Solving Attendance Challenges for Trade and Career Schools

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 Many schools still rely on outdated, manual time keeping, which creates more work for administrators and faculty and puts students’ success at risk.

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

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A Modern Approach to Higher Education Admissions

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team is essential to a school’s growth and success, but many schools still rely on a manual admissions process or use outdated software that creates extra work and leads to costly errors.

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

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

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

The Biggest Hurdles Admissions Teams Face

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

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

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

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

10 Attributes to Look for in Integrated Admissions Software

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

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

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

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

How Integrated Admissions Software Benefits Career and Trade Schools

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

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

1. Fast-Track Government Reporting Requirements

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

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

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

2. Help Your Admissions Team Be More Proactive

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

Contact us today for a free demo.

A Three-Step Process to Boost Admissions

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

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

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

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

Marketing

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

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

Specifically, schools can generate leads by utilizing:

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

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

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

Recruiting

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

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

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

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

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

Application Management

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

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

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

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

The Challenges of Integrating Third-Party Customer Relationship Management Tools

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

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

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

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

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

How an Integrated Student Information System Supports Admissions Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How a Single Source of Truth Improves Student Data Management

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

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

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

The Benefits of Establishing a Single Source of Truth

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

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

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

Why Best-of-Breed Solutions Fall Short

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

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

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

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

Why Accurate Management of Student Data is So Critical

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

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

Examples of Bad Data Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Benefits of a Student Information System in the Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

Why It’s Time to Upgrade Your Legacy Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Lower Costs and Faster Deployment

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

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

  1. Tech Support When You Need It

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

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

  1. Explore an Ecosystem of Third-party Integrations

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

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

  1. Online and Onsite Training for New Users

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

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

  1. Peace of Mind With Automatic Security Updates 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Administrative Challenges for Career and Trade Schools

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

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

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

Challenge 1: Tracking Time-Based Attendance

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

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

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

Challenge 2: Managing Title IV Financial Aid Reporting

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

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

Challenge 3: Scheduling Asynchronous Starts and Stops

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

Challenge 4: Collecting Placement and Employment Reporting

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

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

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

Challenge 5: Submitting 1098-T Tax Forms

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

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

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

Software Tools that Modernize Career School Reporting

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

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

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

Show ROI With a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) Tool

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

Save Resources by Moving to the Cloud 

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

Digital Document Management 

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

Pre-built Reporting

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

Easy-to-Access Portals

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

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

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

The Right SIS System Can Fuel Growth

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

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


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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.