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Having integrated, accessible data remedies the common issue of siloed information, streamlines manual and otherwise outdated processes, and allows accurate real-time reporting.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

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.

Security

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.

Time

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.

Personnel

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.

Integrations

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

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

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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Understanding Gainful Employment Regulations

When boiled down, education is primarily about experience and outcome. Prospective students and families weighing their college and/or career preparation options often consider several key factorsamong them, affordability and financial aid, program completion time, courses of study, location and potential co-curricular or professional opportunities. And while students are often trying to piece together the educational experience that will best fit them, they are also seeking to understand the likely outcome of that education in the long runthe anticipated return on a hefty investment.

When Title IV financial aid funds are at play in that very investment, the federal government also wants to see that taxpayer dollars are allocated to schools and programs that set students up for success, which is where gainful employment (GE) disclosure and reporting come in. It’s important for institutions to understand what gainful employment is, what regulations surround it, why it matters and how to accurately disclose and report required information.

An Introduction to Gainful Employment

After an extensive rulemaking process, new gainful employment regulations were published on October 31, 2014 and went into effect on July 1, 2015. The new regulations have more rigorous standards for accountability and transparency to further protect students from poor and sometimes fraudulent career preparation programs that have historically left them saddled with debt they cannot repay. To ensure that students are being put on a path to success, the Department of Education requires certain schools to demonstrate that they adequately prepare students for a�?gainful employment in a recognized occupationa�? in order to be eligible to receive (and continue receiving) Title IV student financial aid funds.

Gainful employment regulations apply to roughly 3,700 institutions around the country, including non-degree educational programs at public and private nonprofit institutions and virtually all educational programs at for-profit and proprietary institutions. These often include post-secondary certificate and diploma programs, training programs and technical and vocational education. Programs leading to an associate’s, bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree at public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education are not considered gainful employment programs in this sense and do not need to comply with the gainful employment standards.

What is a�?Gainful Employment in a Recognized Occupationa�??

Three debt measures are used to determine whether or not institutions are preparing their students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation: repayment rate, debt-to-earnings ratios based on annual income, and debt-to-earnings ratios based on discretionary income. These measures are intended to show that students are prepared for adequate job placement in recognized occupations that pay reasonable living wages, and that students are not so buried in educational debt that their loan payments absorb the bulk of their income.

  • Repayment Rate
    The rate of loan repayment must be at least 35 percent for gainful employment programs to remain eligible for Title IV funds. Repayment rate = original outstanding principal balance of loans paid in full plus the original outstanding principal balance of payments-made loans, divided by the original outstanding principal balance. The value of the fraction is multiplied by 100 to get the repayment rate.
  • Debt-to-Earnings
    For every gainful employment program, the Department of Education will calculate debt-to-earnings ratios based on information supplied by the institution for a specified cohort period (two or four years) as well as from the Social Security Administration.
  • Annual Earning Rate = median annual loan payment divided by the greater of the mean or median annual earnings of graduates. The a�?passa�? threshold for gainful employment standards is that graduates’ annual loan payments are less than or equal to 8 percent of their annual earnings. The a�?faila�? threshold is that the annual loan payment is greater than 12 percent of annual earnings.
  • Discretionary Income Rate = median annual loan payment divided by the discretionary income of graduates (i.e. the higher of the mean or median annual earnings, less 1.5 times the Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines). The a�?passa�? threshold for gainful employment regulations is that graduates’ annual loan payments are less than or equal to 20 percent of their discretionary income. The a�?faila�? threshold is that the annual loan payment is greater than 30 percent of discretionary income.

Programs are considered in the a�?zonea�? if their calculations fall between the a�?passa�? and a�?faila�? thresholds. a�?Faila�? marks for two out of three consecutive years or a combination of a�?faila�? and a�?zonea�? marks for four consecutive years will render a gainful employment program ineligible for Title IV funding.

Understanding Disclosure and Reporting

Schools must disclose information about their gainful employment programs to the public using the Gainful Employment Disclosure Template to help students make informed decisions. In addition, they must submit an official, comprehensive report about students enrolled in these programs to the Department of Education’s central database for student aid, the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).

According to the Department of Education, disclosure of the following data on the institution’s website and in promotional materials is required for each gainful employment program:

  • Occupations associated with program (by name and SOC code)
  • Typical program completion time
  • On-time completion rate
  • Program costs
  • Placement rate
  • Median loan debt

Also according to the Department of Education, reporting of the following data to the NSLDS is required for each student who received Title IV funds for a gainful employment program that they either completed or withdrew from:

  • Tuition and fees assessment before aid or credits are applied
  • Cost of books, supplies and equipment
  • Institutional debt owed apart from Title IV debt (e.g. obligations such as library or laboratory fees)
  • Private loans

The Gainful Employment Reporting Process

Institutions must report on an award year (July 1 through June 30). A student enrolled for more than one award year must be reported in each award year, and a student enrolled in more than one program must be reported for each program. This is accomplished through batch reporting (fixed width or comma separated value formats) through an institution’s Student Aid Internet Gateway (SAIG) Mailbox or online reporting through the NSLDS Professional Access website (NSLDSFAP).

The fully integrated financial aid module in Campus Café’s Student Information System (SIS) streamlines what can be a confusing and cumbersome government reporting process. Our integrated SIS collects and compiles data for NSDLS reporting as well as other required reports for state and government agencies. In addition, it services student communication, billing and packaging related to financial aid and ensures accurate tracking of student placements and hiring metrics. Campus Café complies with federal reporting and keeps tabs on changes in regulations to ensure that the specific needs of your career or vocational school are met.

View the complete Gainful Employment User Guide >

View the Gainful Employment Operations Manual >

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The Definitive Guide to Title IV Student Financial Aid

Financial aid plays a critical role in making college an affordable option for many families, often rendering it an enrollment lifeline, particularly for smaller, tuition-driven institutions. Federal student financial assistance programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Education under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 as amended. So, whether you’re just starting the process of gaining eligibility for funding or looking to better coordinate financial aid management and reporting, understanding Title IV is a necessary starting point.

Overview of Title IV Funding

Every year, 15 million students receive $150 billion in federal student aid through the U.S Department of Education to help cover the cost of college–including hard costs like tuition and fees and room and board as well as variable costs like supplies, computers, books and transportation. These funds are distributed in a variety of forms including grants, loans and work-study programs, and are only available to eligible students enrolled in eligible programs at eligible institutions, of which there are thousands in the U.S.

Types and Disbursement of Federal Student Aid

For students, the financial aid process begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information reported on a student’s FAFSA determines their financial aid eligibility for Title IV programs, namely grants, loans and work-study. A financial aid award letter prepared and sent by your school notifies students as to what forms of federal aid, and in what amounts, they will receive. Their full financial package might also include additional separate aid through school-administered scholarships and grants based on academic performance and other requirements.

Grants

  • Federal Pell Grant: Amounts change yearly, but the maximum award for the 2016-17 academic year is $5,815. An individual student’s award is determined by the government based on financial need, school cost and attendance plans. The Federal Pell Grant does not need to be repaid by the student.
  • 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 availability of funds. The SEOG does not need to be 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 as described below.
  • 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.

Loans

Federal student loans are distributed in two categories: Direct Loans, for which the U.S. Department of Education is the lender; and Perkins Loans, for which participating schools are the lender.

  • 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. (Loan limit: $5,500-$12,500/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. (Loan limit: $5,500-$12,500/year for undergraduate; up to $20,500 for graduate)
  • Direct PLUS Loans: Given to graduate or professional students or to parents of undergraduates enrolled at participating schools.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans: Students can combine multiple federal student loans into one with a single loan servicer and monthly payment.
  • Federal Perkins Loan: School-based, low-interest loans for students with exceptional financial need. (Loan limit: up to $5,500/year for undergraduate; $8,000/year for graduate)

Federal Work-Study

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.

Basic Title IV Eligibility Requirements

Institutions of higher education, proprietary institutions of higher education, and postsecondary vocational institutes can seek eligibility if they meet a series of requirements, including offering associate degrees or higher, programs acceptable toward a bachelor’s degree, or programs that prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.

Schools must demonstrate adequate administrative capacity complete with internal checks and balances, financial aid counseling, and periodic reconciliation of fiscal and financial aid offices. They must also prove financial responsibility, which is in part determined by a composite score of 1.5 or higher and sufficient cash reserves. See all requirements for eligibility >

Accreditation and Title IV

Because accreditation ensures that institutions of higher education remain accountable to a certain level of quality in terms of instruction and training, the U.S. Department of Education considers it when determining a school’s Title IV eligibility. A total of 37 regional and national accrediting agencies are currently recognized for Title IV purposes. Make sure your agency is on the list >

Managing Student Financial Aid

Meeting the eligibility requirements for ample staffing and electronic systems necessary to process and administer Title IV funds doesn’t ensure that the back-end mechanics will be easy. Once a school earns eligibility and begins participating in student financial assistance programs, the challenge of tracking and reporting data mounts.

In addition to the initial disbursement of funds, schools must also grapple with situations of over-awarding (due to a change in students’ financial situation) as well as the return of Title IV funds if a student withdraws from their planned course of study at a certain point in time. Schools must also monitor Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), and take the necessary action toward financial aid probation, and in some cases eventually financial aid suspension, for students who fail to meet the requirements.

Properly managing funds based on federal regulations is necessary for maintaining Title IV eligibility and avoiding costly lawsuits. A student information system with a fully integrated financial aid module can centralize student communication, billing, packaging and government reporting.

Title IV Application Process

Ready to apply? Use the E-App at https://eligcert.ed.gov/. In addition to your online application, you’ll need to provide documentation of state licensure, accreditation and two years of audited financial statements.

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Additional sources:

https://studentaid.ed.gov/

http://www.ed.gov/

https://eligcert.ed.gov/

https://ifap.ed.gov/ifap/byAwardYear.jsp?type=fsahandbook&awardyear=2016-2017

Higher Education Accreditation: First Things to Know

The process of accreditation is complex for institutions of higher education–and has been changing significantly over the past few years. To get a handle on the process as it is now, you should understand:

  • The effects for-profit institutions are having on accreditation
  • How the reputational balance between regional and national accreditors is changing
  • The implications of the recent ACICS collapse, and what it says about the difficulties of reputation management
  • How Title IV funds will be affected by growing student debt
  • The importance of tracking and managing student funds resulting from accreditation through a Student Information System (SIS)

The right accreditation can help you validate the value that you offer your students, particularly if you are a less-known institution without an established brand.

Who performs accreditation?

An accreditor is essentially a membership organization made up of the institutions it accredits, and standards are developed by collaboration between the accreditor and the member institutions. It’s more like being a member of a club that cares strongly about its reputation than it is like being supervised by some external agency.

Accrediting organizations must complete a review process overseen by the Department of Education (USDE) and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also reviews accreditors, and its opinion is significant, but the USDE’s approval is key.

Accrediting organizations are either institutional, examining and certifying entire institutions, or programmatic/specialized, certifying particular professional programs.

Institutional accreditation

There are two main types of institutional accrediting organizations

  • Regional, accrediting largely academic, non-profit institutions
  • National, accrediting largely for-profit institutions, with career-oriented programs, though there are also faith-related accreditors for religious institutions.

National accreditors will accredit non-degree institutions, while regionals will not.

There are six regional accreditors, each with a long history. There also six national accreditors, one of which, ACICS has recently run into instructive trouble.

Because of the difference in emphasis, as well as concerns about less-strict standards for national accreditation, students often find trouble transferring credits from a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited school.

Increasingly, however, more for-profits are gaining regional accreditation. And as they become members of these organizations, their influence over accreditation expectations and process will grow.

Programmatic/specialized accreditors

These certify particular professional programs. There are nearly 50 of these, with multiple accreditors for some programs. Business education, for example, has three possible accrediting organizations.

Programmatic accreditation is essential for programs such as engineering, nursing, or architecture that require professional licensing in order to practice. Some smaller programs in disciplines such as communications may choose not to seek it.

The accreditation process

To get accredited, an institution must perform an extensive self-evaluation, following the procedures of the accrediting organization. There will then be on-site surveys from the accreditor. Once accreditation is achieved, regular updates will be required, though of less intensity than the original application. All of these functions are supported by a Student Information System (SIS).

Accreditor reputation and the fate of ACICS

In September, the USDE stripped the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) of its authority to accredit schools. ACICS was the largest of the national accreditorsand was the accreditor for Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, both troubled and now-closed for-profit institutions.

Nearly 250 institutions enrolling over half a million students now face the challenge of finding new accreditation, imperiling access to billions of federal educational dollars.

ACICS appealed this decision on October 21, 2016. No matter what the outcome, this is a sobering event for schools that depend on accreditation to maintain their viability, both in terms of reputation and in access to federal educational funds.

Schools can’t just take for granted that their accreditor is giving the best value. During the financial crisis of 2007/2008, credit rating agencies Standard & Poor’s, Fitch, and Moody’s revealed that they had not been objectively measuring the value of what they were recommending. Investors relying on their ratings suffered financial consequences.

Specific criteria for choosing an accreditor will be covered in a later post in this series.

The benefits of accreditation

In a world of many educational institutions competing for students and their associated federal educational funds, accreditation provides useful institutional discipline, participation in a community of like-minded institutions, and ability to contribute to shaping the future standards for educational excellence.

Accreditation also allows newer and smaller educational institutions who do not have the advantage of strong brand visibility, or who are striving to extend their reach, to gain visibility and validation.

And accreditation ensures the steady and predictable flow of federal education dollars, without which most higher education institutions would be unable to function.

The issue of financial aid money

Accreditation not only certifies the quality and reputation of an educational institution’it also controls the distribution of federal financial aid funds as part of Title IV.

It is impossible to recognize the impact of accreditation without understanding how much nearly every institution depends on these funds, including Pell Grants and other academic grants, Federal Family Education and other loan programs, and Federal Work-Study money. Without this funding, many institutions would need to close their doors.

The average full-time undergraduate student in the U.S. received over $2,000 in Pell Grants alone in 2013. The average student now leaves college nearly $23,000 in student-loan debt.

The impact of accreditation is significant both for each institutionand for each student. Institutions need to pay attention to the funding that comes with their students, both for their own bottom line, and to protect the interests of their students. Both of you have a lot of skin in this game.

How accreditation became as important as it is

Why do accreditors also control the flow of federal funds to post-secondary educational institutions? It’s not necessarily an automatic connection.

Before the 1950s, there were a variety of regional, voluntary membership associations that developed standards for anyone claiming to provide higher education. They cared about their reputationsand the reputations of their fellow institutions. The money involved was private money, or from occasional charitable endowments, and did not need to pay attention to accreditation if they did not choose to.

Then the WWII and Korean War GI Bills brought federal dollars to schools, followed, over the next few decades, by the various Title IV funds previously discussed. There was an increasing amount of money involved, which changed the stakes of accreditation.

Instead of creating some kind of Federal Accreditation Agency, the federal government decided instead to use the existing accreditation system to determine eligibility for these federal educational dollars. The government understood that the flexibility of the private system made it worth keeping. That is still the system in place, though government oversight has grown over time, as the amount of money at stake has increased.

Help when facing the accreditation process

A robust Student Information System (SIS) should support your accreditation efforts. Much of the information you supply to the accreditor will come straight out of your SIS. The reporting requirements are significant. Trying to do it without a good SIS can adversely affect your chances of getting accepted by a reputable accreditor. It’s well worth getting an SIS in place before starting an accreditation process.

If you fail to accurately track the Title IV funds that come along with accreditation, you can find you can find yourself subject to costly fines and lawsuits. An SIS helps ensure that the funds are applied to the appropriate tuition, mandatory fees, and housing charges.

Some of the functions you should look at when considering an SIS:

  • Data collection : does the SIS work with your existing business processes to collect and maintain data?
  • Reporting: can the SIS generate the reports required by accreditors and government agencies?
  • Operation management: will the SIS support you in monitoring student achievement, attendance, and satisfaction?

A good SIS not only supports your business operations, but helps keep your students informed, happy, and high performing. It also makes it possible to keep students up to date on the status of their grants, loans, and other sources of support, as well as recommending possible funding sources.

One step at a time

Accreditation is a long and significant process. We’ll be covering the essential steps here over the next few months, so be sure to check back regularly.

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Three Data Migration Options For a New Student Information System

When a higher education institution is implementing a new student information system, one of the biggest decisions is determining the best data migration process for the existing data. Porting all the legacy data into a new system usually requires time, money and resources. But there are different approaches depending on your school size, budget and data integration needs.

The first place to start when developing a data migration strategy is understanding how your data needs differ for each group (prospects, students, parents or organizations) in the database. The type of data can be separated by the following:

  • Biographical (name, email, phone, etc)
  • Admissions (application forms and activity history)
  • Student Record (transcript, billing, financial aid, student attendance)
  • Career Development (career tracking, gifts and contributions, activity history)

Each data type might require a different treatment. For instance, biographical data is something most vendors will import for no cost because it’s a relatively standard process. But for the other bits of information — relating to admissions, student records and alumni — there are multiple options to consider.

#1 Manual Data Entry

For small schools, with approximately 100 students, entering the information manually can be very manageable. This option generally works best when the historical data isn’t needed by the organization immediately. What usually happens is that the full records for current active students are put into the system before the system goes live and after go-live the older less critical information is entered piece by piece over time.

#2 Attach Files (.pdf, text or .jpg formats)

Another option that can be implemented in conjunction or in lieu of manual data entry is to upload individual files (like a transcript or resume) in a .pdf, Word or Excel format. These files can be attached to the student record so they can be downloaded or printed. The downside to this is the data isn’t accessible for reporting purposes but sometimes, like in the case of a alumni transcripts, all you might need is a copy filed in case there’s a document request in the future.

#3 Data Conversion

The third option to consider is data conversion, which is the data cleansing process of mapping, scrubbing, de-duping and porting the data into the new system. Schools with more than a few hundred students that matriculate over multiple years of study find this option to be the best return on investment.

Chances are, if you are looking for a new Student Information System, one of the main reasons is your data is not as accurate as it needs to be. The right SIS system should help fix the root causes going forward and the data clean-up process can eliminate errors, duplicates, inconsistent formatting, and missing information.

Conversion costs should be looked as an investment since it helps the bottom line. Strong data integrity is a benefit for making better decisions and greater accuracy and timeliness for government reporting. The latter of which can be a heavy burden to a higher education school.

The conversions costs mainly depend on the following factors:

  1. Volume: How many data fields need to be convert. (not to be confused with the number of records, which is less important)
  2. Type: Is it student biographical information, billing, student attendance, student grades, career placement etc.
  3. Cleanliness: How much duplicate data, mixed type fields, errors etc.

After evaluating the above factors, the data conversion process includes multiple steps.

Data Mapping

Every data field needs to be mapped so that the old database fields are placed in the corresponding fields in the new database. Data mapping usually requires a significant amount of time since it might involve hundreds or thousands of fields per student. Also, every organization structures their database differently and various fields can have different purposes based on their operational process.

For instance, one organization might use three different fields for a Phone Number: Direct Phone, Cell Phone and Company Phone. While another might just use just a single field called Phone. So sorting out what goes where is important.

But the great thing about the mapping process is it forces your organization to rethink its processes or change some bad habits. That’s where formatting comes into the equation.

Data Formatting and Data Structure

While algorithms and SQL database scripts are generally used to speed up the process, human decision-making is also a critical factor. It’s important that the SIS vendor understands the various intricacies of your workflow process and the purposes of any specialized fields. During these discussions, insight about substandard data formatting and the structure of your database is usually identified.

A good example of this is course registration data. Courses can be structured in terms, cohorts, semesters or individually with unlimited start and end dates. I’ve seen instances where schools put the course start date, in the course title. Essentially combining two fields into one. This is not an ideal structure for formatting courses, since the title and date should be in separate fields, which makes for more seamless reporting.

The time spent upfront re-formatting the fields so they are in the proper structure will save significant headaches and man hours in the long run.

Data Cleansing

Cleansing data is the process of removing inaccuracies, errors and ensuring that the data is consistent.

Sometimes data is accidentally entered differently, like a phone number with or without a parenthesis around the area code. This is a simple example, but if your database is structured with many free-form fields so there are unlimited options vs defined drop-down menus (limited options), the level of inconsistent data becomes greater and the ability to find what you need becomes more difficult.

De-duping

The final stage of the process s to identify duplicate records. If your existing database isn’t integrated and you have multiple databases for various departments, the likelihood of having multiple records for the same person is high. Those records will need to merged. A good SIS system will have an algorithm that can identify possible matches by cross referencing multiple fields. These records are then placed in a holding table to be evaluated manually before integration.

Conclusion

While implementing a new Student Information System, the data conversion process is a great opportunity to clean up your historical data and develop new processes to ensure it stays clean in the future. Although there are upfront costs associated with conversions, in the long run it’s worth it, since the process will save time and money with government reporting, audits and day-to-day management of your organization.

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About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

5 Ways A Student Information System Saves You Money

Sometimes it can be hard to quantify the value of a Student Information System (SIS). You know you need one because it provides necessary user interfaces and critical data for strategic decision making, but does it really translate to the bottom line, and save the institution valuable costs and resources?

The answer is a definitive yes. Intuitively, it’s impossible to imagine running an organization effectively without one. The most obvious tangible benefit is the number of man-hours saved from an integrated student information system rather than tracking information in spreadsheets (or multiple databases that don’t talk to each other). But more specifically, I’ve outlined 5 instances where an integrated student softwarewill directly save your institution money or bring more revenue in the door.

#1. Mastery of Government Funding & Federal Reporting

We don’t have to tell you, but a recent report by the GAO (1) found that the government requirements for student financial aid were the a�?most burdensomea�? on colleges and universities, costing hundreds of man-hours and untold dollars to compile. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators echoed this, saying that handling governance took so much time it left less opportunity for counselors to meet in person with students.

Given the immense sums involved it doesn’t appear these regulations are going anywhere, so it’s best for institutions of higher education to develop ways to minimize the burden. Paramount to this is a good student information system.

An SIS will help collect and compile the data for all the required reports for state and government agencies. These include IPEDS, Title IV/NSDLS, Graduate-to-Employment reports, as well as accreditation with some of the requirements outlined here.

IPEDS

The data collected by the Independent Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS) covers seven areas: institutional characteristics, institutional prices, enrollment, student financial aid, degrees and certificates conferred, student persistence and success, institutional human and fiscal resources.

Some of the data that a student information system will have available in real-time for these reports is

  • enrollment by state, age, ethnicity
  • graduate completions by field of study
  • retention and graduation rates
  • faculty and staff demographic data
  • revenues and expenditures

Title IV

The process for administering student financial aid is defined under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The regulations change annually and a school is responsible for understanding each student’s eligibility for the various grants and loans including, Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Teacher Education Assistance for College & Higher Education Grant (TEACH), Federal Direct Stafford Loans ‘ Subsidized, Unsubsidized, Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS etc.

Federal regulations require all schools to apply Title IV financial aid funds to tuition, mandatory fees, housing charges and book deferments.

If these federal funds aren’t tracked and applied to student charges correctly it could be costly in terms of fines and lawsuits. A fully integratedschool managementsystem will either handle all the Title IV reporting or tightly integrate with Title IV specialty software.

The other area that a student information system becomes vital is for the calculations required for meeting Title IV eligibility. In recent years new regulations have been instituted for graduate to employment rates and now institutions must certify that each of their gainful employment programs meets the accreditation requirements.

#2. Increase Student Retention

In a prior post on student retention I describe in detail all the ways a student information system can help keep more students enrolled.

This is of great importance since upwards of 30% of students won’t reach completion. When a student drops out, additional funds must be expended to attract and enroll the next student, in addition to the opportunity cost of future revenue.

Without a strong retention program, cost and reputation become central issues. A good student information system with retention scoring, degree auditing, judicial tracking, student attendance and grade book can make all the difference.

For more on how these features help your retention program check out my post, An Integrated Student Information System is Your Best Friend for Retaining Students.

#3. Integrated Data for Better Decisions

Probably the most important way an SIS saves money for your institution is by giving users real-time access to student recordswithout requiring extra resources. Some small to mid-sized schools fall into a trap of purchasing separate school management systems for admissions or student retention and find they need additional man-hours for keeping the data in sync across all departments.

A bigger issue is schools who already have an SIS but purchase the latest new stand-alone software (admissions, for example) with a slick new user interface, hoping to integrate it with their existing SIS. Unfortunately, they realize afterwards the added costs required to maintain both systems outweigh the benefits, and often they plot a costly new course with additional software, training and implementation expenses.

For more details on why this can be a mistake check out, Student Management Software ‘ Integrated ERP or Best of Breed.

#4. More Effective Recruiting

The cost of recruiting a student who eventually enrolls is over $2,400 (2). So all the time and money planning, managing and measuring the recruiting and admissions programs shouldn’t be wasted. The distribution of texts, emails and letters that are well tracked in a workflow that triggers automatic follow up is essential to an efficient recruiting operation.

While efficiency of operations is beneficial, what’s more important is how effective the recruiting operation is at finding and attracting the right candidates. An SIS with a robust admissions module will offer key insights into outreach programs that bear the most fruit and provide the tools for admissions counselors to focus on the most receptive candidates to grow enrollments.

#5. Better Accountability and Fraud Prevention

When mistakes or errors occur, it can be difficult to determine the source. If it’s an honest mistake you want to identify it so it can be rectified. Schools are under increasing scrutiny to guard against unauthorized or malicious activity and need tools to quickly identify areas of concern.

In either case the goal is to hold people working in the system accountable for their actions. That’s why a robust student information system will have an in-depth audit trail and user permission system that allows granular access and records of all changes.

Mistakes can occur when individuals are given access to areas they don’t need, so they inadvertently make a change to something they don’t understand. Robust controls are the key to accountability. User awareness that the system keeps tabs on all activity is a strong incentive for good behavior and accurate recording of data.

Conclusion

Institutions should routinely examine their school administration systems to ensure that they are providing a strategic advantage. If the system is not providing a high level of service or does not provide accurate and easy to obtain reporting, then alternatives should be investigated. The costs associated with poor recruitment, retention, reporting, and accountability may outweigh the cost of replacement. Return on investment should always be measured against these costs to keep your organization running smoothly and efficiently.

Any questions?Contact Us

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About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

Sources:

  1. The Hechinger Report
  2. NACAC Admission Trends Survey, 2012.

An Integrated Student Information System is Your Best Friend for Retaining Students

Student retention is a big challenge for any educational institution. On average, over 30% of college students will not complete their first year, which affects resource allocation and hurts a school’s bottom line. There are many contributing factors to these dropout rates including a student’s academic self-confidence, institutional support, social involvement, and socioeconomic status. Some are easier for a school to manage than others.

National First-to Second- Year Student Retention RatesCollege Student Retention Rates

Source: Act Institutional Data File 2014

Each school will need to craft their own retention programs and there is a lot of information out there to help, including best-of-breed software and retention consultants. But no matter how you approach retaining students, a good Student Information System (SIS) should be central to this process. SIS software can capture the vital data necessary for answering the most critical questions like…

  • What is your school’s historical retention and degree completion rate?
  • Which students are most at-risk and why?
  • Which programs are doing the best job of degree completion?
  • How effective are your current retention programs?
  • How do specific student indicators like campus involvement, class participation, and institutional support affect performance?
  • What are the trends by program, semester and year?

Answering these questions is one component to the overall process. Ultimately it comes down to how proactive your school is with identifying at risk-students and solving their needs. Below I’ve outlined what to expect from a well-integrated information system to help increase your student retention rates.

Timely Reports

A student information system serves little purpose if the information isn’t accessible when it’s needed. Real-time reports, dashboards or querying tools that are shareable and accessible throughout the organization is essential, since the responsibility for retention is distributed to many roles within the school. When examining student success factors, analyzing trends and determining what’s working, good reporting tools ensure that you’ll reach the best conclusions.

Retention Scoring

Central to any retention program is the baseline student assessment, which helps identify the high risk students before they even begin. A formula to calculate a dropout probability by looking at SAT/ACT scores, high school GPA and class rank, parent’s education and income will be a good predictor for the high-risk students worth paying added attention to.

As the student progresses, this score can be adjusted in real-time by incorporating new information like attendance, grades and % of degree completion.

Academic Alerts

A strong SIS system should have a robust communication system that triggers alerts via emails or text messages in real-time for teachers, academic advisers, administrators and students. A simple example of an alert would be to notify the teacher and adviser when a student misses a class, assignment, or isn’t meeting a certain grade.

Communication Management

Once an alert is generated it’s also important to keep track of the steps necessary to correct the issue, and that’s where communication management is essential. SIS software with a robust activity tracking system keeps tabs of all your interactions (by meeting, call, email or text ) with the student and enables future follow-up and/or next steps.

Part of the challenge for any teacher, advisor or administrator is managing the needs of so many students concurrently, so the ability to set individual reminders and record meeting notes, attach emails and text to their student record will just make the organization more proactive, efficient and smarter, which should increase overall student satisfaction.

Attendance Tracking

Attendance tracking can be as simple as marking present or absent, but many programs now base course completion on the amount of time spent in class, also referred to as clock hours attendance. Using clock hours can be a much more accurate depiction of the student’s attendance since it factors in tardiness or early exits which are further indicators of a student-at-risk.

Degree or Program Audits

It’s important for a student to set up a plan for completing their degree and an SIS should be a flexible planning tool that details the student’s degree requirements, how these requirements would be met and give them the ability to check their progress at any time.

Even more important is the ability for faculty and administrators to perform audits on the student population as a whole. This type of predictive audit is helpful to identify students who are falling behind in meeting their requirements on an institution-wide scale. This tool can also be used to proactively advise students in their scheduling process so that more at-risk students get the classes they need earlier in the process.

Financial Aid Module

Affordability is usually given by students as one of the top reasons they drop out. Although some studies show that finances are merely the tipping point, these need to be compared and measured against academic challenges or campus relationship issues, to further define the at-risk student. A fully integrated system that can correlate these factors and related issues is essential to a good retention program.

Student and Parent Portals

Giving students real-time access to their student profile will improve communication, save students time and improve their overall experience. The various online features for which students would expect real-time online access include course registration, grades, class schedules, academic audits, transcripts, billing statements and payments.

Involving parents can also be a critical piece to your school’s retention process, so a FERPA compliant system that allows parents or guardians access to certain records can help identify problems before they become critical retention issues.

Learning Management Integration

A major component to a student’s well-being is what happens in the classroom. While an SIS can handle all of your school’s administrative needs it is not designed to manage the requirements of teaching a class. For that, you’ll need a well-designed learning management system and one that provides the student with a seamless experience.

Ideally, you’ll want the LMS talking to the SIS system so the student profile is complete and transparent throughout the organization. There can be an overlap in functionality between the two systems so it’s important to determine the hand off and integration points. The data from an LMS is crucial for assessing a student’s academic well-being in real-time so appropriate measure can be applied to those students falling behind before it’s too late.

Conclusion

Increasing student retention levels is one of the most important initiatives for any educational organization. Given the many factors that contribute to student success and the volumes of data required to assess it, a robust, integrated, and fully utilized student information system should be a high priority at any institution.

Any questions?Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

Student Management Software – Integrated ERP or Best of Breed

Deciding on a single fully-integrated ERP system or multiple Best-of-Breeds?

For educational institutions, performing tasks like nurturing prospects, providing portals for students and faculty, maintaining ongoing relationships with graduates while managing financial operations and compliance regulations presents challenges that require a significant investment in student management software. Each task is part of a separate functional area with distinct processes and needs for collecting and utilizing data.

Selecting the best student information software to manage these disparate operations will involve a complex set of decisions. There is never a perfect solution, so prioritizing what’s most important is critical, since compromises must be made.

The final decision always comes down to a choice between either one fully integrated system software or multiple niche’ software systems, a.k.a. Best of Breed (B.O.B.). Either choice offers positives and negatives that should be weighed against the goals of your organization and the available technology resources.

A Fully-Integrated Information System

The main distinguishing benefit of a fully-integrated student information system is that it utilizes a single database for the entire organization. If implemented correctly, each individual has a single file housing all their information, which means all the data about that person is typically accessible in real time. Since all information is entered into a single system, the back-end inner workings are relatively seamless and the data integrity is usually very good. But there is a downside.

A fully-integrated system is very broad in functionality, fulfilling a wide range of needs for the organization. But like any software, it’s difficult to do everything well and in order to maintain this seamlessness for the full scope of the organization (which is no small task) other aspects of the system are usually de-prioritized. In most cases what you’ll find lacking are the user experience and some specific features that are not critical or essential for the majority of their customers.

A Fully-integrated ERP System: The Pros and Cons

Below I’ve listed the most important benefits and drawbacks to consider when comparing a fully-integrated ERP with B.O.B. software.

Benefits

  1. More accurate and complete data.

  2. Consistent processes throughout the student lifecycle.

  3. Lower maintenance costs due to common architecture.

  4. A single user interface throughout the system.

  5. The overall Total Cost of Ownership is usually lower due to a unified business process.

  6. Single vendor is more accountable for solving issues.

  7. Fewer training costs due to common architecture.

  8. Subject-matter expertise levels are reached faster for the chosen technology.

  9. Single platform decreases evaluation, testing, proof of concept, and time to deployment.

  10. Economies of scale may afford opportunities for bundled (more price-competitive) license fees.

Drawbacks

  1. Risk of sole reliance on one vendor.

  2. Risk outdated technology and features.

  3. Less flexibility when adding new features and functionality.

  4. Downtime affects the entire system.

  5. Increased control and permissions required to ensure institutional data integrity.

Best-of-Breed Software

A best of breed system has the advantage of focus. These systems specialize in smaller functional areas like Admissions or Financial Aid and the features, user experience and look are built without much consideration for the other operational aspects of the organization. The features and functions are focused on user experience with added bells and whistles, but there is a significant downside: data integrity and accessibility.

Utilizing multiple database systems usually runs the high risk of information getting stuck in silos inaccessible to other parts of the organization when they need it, or the creation of multiple incomplete records for a single individual. For an organization to operate effectively it’s important that the information is complete, accurate and accessible and it can be a challenge getting multiple B.O.B software tools to operate together.

In an educational organization, there is no more dramatic example of this than the admissions department.

Best-of-Breed Software for Admissions

Admissions departments are under pressure to increase the pool of quality prospects. New marketing technologies seem to emerge every day with the promise of finding and attracting new prospects. The problem with adopting such new technology is the usual suspect: data integration.

Many inbound marketing technologies have two weaknesses, one they’re industry agnostic and don’t have all the specific admissions functionality like (application tracking, financial aid, transfer credit eval etc). Also these tools generally use implicit data with limited biographical information to find, track, and nurture prospective students. All student records should have a unique identifier (Name/DOB or SSN) to tie the data together. For many standalone marketing or admissions products, a cookie or email address is often used as the unique identifier. The problem is that cookies and email addresses change frequently based on who is performing the search or what computer/phone performs the request. Therefore the data does not lend itself to later integrating with the student information database because by its nature, it contains little actual biographical data about the person to match up.

Since this data cannot easily be integrated into the ERP system, the organization is faced with some difficult choices.

  1. Either, use the best of breed software for the entire admissions cycle which means specific functions like common application, Department of Ed integration, financial aid, transfer credit evaluation, and many other necessary functions are not available.

  2. Another choice is to manually enter, batch upload, de-dupe and correct the data. This can be very labor intensive and usually yields only an 80-90% accuracy rate.

  3. The third approach is to not integrate the best-of-breed software at all. Just import data into it and take advantage of its strengths and let it function in a silo.

Best-of-Breed Software for Financial Analysis

The Accounting/Finance department is the other place where B.O.B software is often found. This does not present a problem if the data from the ERP is only exported to the B.O.B tool for analysis and reporting.

However, there is often a temptation to create a shadow system where the financial package is maintained and synced manually with the ERP. This always presents a problem, since these departments usually require immediate access to real-time data for critical strategic decisions and there can be a lag between one system synchronizing with the other. There’s also the added man hours required to keep both up to date that should be factored in.

Best-of-Breed Software: The Pros and Cons

Below I’ve listed the most important benefits and drawbacks to consider when evaluating B.O.B software.

Benefits

  1. Ability to choose the most feature rich product and latest technology for each department.

  2. Industry familiarity.

  3. Greater flexibility for replacing software modules.

  4. Maintenance and upgrades can be performed module by module without disrupting the entire system.

  5. Easier to implement a smaller department more quickly.

  6. Avoids single vendor dependence.

  7. Allows each department to operate independently of a centrally administered system.

  8. Often involves lower initial costs through more competitive licensing fees.

Drawbacks

  1. Added complexity of multiple systems, multiple databases and multiple vendors.

  2. High potential for data integrity issues, duplicate data, missing data, incomplete records.

  3. Increased costs from data warehousing, complex networking.

  4. Integration points must be continuously updated and maintained.

  5. Increased difficulty troubleshooting due to added complexity and finger-pointing from multiple vendors.

  6. Multiple user interfaces increases training costs and confusion.

  7. Difficult to get a complete set of reports in a timely manner.

  8. Duplication of effort (e.g. address change must be entered into several databases).

  9. Architectural complexity creates high downstream costs to integrate and maintain diverse systems.

  10. Testing and running proof-of-concept trials involving disparate platforms and architectures increases time to deployment.

  11. Higher training costs; team members rarely achieve subject-matter expertise levels across every technology.

  12. Higher risks, as incompatible product road maps may create unforeseen disruptions, such as one vendor opting to stop supporting another vendor’s products.

  13. Lack of coordinated effort at shaping vendor roadmap for organization-wide functionality.

Mapping a software’s strengths and weaknesses to your priorities

Like with any software decision, it’s good to determine whether the strengths of the vendor aligns with your organizational priorities. The a�?must havesa�? should map to the vendor strengths and the vendor’s weaknesses should be similar to the a�?can live withouta�?.

The major areas to consider for making these decisions can be broken down into:

  • Data accuracy – How correct is the information?

  • Efficient operations – How much time will be saved?

  • Data accessibility – Can I get the information when I need it?

  • User experience – How easy is the system to use?

  • Cost – What is the return on investment *?

The following chart compares the strengths and weaknesses of a fully integrated system or B.O.B. software by evaluating data accuracy, efficient operations, data accessibility, user experience and cost, as it relates to the entire organization and a specific department. This is not scientific and can vary by organization but it serves as a good rule of thumb.

Bob Chart.JPG

Conclusion

Even after all this assessment, there are other factors that can tend to add further complexity. Competing interests are usually at play where a department will favor a best-of-breed over an integrated system, even though it might not be the best choice when considering the bigger long-term picture.

It is important with any software choice that the organizational buys into the decision. A lack of buy-in may otherwise undermine any potential productivity gains.

The evaluation should always include an understanding of the level of integration that can be achieved especially from a technical standpoint since the other variables are subjective. The best way to do this is to look at other institutions and look at the support mechanism for user support, data integration, data warehousing needs, and institutional reporting. If all of these are being provided at a high level without large staff investments, then the solution should be considered.

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Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.

Footnote

* It is extremely difficult to actually compare the return on investment and total cost of ownership of an integrated system vs a best-of-breed approach. But the variables to include are:

  • Staffing levels and/or savings based on ERP approach.

  • Productivity gains or losses based on which approach is chosen.

  • Cultural issues sometimes referred to as turf issues.

  • User bias and/or lack of buy in which can undermine the efficiency of any organization.

Evaluating a Student Information System (SIS) – Part 2

SaaS vs On-premise: What are the Costs?

In the first part of our series, Evaluating a Student Information System, I outlined the major risks to consider when selecting a SaaS or on-premise solution.

But now the big question, which goes hand-in-hand with the risks… what are the costs? Although the costs in the near-term can be relatively straightforward, a key component that can be easily overlooked is evaluating the cost implications over time. I would recommend a 5 year Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), since most on-premise vendors charge 20% of the license fee for annual maintenance which equates to a 5 year re-purchase of the license.

As with any projection, a 100% accurate TCO is unrealistic since technology and business needs are rapidly changing. But a TCO serves as a good benchmark for budgeting and an apples-to-apples comparison for potential vendors. Some vendors backload many costs of an SIS in the latter years which, without a TCO, would give the impression of a much more favorable return on investment.

Components: Total Cost of Ownership in SaaS vs On-Premise

License & Subscription Fees

Cost to purchase the software

The majority of on-premise solutions charge a licensing fee which grants the organization full ownership of the software in perpetuity. The software is priced by the number of users or in the higher education space by Full Time Equivalent Students (FTE) and the entire amount is required to be paid up-front. Often, major upgrades or new software releases generally require additional payments.

In comparison, SaaS solutions are sold as a subscription on either a monthly, annual or multi-year basis. As with on-premise, it is priced by the number of users but all upgrades are included and happen seamlessly with no new installation required.

SaaS subscription is usually charged monthly. On-premise license is an upfront lump-sum cost.

Hardware and Operating Systems Software

Cost of equipment to run the software

Another major cost difference between on-premise and SaaS is the hardware requirements. An on-premise solution usually requires a sizable upfront hardware cost that could include application servers, databases servers, and networking infrastructure. This hardware also must be maintained and upgraded to meet the needs of a growing organization.

With a SaaS solution all of these costs are shouldered by the vendor.

SaaS cost is 0$. On-premise, fully depreciate all the all hardware and operating software over 5 years.

Implementation

Cost of installing and configuring the software.

It is often assumed that there is no implementation cost with SaaS. This can be a false assumption. While the SaaS vendor will provide a a�?platforma�? with all software installed, the configuration of the system is a major effort that cannot typically be done without understanding the customer’s specific business processes and tailoring the new ERP system to the needs of the organization.

SaaS implementation costs usually run 60-80% of on-premise.

Customization

Cost of changes to meet specific needs outside the current software offering.

Customization costs are hard to estimate without the customer’s needs fully scoped. Most customization is about integrating third party systems and will require additional programming cost no matter which type of solution is chosen.

Customers often feel that there is more flexibility and availability of developer tools for on-premise, but customization comes at a price and will have ripple effect down the line in terms of maintaining continuity with any software upgrades.

The customization costs for SaaS and on-premise is about the same.

Data Conversion

Cost to migrate historical data into the SIS system

Unless you’re starting a new school from scratch, there will be a data conversion cost and it should be about the same for both SaaS or on-premise. The cost is highly dependent on the volume of data, what format it’s in (paper, spreadsheet, database) and the quality of the data (does it require scrubbing for duplicates and bad entries).

The data conversion costs for SaaS and on-premise is about the same.

Training

Cost to train all relevant users of the system

A Student Information System can be a complex piece of software that does many things, so employee training should be expected. The cost will depend on whether the vendor needs to go on-site and if any customize training is required. Some organization attempt to train a small core that will then train the rest of the organization. Training costs will typically be less for SaaS since the IT department does not need to be trained in the ongoing infrastructure maintenance of the system.

SaaS training costs usually run 60-80% of on-premise.

Maintenance and Support

Cost to maintain and support the software on an ongoing base

In addition to the software development cost that vendors pass on through a license fee, there’s a cost for ongoing updates, bug fixes and e-mail, chat and phone support (help desk) to handle any issues. This is passed on via a maintenance and support fee which can be between 15-25% of the software license cost.

On-premise solutions charge the software license fee in one up-front lump sum and the maintenance fee separately on a monthly or annual basis. When purchasing SaaS, the software license and maintenance are bundled together in a monthly fee. Be aware that the maintenance might not cover the more involved help and troubleshooting in which case a premium maintenance contract is usually available that provides support over and above the standard level.

SaaS cost is $0. On-premise, is the accumulated maintenance fee over 5 years.

Personnel

Cost of people to run the system

The third major cost difference between a SaaS and on-premise s is the personnel necessary to run the system. For a large institution, this usually consists of network administrators, database administrators, help desk and software support staff, data analysts, institutional research and/or report development staff. Budgeting an average low six figures per person including health and benefits is a good idea.

A SaaS solution will require a lower headcount than on-premise because the infrastructure and security is hosted by the vendor. The degree of this headcount difference will be dependent on the specific needs of the organization. A SaaS solution will require many of the same internal skill sets (report writing for example) unless these services are bundled into the SaaS fee, which is not a standard practice.

SaaS personnel costs usually run 40-60 % of on-premise.

Security and Other Software

Cost of security software

Security is often overlooked when considering cost. With an on-premise solution, the organization bears these costs while the SaaS vendor will maintain security and bundle the cost in the subscription fee.

Also, additional software (server licensing, SQL licensing, reporting tools, office suite software) might be required to complement and effectively make use of the SIS system. This will be necessary regardless of whether a SaaS or on-premise solution is selected.

SaaS security costs usually run 25% of on-premise.

Backup and Disaster Recovery

Cost of backup hardware and software

Cost of backup and recovery can be difficult to assess since everyone has differing notions about what a good backup and recovery strategy consists of. The highest level of backup and recovery offers immediate access to data and very rapid recovery in case of a disaster scenario. This of course could be very costly upfront which must be weighed against the risks of not having adequate plans in place, which can be a much greater cost down the line.

Potential buyers sometimes erroneously assume that with SaaS, they have fully mitigated their risks and don’t have to worry about back. But a good backup plan means that critical data must be backed up in at least three locations: production data, cloud backup, and an on-premise backup. Good risk management dictates that the customer maintain control of and a copy of all mission critical data in the event that something happens to the vendor, or a decision is made to move the data to a new system.

SaaS backup and recovery costs usually run 25% of on-premise.

Additional Cost Considerations

Typically, hidden costs occur when the customer is not fully aware of its information technology needs, prior to purchase and implementation. If the research in the discovery process is insufficient, then post project costs will most likely increase in the form of additional system customization, training, reports and dashboard development.

Another factor that is often overlooked when considering a new SaaS solution is the age of the existing on-premise hardware and software licenses that are being replaced. It might seem obvious but the older the hardware and licenses, the better. SaaS vendors include a software investment component to their subscription fee so if an on-premise solution was recently purchased (within the past 2 years) the cost might not have been fully recouped. Infrastructure as a service (migrate the existing software to the cloud) is a good option to be considered in this case.

Conclusion

After all of the costs ( outlined above ) are determined for each vendor and plugged into a spreadsheet, the recommended next step is to calculate the Return on Investment (ROI). This would be necessary regardless of which option is chosen since the ROI will help evaluate the efficiency in labor and equipment savings that can be expected.

I will go over this in more detail in a future post. In the meantime feel free to contact me through our website if you wish to discuss your current needs.

 

Check out Part 1.Evaluating a Student Information System: What are the Risks?

Any questions? Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

About the Author

Joe Stefaniak has been a leading expert for almost 30 years in the development and implementation of software solutions for higher education. His expertise is in helping colleges and schools streamline operations and manage information for better decision making through analysis and application of best practice software. He founded SCAN Business Systems in 1986. Its flagship product, Campus Café, has grown into a leading provider of educational student information systems. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University.