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 Many schools still rely on outdated, manual time keeping, which creates more work for administrators and faculty and puts students’ success at risk.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 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.

The Definitive Guide to Title IV Student Financial Aid

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

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

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

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

Overview of Title IV Funding

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

How Schools Manage Student Financial Aid

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

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

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

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

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

The Federal Student Aid Process and Types of Aid

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

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

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

Federal Student Loans

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

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

Federal Student Grants

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

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

Federal Work Study Program

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

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

Achieving and Maintaining Title IV Accreditation 

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

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

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

Tracking and Reporting Title IV Financial Aid Data

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

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

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

Common Reports, Forms and Documents for Title IV Reporting

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

National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS)

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

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 

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

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

Federal Financial Aid Reporting Requirements

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

Keeping Up With Financial Aid Reporting Cycles 

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

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

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

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

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

Six Steps to Successfully Implement a Student Information System

Six-Step Process for Implementing a Student Information System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Validate the Data in the New SIS 

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

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

Step 4: Configure Your New SIS 

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

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

Step 5: Integrate Your Third-Party Platforms 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Data Conversion Considerations 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Administrative Challenges for Career and Trade Schools

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

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

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

Challenge 1: Tracking Time-Based Attendance

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

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

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

Challenge 2: Managing Title IV Financial Aid Reporting

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

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

Challenge 3: Scheduling Asynchronous Starts and Stops

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

Challenge 4: Collecting Placement and Employment Reporting

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

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

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

Challenge 5: Submitting 1098-T Tax Forms

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

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

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

Software Tools that Modernize Career School Reporting

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

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

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

Show ROI With a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) Tool

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

Save Resources by Moving to the Cloud 

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

Digital Document Management 

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

Pre-built Reporting

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

Easy-to-Access Portals

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

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

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

The Right SIS System Can Fuel Growth

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

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


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

Student Information System for Higher Education – The Guide

What is a Student Information System (SIS)?

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

The Main Benefits of an SIS

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

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

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

The Main Features of an SIS

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

Admissions process

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

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

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

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

Student services

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

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

Registrar’s office

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

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

Business office

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

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

Alumni relations and development

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

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

Workflow, contact management and reporting

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

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

Other Considerations

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

Reporting Tools

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

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

Integrated Versus Best-of-Breed

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

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

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

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

Considerations for Choosing an SIS

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

On-premise versus the cloud

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

Cost

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.

Any questions? Contact Us

Sign up for a Free Online Demonstration of Campus Café

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 >

Any questions? Contact Us

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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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