A Modern Approach to Higher Education Admissions

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team is essential to a school’s growth and success, but many schools still rely on a manual admissions process or use outdated software that creates extra work and leads to costly errors.

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

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

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

The Biggest Hurdles Admissions Teams Face

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

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

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

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

10 Attributes to Look for in Integrated Admissions Software

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

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

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

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

How Integrated Admissions Software Benefits Career and Trade Schools

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

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

1. Fast-Track Government Reporting Requirements

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

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

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

2. Help Your Admissions Team Be More Proactive

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

Contact us today for a free demo.

A Three-Step Process to Boost Admissions

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

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

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

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

Marketing

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

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

Specifically, schools can generate leads by utilizing:

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

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

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

Recruiting

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

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

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

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

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

Application Management

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

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

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

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

The Challenges of Integrating Third-Party Customer Relationship Management Tools

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

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

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

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

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

How an Integrated Student Information System Supports Admissions Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How a Single Source of Truth Improves Student Data Management

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

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

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

The Benefits of Establishing a Single Source of Truth

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

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

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

Why Best-of-Breed Solutions Fall Short

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

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

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

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

Why Accurate Management of Student Data is So Critical

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

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

Examples of Bad Data Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Information System for Higher Education – The Guide

What is a Student Information System (SIS)?

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

The Main Benefits of an SIS

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

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

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

The Main Features of an SIS

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

Admissions process

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

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

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

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

Student services

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

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

Registrar’s office

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

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

Business office

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

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

Alumni relations and development

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

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

Workflow, contact management and reporting

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

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

Other Considerations

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

Reporting Tools

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

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

Integrated Versus Best-of-Breed

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

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

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

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

Considerations for Choosing an SIS

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

On-premise versus the cloud

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

Cost

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

See a full analysis of student information system cost considerations.

Security

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

Vendor specialty

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

Scope and scalability

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

Time

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

Personnel

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

Integrations

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

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

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