even more involved and time-consuming. 

For a successful data conversion, you need to allocate a sufficient amount of time for this stage. The exact amount depends on the size of the school and amount of data you have. Suffice it to say, the larger your school and the more departments and programs you offer, the longer this will take. But you don’t want to take shortcuts or rush. If you don’t allow for successful data conversion, it could result in errors or create more challenges to launching on schedule.

So how do you ensure a successful data conversion? There are several strategies or options  for migrating student data rather than a full conversion. Your SIS partner can help you select the best one for your school’s needs.

First, you should determine what data you need. Post-secondary schools have troves of data relating to admissions, registration, finance, alumni etc, and some of it might not be useful or mission critical. Deciding what data you really need can help your team develop the best strategy for migrating it. The options include manual entry, data conversion or—if possible—data archiving in the existing SIS.   

  • Manual Data Entry: This option is best for smaller schools with about 100 students. Before you launch your new SIS, your school’s active records will be manually entered into the new system and then historical information is added later over time. Manually entering data is time consuming, which is why it’s only for small schools with fewer records, but it is a cost-effective route if you can handle it in-house. 

  • Data Conversion: This is the most comprehensive approach to data migration. An experienced SIS vendor will migrate the data into your new system using algorithms, which is quicker and more accurate than manual data entry, but still requires a lot of time and effort. 

    Schools have a variety of data – admissions, transcripts, billing, student records and alumni information – that can be converted. The process includes mapping, scrubbing, eliminating duplicates and transferring data. For larger schools with thousands of historical records, data conversion is the most cost-effective approach. 

  • Data Archiving: Keep in mind that it might not be necessary to migrate everything to your new SIS. If you retain access to your old system, you may have the option of archiving less critical data there.

Step 3: Validate the Data in the New SIS 

No matter which data entry method you choose to convert to the new SIS, data validation is one of the most important steps in this process to ensure a successful implementation.  

Your new SIS is only as reliable and accurate as the data you migrate, so it’s critical to validate the information for accuracy by comparing data in the new system with your original data. This will require time and attention, so you don’t want to skimp on this step. No SIS vendor will be as familiar with the data as your team, who works with the information on a daily basis. Inaccurate data will not only jeopardize the benefits of your new SIS, but it’s also more difficult to fix bad data after the system goes live. 

Step 4: Configure Your New SIS 

While the data is being validated, your new vendor will also be configuring your new SIS. This is the process for setting up the system to fit your administrative needs. A modern, cloud-based SIS allows users to configure hundreds of functions and options, from billing to messaging to user access. There’s a library of pre-built reports that you can tailor to your specifications and you can set up rules to filter information.

An integrated SIS offers the ability to have different functions work together in concert, including  admissions, registration, billing and financial aid. Just keep in mind that the more custom configurations and rules you want to set up, the longer this process will take. For example, it might take only a day or two for smaller career and trade schools with just a few programs and billing options to establish their functions. Schools with a larger student population need to dedicate more time to set up their rules. The important thing is to set up the system as best you can before your students and administrators need to use it. 

Step 5: Integrate Your Third-Party Platforms 

It’s essential that your new student data management software plays nicely with third-party platforms. These include payment systems, email and texting services, financial aid modules or learning management systems. Your school needs these functions and a well-built SIS can support them. 

During the sourcing process for a new SIS, make sure it supports the third-party platforms your school uses—or you need to consider changing those. You don’t want to get too deep into the transition process only to learn that your new SIS doesn’t integrate with other vendors.

Once you’ve established the compatibility, you’ll need your outside vendors to work closely with your new SIS team to configure, test and launch the third-party integrations. Be sure to extensively test these functions before launching your new SIS. You don’t want a situation where an outside vendor’s functions, such as payments, don’t work and cause unnecessary delays and headaches.

Step 6: Get the Training and Support for Your New SIS 

A good technology partner stands by your side every step of the way. When you subscribe to a new SaaS student management solution, you’re leaping into the latest cloud-based SIS technology, and there’s going to be a learning curve. The best SIS providers offer customized and detailed on-site and online training. Identify your IT staff and other users who will need training and hold them accountable for the training and testing. 

Once your system is ready for testing and launch, you want to lean on your technology partner for any issues that might arise. Look for a partner that has a deep online knowledge base, as well as a responsive support desk that responds quickly and that is available off-hours and on weekends (after all, we know that’s when the biggest problems usually occur).

Once your system launches, it’s a good idea to hold additional training so users can ask questions and use their early experiences to navigate the system and learn its capabilities.  

Key Data Conversion Considerations 

Now that we’ve covered the six steps to successfully implement a new SIS, here are some additional thoughts for a smooth transition. 

  • Start small and add features over time. Most schools don’t need every feature and integration at launch. Whether you’re a small trade school or a large four-year non-profit school, begin on a manageable scale and add the extra features as your team learns the software.  
  • Don’t look for shortcuts. They’ll just cost you in time, money and frustrations.
  • Hold your team accountable. Make sure your IT team, key stakeholders and primary users attend all the training sessions. Listen to their questions and concerns, and share resources and help desk information. 
  • Stay on schedule. Have your data ready to go on time, otherwise it could create delays in conversion, testing and launch.

Ready to learn more? Contact us or sign up for a free demo of Campus Café software.

Six Benefits of a Student Information System in the Cloud

Cloud-based student information systems can replace on-site legacy technology.

Data management in higher education is complicated, but getting it right is critical to your institution’s success. Schools that leverage their data insights operate more efficiently and effectively, so everyone can make data-based decisions that impact growth and retention. 

From managing admissions and marketing data to complying with financial aid and career placement regulations, all staff members need to work from a unified base. It may sound like a simple task, but finding a student information system that can do it all can be as daunting as freshman orientation.  

When campuses closed during the COVID-19 shutdowns and students, faculty and staff transitioned to online learning and remote work, it exposed how outdated and on-premise student information management systems lacked functionality. Today, your staff needs to access and analyze data from anywhere, on any device. Schools without a modern student information system (SIS) are now under pressure to upgrade in order to remain competitive.  

Cost, ease of use and data security are the three most important considerations in evaluating the right SIS for your school, but there are other things to consider. We’ll show you how the best schools use feature-rich student information systems to manage complex webs of data, generate reports and analytics, and increase transparency across personnel and departments.

Why It’s Time to Upgrade Your Legacy Software

Despite the availability of cloud-based SISs, many schools still use on-site legacy software that is well past its prime. According to EdTech Magazine and LISTedTECH research, 75 percent of post-secondary schools are using SISs that are more than 10 years old, while another study from the Tambellinii Group reports that nearly three-quarters of higher-ed systems are more than 20 years old. That’s like using a cell phone from 2002 that might still work, but it’s missing all the latest technology features of newer models. (Do you even remember what kind of cell phone you had in 2002? Could it even text?)   

Legacy systems often don’t talk to other systems or programs, which results in inconsistent data. In fact, at many schools, different departments work on separate platforms that don’t integrate at all, including one for processing payments, one for marketing and communications, and another for student services. That mash-up of platforms creates inefficiencies and can result in errors and bad data. 

An on-site system is also taxing on your staff and internal resources. It can require specialized expertise to implement, maintain and manage, diverting IT staff away from more strategic or business critical functions. It’s also expensive to maintain, operate and upgrade. Additionally, older systems can lack the beefed-up security measures to protect your data and student records. When all of your information is stored in one location on local servers, it is vulnerable to data breaches and cyber attacks.

Small and midsize schools simply don’t have the budget or staff to support maintaining a legacy system, and sourcing a modern SIS is a time-consuming process.

The good news: It’s not too late! A modern, cloud-based SIS is a customizable and scalable alternative. It can relieve many of the headaches associated with legacy systems and vastly improves data management, storage and access. 

Six Ways a Cloud-Based Student Information Management System Solves Legacy Tech Problems

A fully integrated SIS is a single source of truth from which the entire student lifecycle can be managed. 

Ready to learn how? Let’s look at how a cloud-based system relieves some common problems associated with legacy software.

  1. Student Lifecycle Management: Store, Manage and Track Student Data 

Post-secondary schools tend to have onerous reporting and data requirements. With a cloud-based SIS, you create a single data source to store, manage and track information. That improves communication between departments that need to collaborate, from marketing to recruitment, application management, course registration, billing, transcripts, financial aid disbursement, career tracking, alumni development, fundraising, student attendance and class rosters.

When everyone in the institution has access to the same information on one platform, they’re working off unified data. This is what’s known as a single source of truth. It not only improves their work and facilitates better communication internally and with students, but a pre-built library of reports allows each department to quickly track and manage what they need in real-time, and share it with internal and external sources. 

  1. Lower Costs and Faster Deployment

Legacy systems are expensive to maintain, patch and upgrade. But when you subscribe to a SaaS solution, the costs are more predictable and easier to budget for. Like most SaaS solutions, pricing for a cloud-based SIS is a monthly subscription based on the number of full-time enrolled students. This means that the total cost of ownership for a cloud solution is generally cheaper than on-premise technology

What’s more, the implementation for a SaaS solution is faster too because the work happens off-site. Your data is input, organized and stored off-site and applications are web-based. This eliminates the need for a resource-intensive onsite implementation and data entry training. And with a web-based SIS, you don’t need to make further investments on-site, as upgrades and updates are simply delivered to your system. 

  1. Tech Support When You Need It

Let’s face it, when you migrate to a new platform, even the most seasoned IT pros need help, and your staff and students will need support too. With a SaaS solution, you have access to an extensive online knowledge center, as well as 24-7 help desk support.  

Your SIS vendor’s IT team has full, secure access to the school’s environment online to expedite a diagnosis and fix any bugs or discrepancies. That gives your team the highest level of support and service, and frees up your IT staff to focus on other work.

  1. Explore an Ecosystem of Third-party Integrations

Many schools rely on third-party solutions for specific functions, including marketing, payments and learning management systems (LMSs) and those aren’t going away. Since even the most comprehensive SIS can’t cover everything, third-party platforms are necessary for certain functions. 

A modern SIS can seamlessly integrate these platforms and software into the system. That gives your staff access to the most accurate data and information, and cuts down on confusion and technical problems. 

  1. Online and Onsite Training for New Users

Once you’ve selected an SIS, your IT professionals and any staff who will be using the platform need training online and on-site. When a vendor provides that service, your IT team can focus on the transition and implementation.  

A SaaS solution lets staff participate in a combination of training opportunities, including remote and on-site training, an online knowledge base, recorded videos and real-time instructor-led tutorials.

  1. Peace of Mind With Automatic Security Updates 

Between data breaches, bugs, phishing and cyberattacks, there’s a lot that can go wrong. You need to protect your students’ personal information, as well as your school’s data. Legacy software is vulnerable to security breaches and upgrades must be executed on premises. That maintenance can be inefficient and expensive. 

With cloud-based systems, security is continuously monitored and updates are managed remotely. That gives you peace of mind that your system is secure and monitored. And in the event of a breach, your data is backed up for efficient recovery.

What to Consider When Evaluating a Student Information System (SIS) 

When you’re looking for a cloud-based SIS, you need to create a playbook to get everyone on the same page, from the executive team to school administrators. A modern, high-performing   SIS doesn’t have to break your school’s IT budget.

Campus Cafe offers a fully integrated system specifically designed and priced for small and mid-sized schools to manage prospects, current students and alumni data in one cloud-based platform. From implementation to ongoing support, our team is dedicated to providing the highest-quality customer service. 

Now, doesn’t that sound like a winning plan?  

Any questions? Contact us or sign up for a free demo of Campus Café software.

There’s a Better Way to Manage Career and Trade School Data

Career and trade schools are training the next generation of skilled professionals, and they’re one of the fastest growing sectors in higher education. That’s welcome news for school administrators, but it also means managing a complex web of data, reporting and information. 

Behind the scenes, there’s a lot to juggle. The most successful career and trade schools use an integrated student information system (SIS) to track the entire student life cycle, from attendance, grades and payments to government reporting, finance and business office functions. 

With skyrocketing tuition and strong demand for skilled labor, prospective students are opting for career and trade schools over traditional four-year post-secondary programs. They offer a fast-tracked path to a stable and well-paying career, and the credits can sometimes be transferable to two- or four-year colleges. 

With a scalable and integrated SIS, a career or trade school will run more efficiently and be better positioned for future growth. Sounds like a winning proposition, right? Let’s explore some of the reporting challenges school administrators face and digital solutions to help. 

Five Administrative Challenges for Career and Trade Schools

Across industries, career and trade schools are expanding their offerings and increasing enrollments. To keep up, both administrative and student-facing departments need digital solutions and software to manage the current student population, alumni and future prospects. Each department should work from a single source of data when accessing student records, financial aid, attendance, billing and more. Students also need easy access to their transcripts, grades, coursework and communication. 

Surprisingly,  72 percent of higher education institutions in the U.S. still use on-site legacy software systems that are more than 20 years old, according to a 2021 study by The Tambellini Group. 

With outdated systems – or different divisions and departments operating their own disparate platforms –  career and trade schools face a lot of challenges when it comes to managing and reporting student information. :

Challenge 1: Tracking Time-Based Attendance

Career schools are required to track attendance, but it’s challenging to record accurately when schools rely on outdated, in-person attendance systems or students are enrolled in online courses.  

Wall clock hardware is difficult to integrate with an SIS, mobile apps are pricey, and paper rosters create extra work and are error-prone.   

Attendance is a critical component of nearly everything a school tracks, manages and reports, so it’s essential to have a reliable system that updates in real time. Today’s cloud-based SIS systems can handle all of the time clock-based attendance needs.

Challenge 2: Managing Title IV Financial Aid Reporting

Federal law requires schools to follow procedures to award, disburse and account for federal funds, and to track students’ attendance and participation in their classes. Financial disbursements are tied to the percentage of attendance (yet another reason for an accurate, integrated attendance system) and satisfactory academic progress. Schools need to report when students are present or absent, as well as when they complete make-up work for missed days. These stats have to be monitored and validated. 

Career schools are required to report IPEDS data to the National Center for Education Statistics. A top-notch SIS has pre-built reports based on the latest government reporting requirements. This helps a school quickly provide regulators with a wide range of reports including attendance, financial aid, enrollment and career placement.

Challenge 3: Scheduling Asynchronous Starts and Stops

With more students working on their own schedules, schools need a system to manage their coursework within a timeframe, as well as provide access to schoolwork. When students participate in self-paced, online programs, schools still need to track and report their attendance and participation. It’s essential to have an SIS that can monitor and report asynchronous coursework, as well as integrate with Learning Management Software (LMS) systems. 

Challenge 4: Collecting Placement and Employment Reporting

Career schools that access federal financial aid need to show that graduates are finding gainful employment and track placement, positions and salaries. But without a single source of data, it can be difficult to collect and maintain this data. 

An SIS with an integrated CRM helps schools build and maintain a database with graduate information. This information can be accessed by multiple departments and individuals, from recruiting to marketing to alumni relations. 

Additionally, Title IV-eligible programs must report debt-to-earnings rates (which an integrated SIS can help with) to show if the academic programs are placing students with the necessary jobs for repayment of the student loan. 

Challenge 5: Submitting 1098-T Tax Forms

Career and trade schools are also required to report tuition and educational expenses to students and the IRS, and schools need a system to manage, publish and report this information. 

Career schools are required to make the information available to their students electronically and by mail, and it must also be submitted to the federal government. With a modern SIS, school administrators can easily record and maintain the necessary data, and submit forms to students and the government.

Trade and career schools, including allied nursing programs, are growing and a SIS helps manage recruitment and enrollment.

Software Tools that Modernize Career School Reporting

To stay competitive, career and trade schools need to migrate to a cloud-based, customizable system. The right SIS system has the tools and resources to manage prospective students, current students and alumni. 

A cloud-based SIS system will help departments improve compliance and run more efficiently. Pre-built reports simplify extensive reporting requirements and a single source of data promotes collaboration and communication between departments, and better technology helps grow enrollment and expand program offerings, as well as improve the student and staff experience.  

Here’s how the right a SIS can can improve your school’s performance::

Show ROI With a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) Tool

The right CRM allows a school to manage prospective students from their initial contact through  admissions to enrollment. Career and trade schools want a tool designed for their needs, not one built for a sales organization. A good CRM helps track recruitment, admissions, enrollment, and allows marketing and admissions departments to share information and collaborate.  

Save Resources by Moving to the Cloud 

No more clunky and expensive on-site systems. When a school updates its technology and IT to a cloud-based SIS, it eliminates the need for on-site technology. It also improves access and coordination between departments and schools. A cloud-based SIS is financially more efficient because your school doesn’t have to pay to maintain the infrastructure or for on-site storage. They don’t even need an on-site IT staff. 

Digital Document Management 

Trade and career schools require a substantial amount of documentation, reporting and file management to stay compliant. Career school administrators need a system that seamlessly organizes reports and documents that can be accessed by multiple individuals and departments whether staff is working on-site or remote. 

Pre-built Reporting

From admissions to attendance to accounting, schools must manage, track and analyze thousands of data points related to students, staff and faculty. A library of customizable and pre-built reports allows each department to quickly track and manage what they need in real-time, and share work with internal and external stakeholders. Plus, today’s SIS software helps faculty easily manage attendance and grades. 

Easy-to-Access Portals

Today’s students and administrators expect seamless web-based and mobile portals to maintain their transcripts, financial aid and other documentation. Career schools need a flexible and responsive system that allows everyone to work across all devices and platforms. 

Expansive Third-Party Integrations The Right SIS System Can Fuel Growth

Trade and career schools may have other software they use for training and management, and they want an SIS to work with those systems. Third-party integrations are essential for current operations and any future software that might come into the mix.

The Right SIS System Can Fuel Growth

A cloud-based system like Campus Café can help trade and career schools grow into digital maturity. Our SIS is customizable, and it can be scaled up as a school’s needs grow and change. 

When everyone works from a single source of data, it saves time, increases collaboration, improves efficiency and boosts productivity. How’s that for an excellent grade?

Any questions? Contact us or sign up for a free demo of Campus Café software.

Student Information System for Higher Education – The Guide

What is a Student Information System (SIS)?

A student information system (SIS) is like a giant electronic filing cabinet with a digital manila folder on each of your students. It’s housed in one central location, allowing all the key players like admissions, registrar office, financial aid, billing and student services to access and add pertinent data to each student’s folder. In short, an SIS keeps all the most important information, all in one place.

The Main Benefits of an SIS

Also called student management software or school administrative software, an integrated SIS enables schools to manage all operational data in a single database (not to be confused with a learning management system, which can be integrated with an SIS to manage the classroom experience). A comprehensive schoolwide student data system covers everything from admissions to business operations to student services and alumni development, effectively following the students’ lifecycle from inquiry to long after graduation.

An SIS is essentially an open line of communication between all parties on the higher education spectrum, tracking and transacting data in a clean, organized fashion. The goal is a more seamless exchange of information between departments and constituents, including students, faculty, staff, advisors, parents and budget administrators.

Having integrated, accessible data remedies the common issue of siloed information, streamlines manual and otherwise outdated processes, and allows accurate real-time reporting. It enables schools to have a complete, thorough understanding of each student, including all facets of their educational experience.

The Main Features of an SIS

SIS features vary in size and scope, but generally cover the students’ progress from enrollment to retention to outcomes. The higher education software will address the main functional areas of the school, including Admissions, Student Services, Registrar’s Office and Business Office, Alumni Relations and Development.

Admissions process

With heightened pressure on enrollment numbers, particularly for small and mid-sized schools that may be more dependent than larger institutions on tuition revenue, it is critical for your SIS to support you in reaching your goals. Your SIS needs to work for you, not create more work for you.

Starting with the admissions funnel, a good SIS not only helps you manage prospects, but allows them to manage their own progress along the way. For students that means inquiring and applying online, eliminating unnecessary paperwork and processing time for your team. Through a secure password-protected web portal, they can also monitor the status of their application and view missing requirements in real-time, freeing your admissions team from the slog of missing requirements letters.

For administrators, an extensive duplicate checking process reduces what can be a time intensive process. A travel management component helps your staff strategically plan their school visits and communicate with students. Workflow and contact management features keep the admissions process streamlined and effective.

  • Inquiries: Responsive, customizable forms can live on your website, where interested students can complete them without needing to login. Form submissions then go through an information validation and duplicate management check to ensure that the data in your system is clean and accurate.
  • Applications: Using a secure portal, students can apply online with a customized form or upload the common application. Administrators can then access an applicant profile that pulls information from other areas, like financial aid, to get a complete picture of a student.
  • Enrollment: A comprehensive, well-organized database keep students moving through the funnel to the enrollment stage, supporting your efforts to reach your growing goals.

Student services

More than offering options for online course registration, an integrated SIS helps your institution build a complete record on each student, which, beyond courses can include health records, financial holds, conduct records and room assignments. A self-service interface allows key constituents connected to each student to see and update that very information based on varying permission levels. Providing easy, anytime access for parents and students improves communication and frees your staff to focus their time and energy on important tasks.

  • Student transcripts and report cards: With immediate access to updated academic performance reports, students can track their progress and administrators can smoothly manage official transcript requests.
  • Discipline records: Notes about judicial matters can be recorded and can trigger specific actions to ensure that incidents are resolved and students are not slipping through the cracks.
  • Forms and waivers: Administrators can be released from unnecessary paperwork by collecting and processing enrollment requirements online, with real-time reports on missing materials.
  • Health records: Keep accurate records of individual and campus-wide health issues by tracking immunizations, allergies, illnesses and other information essential to the well-being of your students.
  • Housing: Track historic and current housing and roommate assignments, make future assignments, and monitor residence hall capacity.
  • Parking registration: Access to live records of authorized vehicles on campus ensures public safety and cuts down on the workload of facilities management.
  • Student/parent portal: Parents and students can quickly view information anytime, anywhere through a secure, password-protected, FERPA-compliant web-based portal.

Registrar’s office

This complex area of administration has many overlapping and interconnected pieces, for which an integrated SIS is an ideal solution. Students can easily view and select courses; registrar staff can cross-checks for conflicts like holds, prerequisites and full classes; faculty can view rosters and schedules, and correspond with their classes; and advisors can email their advisees and adjust permissions for self-registration.

  • Academic audits and alerts: Alerts can be added based on certain criteria to trigger follow-up tasks to ensure that students are staying on track. Academic audits help students and their advisors develop a plan for meeting all their requirements.
  • Attendance: With the ability to track attendance, performance and participation, faculty and administrators can monitor trends and catch at-risk students early on.
  • Class roster: Faculty can more seamlessly manage their classes by viewing rostersincluding photos and profiles on each studentsand emailing or texting individual students and/or the entire class.
  • Course registration: Using an online portal, students can easily choose their courses and avoid registration conflicts.
  • Faculty/advising portal: For faculty and advisors who wear many hats, having a one-stop-shop makes a big difference when it comes to time management and retention.
  • Recording grades: Faculty can enter grades directly into the system.
  • Student schedules: Students can view their full schedule, including instructors, class sizes and locations.

Business office

With the general ledger at the financial core of many institutions of higher education, having a system that works within that architecture is key. A good SIS cuts down on data duplication and batch transfers by allowing your business office to integrate operations and reporting with other offices. It also provides the necessarily flexibility to set up projects such as campus construction outside of the general ledger with separate budgets and long timeframes.

  • Accounts payable/receivable: Your system should be robust enough to accommodate your volume of students and vendors, but flexible enough to accommodate necessary exceptions.
  • Financial aid: Parents and students can view their award and see cost estimates in real-time, and administrators can view pending and verified financial aid as well as details of payments. Beyond packaging and billing, detailed and accurate government reporting is critical for Title IV eligible institutions.
  • Student billing: Automated mailings and notifications streamline the workflow for administrators. Students can view billing statements and financial holds, and make payments online (at once, in installments or at a later date).

Alumni relations and development

With complete information on each student from inquiry to alumni, an integrated SIS increases your capacity to strategically engage with them long after they graduate. And beyond alumni relationship management, your staff will be better equipped to manage relationships associated with those alumni, such as parents and siblings, who could prove to be crucial to development efforts.

  • Campaign management: A careful and strategic communication plan is critical to the success of your campaigns. In addition to contact and moves management, an integrated SIS can also assist in gift processing, third-party affluence ratings and fund management.
  • Career services and outcomes: Having access to the full view of student lifecycle undergirds institutional research. Your alumni tell your school’s story, so tracking them adequately is critical. By better understanding where your alumni end up, you can remain engaged and leverage those connections to help with future career prospects for students.

Workflow, contact management and reporting

An integrated SIS not only keeps data centralized, but communication too. Strategically plan your communication flow and recruiting messages in advance and avoid the time-intensive task of corresponding with prospective students, particularly about items (like missing requirements, deadline reminders and campus visit invitations) that can easily be automated. Workflow tools can assign triggers and reminders based on criteria you set, and contact management features not only log all points of contactcall, email, text, mailingbut allow you to deliver targeted messages to specific markets to increase the effectiveness and personalization of your recruitment communications.

With an integrated SIS, rekeying data becomes a thing of the past. Customizable and standard base reports allow you to search any data field to see real-time information for tracking leads and other activity. In addition, audit logs track all changes to field values in the database, providing you with more informed intel about campus operations and making it easier to resolve issues.

Other Considerations

A good SIS will integrate well with other targeted systems, such as learning management systems for online learning and digitized instruction and assessments. It will also offer features that not only help you organize information, but manage that information well. Alert systems allow you to flag students based on specific information within their file related to, for example, billing or academic performance. Communication reminders prompt you to connect with inquiries and applicants at specific points in the process, and allow you to track those touch points in a single location. Reverse audits, or predictive audits, can help you identify and address at-risk students early-on.

Reporting Tools

In an age when reporting is king, the strength of an SIS is correlated with the quality and timeliness of the information it delivers. Reporting poor data can be disastrous, and could ultimately put your accreditation and Title IV student financial aid funding eligibility in jeopardy. Conversely, good reporting can not only keep your school on track but also lead to improved results.

Having the ability to synchronize information about student performance and admissions demographics can give you intel into which regions and programs are performing best for your school, allowing you to address existing issues and better target your efforts moving forward. Through the aggregation and alignment of data, schools can achieve more effective allocation of resources and more streamlined reporting.

Integrated Versus Best-of-Breed

Best-of-breed models may specialize in niche aspects of the student lifecycle and offer an improved look and user experience. While this sort of highly specific approach is likely appealing to individual departments within your school, the benefits come at the cost of data accessibility.

Best-of-breed options are rich in function-specific features, and offer many bells and whistles for operations like admissions and financial aid. But the draw of an independent, function-specific system ends up adding layers of complexity when it comes to data exchange. Moving data between independent systems can be costly, error-prone and sometimes impossible.

On the other hand, an integrated SIS, while unlikely to meet every department’s every need, is about priorities, not perfection. What schools give up in terms of bells and whistles they gain in efficiency through the organization of day-to-day operations.

See a full analysis on integrated versus best-of-breed.

Considerations for Choosing an SIS

There are countless SIS options on the market, and while there’s no right answer, there are several factors to consider as you narrow down the right option for your school.

On-premise versus the cloud

While the increasingly prominent shift is toward more web-based systems, some databases can still be housed on a physical central server. The main consideration here is staffing capacity. Because the vendor does much of the heavy lifting for cloud-based solutions, they tend to be ideal for small to mid-sized schools running on a lean staff.


Cost will vary depending on whether you choose an on-premise or cloud-based system. Variations include purchase structure (subscription or lump sum), equipment (virtual or hardware), installation and configuration, customization and integration of other systems, data migration, training, maintenance, personnel, security and backup options.

See a full analysis of student information system cost considerations.


Data integrity is critical with any database, particularly ones containing sensitive information in student records, so whether it’s your IT staff handling the central server or it’s rolled into your cloud-based SIS product, make sure the best security practices are employed and FERPA compliances are met.

Vendor specialty

Broad education software might not be specific enough to meet your needs, as K-12 schools may have some very different needs than higher education. Consider what tools, customizations and features will meet your specific needs.

Scope and scalability

Small and mid-sized schools may end up struggling under the weight of costly, complicated products designed for large institutions. It’s important to assess whether the size of the product suits the size of your school, and also whether the system can grow with you and meet your future needs, five or ten years down the road.


The process of searching for, deciding on and finally implementing an SIS can take several months or even years. As you weigh your options, consider how much flexibility you have for a lengthy, labor-intensive implementation versus opting for a lighter system that could be up and running quickly. Also consider how much time are you saving in the long run by streamlining efforts and improving efficiency.


Though it may at times feel like a herculean effort to bring all the key players on board with a decision about an SIS, consider how well the system works for everyone involved. And be sure to scope out what training, resources and support the vendor provides for onboarding and upkeep.


An SIS manages administrative needs for schools, but there are other aspects of the educational experience that it doesn’t cover. For those, understanding common integrations will ensure that you get the most out of your software selection.

  • Learning management systems. An LMS (such as Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas or Brightspace) helps faculty manage the classroom experience, including content delivery, attendance monitoring and achievement tracking. Here’s what you need to know about choosing an LMS.
  • Reporting. Some vendors will tightly integrate with a reporting system (like Crystal Reports) to help you maximize your data by providing increased access to canned reports.
  • Wealth screening. If you plan to use your SIS to its fullest capacity, covering the full student lifecycle through alumni and development relations, integration with third-party wealth screening will help focus your campaigns.
  • Financial Aid.An SIS may have the full capacity to service financial aid’including billing, packaging and government reporting’but third-party financial aid software (EdExpress, Powerfaids and BEN) can also be integrated.

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Selecting a Learning Management System (LMS) – What You Need to Know

A Learning Management System (LMS) is software that universities can use to plan, develop, deliver, and assess the online portions of an educational program, whether that is an extension of an in-person class, or native eLearning.

An LMS provides tools to

  • Create, manageand deliver educational content
  • Monitor student participation
  • Assess student performance

A good LMS should have an easy-to-use interface for instructors to do these things, be able to use third-party modules for specific tasks, and have a robust reporting function. They increasingly support things like video conferencing, discussion forums, and extensive data analysis, allowing for customization to account for individual student needs.

But it’s easy to get lost in the vast number of options. What do you need to know to choose effectively?

How an LMS differs from an SIS

A Student Information System (SIS) manages institutional administrative operations, including admissions, enrollment, exams, attendance, and credits. An SIS integrates with accounting and admissions, and manages student records.

An LMS manages and delivers the instructional content. It extends the classroom to online, and connects students to the instructor and each other.

Some functions of highly featured LMSs might overlaps with an SIS, because teachers are also administrators, but the two platforms have very different purposes. An SIS enables an educational institution as a whole to manage its administrative relationship with a student. An LMS enables faculty to manage their instructional relationship with a student.

Together, an SIS and an LMS work together to create an effective educational relationship with each student. Understanding the differences between them, and what features your SIS already provides, will help narrow down what features your LMS must have.

How to use an LMS

An LMS is a highly capable tool’one that requires training and experience to use fully. Many organizations implement an LMS, only to find that both students and faculty use the basic features, but don’t take advantage of other features, particularly those intended to increase collaboration. Despite the notion that modern students are digital natives, they do not actually seem much more adept at picking up highly capable software than previous generations.

Increasingly, faculty wants to see solid evidence that increased technology has a positive impact on student learning. A lot of that depends on the clarity of the interface and the provided training.

An Open Source vs. Proprietary LMS

Open source software is distributed under terms that make it free and modifiable by the licensee, is built by developers who are passionate rather than purely profit-driven, and does not lock the purchaser into a relationship with a particular vendor. For an educational institution, it has the additional advantage that the term open source has real cachet with students, even those unsure of its meaning. Moodle is an example of an open source virtual learning environment.

An open source LMS isn’t free, even if it has no purchase price. It requires a platform running applications like Linus, Apache, and PHP, and a lot of time from skilled IT staff to implement and maintain it. And even if you are not tied to a vendor, switching to another LMS will still require vast amounts of training and procedural changes.

Proprietary software is software purchased from a particular vendor. Proprietary software has a lot of that IT work built in, and is more of a known entity than a given open source product. Its costs and capabilities are more easily known. Blackboard is an example of a proprietary LMS.

Institutions need to examine their own resources, ambitions, and capabilities before choosing between open source and proprietary for their learning management system.

Some Learning Management Systems to Consider

Many competitors have left the LMS market, and while there is always a possibility of innovative entrants, the market is dominated by four large LMSs. Are there any meaningful differences between them?


Moodle is the flagship of open source LMSs. It is supported by a large development community, which has created many specialized modules and plugins. It is extremely customizable, and many third-party vendors have grown up around it to provide additional services.

Skilled management of Moodle can give a low total cost of ownership. But skill and experience are essential in achieving a well-functioning Moodle installation. Flexibility usually comes at a cost, and Moodle is complex and hard for the uninitiated to set up and operate.

For schools with strong internal capabilities and appetite for experimentation.


Blackboard has served many clients since 1997, and its installed base includes 75 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities. This makes it the de facto industry standard. As a result, many other teaching and management services are designed to integrate well with it. This is particularly true of SIS.

It has a large number of built-in features, hosting models, and services. Some find its platform outdated, and its cloud service offering lagging behind competitors. Blackboard’s many product versions and massive legacy platform make rolling out updates a challenge.

For schools seeking stability.

Canvas Instructure

Canvas is an open-source LMS aimed specifically at the academic market. It was designed to be a modern web applicationand provides a lot of support for collaboration and course content authoring. It includes built-in video recording as well as iOS and Android apps.

Canvas is a new player on the market, and thus does not have as long a track record or number of experienced users as some other platforms.

For schools seeking a native Web 2.0 experience and who don’t require a lot of hand-holding.

Brightspace by D2L

Brightspace is known for a good user interface and for its customer support. It has a variety of analytics and communications features, some not matched by other vendors. It provides tools to monitor student progressand interacts with students on behalf of the instructor.

The key differentiator for Brightspace is its analytics, using previous student behavior to anticipate problems and customize learning experiences in response.

After a patent fight in 2009, D2L and Blackboard license each other’s software.

For schools that are comfortable with analyzing and using data.

Choosing an LMS for your institution

There is no substitute for an honest self-assessment, and an intensive testing period. Any system, not just an LMS, has to suit the way you actually do business, the way your students actually interact, and the way your instructors actually teach’not the way you wish things were. The point of an LMS is to help you do what you already do’just better. A good online learning management system will have certain capabilities that include course syllabus, exam generators, online course catalog, lesson planning, student achievement, shareable content and student progress, grades and test scores.

How an LMS supports accreditation efforts

An LMS can provide crucial support for program accreditation by tracking and assessing student learning and providing reporting on student educational outcomes. Having the data collection for immediate student assessment be stored for use in accreditation application saves immense amounts of effort in re-entering data while reducing errors.

Integrating a Student Information System and an LMS

The essential of integration is that you want to have a single student record for all purposes, with no relevant data stored elsewhere. The result is a complete understanding of each student, uniting instructional and administrative information into a complete student profile.

It’s important not to underestimate the difficulties inherent in the systems integration of data. But the results of smooth integration can really power an educational institution to a higher level of performance.

Other considerations that should be assessed when integrating an LMS including whether you want single sign-on (so students don’t need to manage multiple user names and passwords), restful API (real-time data exchange between systems) and identity authentication.

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