When your school decides it’s time for a new student information system, everyone inevitably asks, “What will it cost?”
Of course, your team wants a robust system packed with features that can flex to meet future demands, but the budget question looms large. While we can’t give you exact figures on cost, we can help you prioritize your school’s wants and needs, which impacts the bottom line.
What influences a student information system’s price?
A student information system is more than a piece of software; it is a comprehensive set of digital tools to help manage and process troves of data. It controls everything from students’ personal information and course enrollment to billing and government reporting.
These systems are as complicated as your campus, in which you have multiple communities, stakeholders, and users juggling responsibilities and activities. You don’t just turn it on and go. A new student information system requires training, set up and support.
More than ever, small and mid-sized colleges, universities and trade schools are looking to grow their businesses, while also managing and processing data more efficiently. The right student information system can help schools better organize and share information to maximize operations and inform decision-making.
Spurred by the pandemic, according to the Tambellini Group, investment in student information systems surged 98 percent in 2021 after five years of declines.
As your school heads into budgeting season, a new student information system may be on your wishlist. The first step is to find one that meets your needs and your budget. To help, we’ll break down the hard truths when it comes to selecting the best student information system for your campus.
How much does a new student information system cost?
What factors impact cost? The size of your school, the amount of data you need to process, your level of desired customization and third-party integrations, just to name a few.
Additionally, the scope of data migration and implementation also influence the cost of a new system.
When we meet with potential clients, cost is usually one of the first questions. While there’s no simple answer and costs vary widely by provider, a large university (20,000 or more full-time students) could spend between $30 million and $100 million in the first five years of a new system.
That’s an eye-popping figure, but there are more cost-effective options for smaller institutions with several thousand or fewer students that average in the hundreds of thousands per year or less.
What are the key cost considerations with a new student information system?
Shopping for a new student information system is like buying a new car. If you want a model loaded with features, a powerful engine, and a lot of customer support, you’ll pay top dollar. If you opt for a smaller, less expensive vehicle, you’ll likely save money, but you’ll be missing out on critical features. It could cost more later to make repairs or upgrades.
Similarly, a fully loaded student information system will cost more than a bare-bones software package, but there is a lot available in the middle. You can find a system with strong features and excellent support and customer service, and a true technology partner. But you have to shop around.
Whether purchasing a vehicle or new software, it’s a good idea to do your homework. Make a wish list, create a budget and find reputable partners.
What are the three biggest factors in system costs?
Factor 1: Software as a Service (SaaS) Monthly Subscription
Many of today’s modern student information systems are cloud-based, integrated solutions purchased on a subscription basis, also known as software as a service (SaaS).
For a monthly, annual or multi-year subscription fee, your technology partner will handle most of the behind-the-scenes management that powers your student information system. The main driver for the monthly subscription cost is the size of the institution. Most vendor’s fees are based on the the number of annual enrollments or active students.
A SaaS-based system relieves a huge burden from your IT staff and technology infrastructure, which saves money and manpower. With older, legacy student information systems, schools host their system on-site and maintain expensive local servers. If equipment breaks down or needs to be updated, it requires considerable resources.
When a SaaS system need to be updated, it happens seamlessly and it doesn’t require any on-site work. That includes data on the cloud, cloud maintenance, data backup, security and software updates. By signing on to a service with a reputable partner, your team can rest assured that your system is up-to-date, safe, accessible and secure.
Additionally, with a cloud-based system, your school has the peace of mind that your data is secure and backed up. You don’t have to worry about losing data or access to your system if the servers go down in extreme weather or a power outage, or if the school is the victim of a cyber attack. You’ll always have a secure backup.
Conveniently, a cloud-based system has the ability for a technical support team to remotely log in and help your staff troubleshoot issues. But with an on-premises system your IT team is responsible for maintaining everything.
A modern, cloud-based student information system eliminates extra stressors and expenses. Your vendor shoulders the cost of equipment, infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.
Factor 2: Implementation Costs
One common misconception about a SaaS solution is that it will save your school on implementation costs. That’s not necessarily true. Even a subscription system comes with some implementation expenses, and the size and scope will depend on your school’s specific needs.
The amount of data conversion and system training will influence implementation costs.
Data conversion expenses
When you purchase a new cloud-based student information system, your school needs to migrate its data from the existing system or database to the new platform. That includes porting student records, course information, billing and financial records, archived emails, spreadsheets, documents and more.
When your school migrates data, there are typically three options: manual data entry, attaching and uploading files, and complete data conversion. Manual data entry is best for small schools with small quantities of data, while larger institutions often need a full-scale data conversion.
The more data conversion and migration work that’s required, the more expensive this piece of the process will be. Your technology partner can help you determine which option is suitable for your school’s budget.
Data migration also demands time and resources. Still, there’s a payoff to the hard work: Data migration is an opportunity to clean house and establish new, better data management practices and work from a single source of truth.
An integrated student information system harnesses data from many departments, involves different user groups and requires training. These systems aren’t a piece of software you just download and start using. As a result, each user group, including students, staff, faculty and administrators, need training tailored to their needs based on how they’ll use the system.
Your vendor supplies this training and costs will vary depending on how much support your team needs. Training can range from a few hours of online instruction to multi-day, on-site sessions. The more extensive the training, the more it will cost. If you host off-site training, your budget should include funding to rent a space and feed employees.
Factor 3: Third-party integrations
Even the best student information system can’t fulfill every function on a school’s wish list. As a result, modern student information systems like Campus Cafe Software are built to work with third-party software and apps.
Many schools use third-party software for specific functions like marketing and financial aid reporting, as well as learning management systems.
A well-designed, modern student information system can integrate with these third-party systems and provide a seamless transfer of data and access. The more integrations your school needs, the more expensive your new system will likely be.
Three SaaS infrastructure options (and how they impact pricing)
When it comes to the infrastructure for a new cloud-based student information system, your school has three options with escalating levels of customization and control. Your choice will impact the costs of your system.
SaaS: The most cost-effective option, a standard subscription plan allows your technology vendor to handle most of the services, maintenance and support. Note that your team won’t have direct access to the database.
Saas with Database Management: A mid-level, hybrid option, this level allows your school to benefit from the subscription services, while also having access to some database management and high availability of support services.
Self-hosted: For schools that want maximum access and control, this option allows you to self-host your system and still have full support from the technology vendor. The school has full database management and high availability of support services. This is typically the most expensive option.
What do I get with my subscription?
When you subscribe to a SaaS integrated student information system, your technology partner takes care of critical functions. Campus Cafe Software’s all-inclusive subscription covers the following:
Cybersecurity and updates: With a cloud-based system, your technology partner is responsible for monitoring security, updating the system and making any necessary changes. You don’t have to worry about upgrading and maintaining on-site servers.
Fewer personnel requirements: A modern, cloud-based student information system frees up your IT staff and administrators to support users, rather than maintaining the system and hardware on-site. You can operate with a leaner staff or redeploy your employees to work on other technology and infrastructure needs.
Disaster recovery and business continuity: If your school is hit with a cyber attack or a natural disaster, you have peace of mind that your data is secure off-site and backed up in the cloud. You’ll be able to get back online faster and keep your business running as usual.
Conversion, customization and implementation: Once you purchase your new student information system, we guide you through converting from your old system to the new platform, customize the system for your needs, and partner with you on implementation, including data migration and conversion.
Training and support: Your vendor should be a true partner, providing robust online and in-person training for all of your user communities, including staff, faculty, students and leaders. Once your system is live, ongoing technical support and customer service will help troubleshoot any issues and answer user questions.
What about future expenses?
When you’re budgeting for a student information system, it’s a good idea to think ahead. Your needs will change and it could require additional investment.
Many schools think they train their staff during implementation and then move on. However, your school is dynamic and your needs will change over time. It’s wise to budget for ongoing training.
As stakeholders begin to use the system, you may need to offer additional training, and new employees will require training too. Also, your team will need additional training if you add new features or integrations.
A student information system is not just software, it is a partnership between the vendor and your school. To maintain the best-quality data, your team should work closely with your technology partner to get the most out of your system. The technical support team can help your staff make sure they’re using the system properly and to its full capabilities.
Typically, vendors include a certain level of support in the software cost. Chances are a really inexpensive system means you won’t get the service you need at implementation or down the line.
Customization and new third-party applications
Your school can’t always project its future wants and needs. As your institution grows and evolves, you may want to add new features or activate new functions.
Similarly, if your school decides to activate new third-party activations, such as document signing or a new learning management system, your technology partner will need to bill for that work. Also, if you replace other software, you could activate new features with the student information system.
As you grow, your system may also require additional storage. When you work with a dynamic and capable technology partner, they can try to accommodate your customized requests. But adding new features and storage may make your subscription more expensive.
More IT Staff
While a cloud-based system will manage many of your school’s software needs, you’ll likely need a capable technology staffer (or a few people) to support your school’s system and manage sign-on access and user permissions, software configurations and report writing. They’ll also liaise between your users and the technical support team.
How do I know what’s right for my school?
This is the million-dollar question. (Sorry, we had to get a budgeting pun in there.) To determine what’s right for your school, start by auditing your current system. Then, make a wish list for your future student management software.
A few considerations:
- What are the current system’s limitations?
- What features is your current system missing?
- What features would you like to add?
- What integrations and added features would make your operations run more smoothly?
- What are your key users asking for?
Once you’ve determined your school’s wants and needs, then you can start meeting with vendors. See what they offer and how their fees are structured. Ask about the cost of future support, training and customization – no one likes to be surprised.
Before you start shopping, take stock. Be honest about your team’s technical capabilities and ability to manage launching a new student information system, which will involve implementation, overseeing training, data analysis and tech work. Get a handle on how many licenses you’ll need and how many people you’ll have to train.
If you have limited resources in-house, you may need to lean more on your tech partner, which could increase your costs. For example, if you need the technology vendor to handle a complete data conversion, that would be more expensive than if your team can manually transfer your data.
Also, if your data is already clean and organized, that makes for a more manageable (and less expensive) data conversion process than if your information is disorganized and contains duplicates.
Another thing to consider: When evaluating the three SaaS infrastructure options, many schools think they need more database access than they do. If you opt for a SaaS subscription without direct database management, it will be more cost-effective.
The bottom line
Your school is not alone in this journey. When you work with an experienced technology partner specializing in higher education student information systems, they’ll help you determine the best infrastructure, most essential features and most straightforward path to data conversion.
And remember, a good partnership doesn’t end on launch day. Your student information system provider should be there to answer questions, troubleshoot and help your school get the most out of your new student data management system. Ready to see how Campus Cafe Software’s student information system can improve your data management without breaking the bank? Contact us today for a demo.