Engineerica Academic Centers Blog Higher Education Software: Manager’s Handbook

Higher Education Software: Manager’s Handbook

Imagine your life without software. Even eliminating the programs you use for leisure and entertainment, how easy would it be to manage your day-to-day life without the use of at least some technology and software programs? How easy would it be for you to do your job?

There aren’t really any fields where at least some operations could be made easier with the implementation of software, and very few that don’t rely on it for at least part of their processes.

In this article, we’ll specifically look at how software has impacted the field of higher education, both for students and for the employees and faculty members who keep the campus running. We’ll discuss the types of software most colleges and universities will need to function, the benefits and impacts of those solutions, and the advantages of purchasing an out-of-the-box SAAS program over trying to build a homegrown system.

Challenges

Before we get into the benefits of software, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges many institutions and their stakeholders can face. Higher education has several unique factors which can make purchasing and implementing new software difficult. For example, budgets are often tight, and the purchasing process for larger programs can be a daunting and multi-year project.

Many employees have no say in the software they use, and students almost never do, though both groups may struggle to adapt to a new system that is either different from a program they used before or introduces software to a process that was previously manual. Even though automating a process or augmenting it with software often results in an overall greater ease of use for the parties involved, the learning curve might make users feel the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

To combat these challenges, it’s important to educate users not only about the functions of the system but also about the overall benefits they’ll ultimately receive. That’s where a list like this one can come in handy. It’s also crucial to consider the support the institution will receive from the company itself; what training is available with your subscription and what ongoing technical and implementation support will look like are both important questions to ask.

Types of Software

Next, let’s briefly consider the types of software an institution might consider. This is not an exhaustive list, but one that includes many of the “big ticket” items a college or university tends to require as part of their operations.

Student Information Systems

According to Zipdo, 84% of higher education institutions utilize some Student Information System, or SIS, to manage the information for all students associated with their school.

Some popular programs include Banner and Jenzabar. This is similar to a Customer Management System, or CMS that many companies keep. It may also house information about college or university employees, or that information may be kept in a separate system specific to HR. The SIS generally houses information on current, former, and prospective students, and in addition to basic information such as name and contact information, may also include information such as the student’s declared major, their demographic information such as their age and declared ethnicity, and what school-related groups the student is affiliated with, such as athletics.

Learning Management Systems

It wasn’t long ago that students would submit their papers and other assignments as physical copies directly to their instructors or that the papers could at least be emailed to the instructor, but posting the grade would still need to be done in class due to confidentiality issues.

With more and more colleges and universities adopting Learning Management Systems or LMS, the entire process of submitting assignments, grading them, and in-between communications has been streamlined into a secure system.

This is especially helpful with the rise in the number of online students (about 61% of all students now take at least one course online, according to LinkedIn), but all students and faculty can benefit from a system that cuts down on paperwork and ensures that students have a consistent assignment submission and feedback process across all of their courses. Popular programs include Canvas, Blackboard, and D2L.

Many LMSs contain additional tools or integrations, such as virtual meeting platforms and the ability to predict grades based on anticipated scores.

Student and Staff Portals

These are generally virtual hubs where students and staff can conduct common business that once might have taken a long time and involved a lot of manual paperwork, such as transcript requests, bill pay, and time recording for staff. This is also often the portal that allows college students and staff to access other systems using Single Sign-On, such as the aforementioned LMS.

Student Tracking Systems

Students usually have access to a wide variety of resources on campus, such as tutoring, advising, and career services, each of which may need to be able to report on the usage of their area. A student tracking system such as Accudemia or AccuCampus allows each area to collect and report on its traffic data.

These systems often need to be versatile, as every resource has different policies and procedures as well as different types of quantitative and qualitative data they need to collect and different functions that need to be performed. For example, some centers may wish to send surveys to students to get their feedback on the services they received, while others may offer appointments or virtual sessions that need to be tracked as well, or they may need to take extensive notes or submit a post-session questionnaire.

Impacts

With these types of software systems in mind, let’s take a look at the tangible impacts they can have on stakeholders at higher education institutions.

Administrative Processes

One of the most obvious benefits of software in higher education is the streamlining and enhanced security of administrative processes. As mentioned, many of these programs automated tasks that once were manual or required a great deal of paperwork.

For systems involving student tracking, this meant that student service managers and their staff would be responsible for keeping confidential student information on physical sheets, which would have to be stored and later collated for reporting, a process that could take hours if not days.

Additionally, the importance of enhanced security measures cannot be overstated, especially in this particular day and age. Not only do physical files take up a lot of well, physical space, but they also need to be maintained.

Locks must be purchased, keys or combinations kept in a secure place, and access must be kept and guarded. That’s not to say that software processes don’t come with security risks, but a good software program will have safety measures in place to guard an institution’s data, which will ultimately save institution personnel from having to be as responsible for these security measures; they need to decide who has what type of accounts, which can ideally be taken away with ease when the person is no longer affiliated with the college or university.

Data Management

As mentioned, collecting data without software can be a gargantuan task. This goes for pretty much any type of data, and at a college or university, that means a huge amount of information about each current and prospective student, alumni, staff, and faculty member, along with the courses offered, the resources available to students (both service-based resources such as tutoring and physical resources such as library books and computers), and the physical spaces on the campus where use needs to be tracked and scheduled.

Managing this data on paper forms can take up a large amount of physical space on campus, which can be difficult to access later and which may not be backed up or copied anywhere. These files may be stored on local computers, which does save space but can create similar problems to physical files if they are not easily accessible when needed.

Software for higher education can make a big difference here. While most schools will require multiple programs to complete all necessary tasks, the right programs will integrate with each other as seamlessly as possible, making it easy for stakeholders to collect and pull the data they need at the right time. This doesn’t just mean better warehousing of data, either. When data is easier to collect and access, it’s also easier to analyze, allowing institutions to make better decisions about things like how to allocate their resources and how to retain students better and help them succeed.

Network Infrastructure

Modernizing campus networks isn’t just about keeping up with the latest bells and whistles; it’s about creating a school that works better for everyone. One thing we haven’t talked about yet is homegrown systems.

These programs are designed by someone at the institution to perform a function that was usually previously done manually. While this may seem like an appealing prospect, and while many believe that this route ensures a program that will meet the needs of the institution and the users of the program, the reality is often the opposite.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that these programs often cannot be maintained after the initial programmer has left the institution, but another big reason is scalability. Out-of-the-box solutions are often designed by companies used to working with schools of a variety of sizes and needs and have a team of programmers ready to make changes as the market demands it.

For example, many student resource tracking platforms were built for mostly in-person support, which was the norm for most colleges and universities. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, most resources had to switch to online support models, and the software platforms they relied on had to quickly adapt.

Resources like Engineerica’s Accudemia program were able to quickly implement virtual tracking options and other ways to manage important functions from off campus. This is possible because software companies often have the manpower and resources to make development changes to support these needs, whereas a homegrown system is usually supported by one staff member who has other responsibilities as well and may not be able to address concerns as they arise. Look for solutions that are flexible, and that can scale to meet the evolving needs of your institution.

Financial Management

The price tag on many enterprise solutions can make decision-makers balk, especially at colleges and universities where budgets are often tight. But truly, the right solution can be worth its weight in gold.

This is especially true when it comes to cloud-based solutions, which many schools are starting to favor over application-based solutions because subscription costs are more predictable, and the auxiliary costs, such as internal personnel required to support the solution and hardware needed to run it, tend to be much lower. While the bill might be high, ultimately, the institutions will usually come out ahead, more so than if they had gone with a homegrown solution or no software solution at all.

Additionally, many programs can run multiple functions, bringing the cost down when other programs are no longer required. For example, a system like Accudemia, which enables student support centers to track usage of their area, may have other tools which can be utilized instead of using a second paid system, such as surveys and texting services.

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Conclusion

There’s little doubt that software systems are a necessary tool for most if not all, higher education institutions in the 2020s. So, the questions to be asked include:

  • What kinds of programs should an institution consider?
  • What are the benefits of each type of software and of higher education software in general?
  • Why is a purchased program better than a homegrown solution or no software at all?

We hope that this article has answered these questions, and if you have more, we’d love to talk to you about it! Engineerica specializes in tracking systems for higher education that make a big difference for student resources that need to not only track their students, but often perform other administrative functions as well, and we’re pleased to have developed our all-in-one management solutions. Contact us today to learn more about how we can make a difference for your center or institution.

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