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The top 10 Criteria for evaluating Student Information System features

1. Is it a comprehensive solution that will evolve with you?

As an institution’s core system, the student information system (SIS) should help to accelerate growth, boost student success and improve institutional effectiveness. However, statistically, it’s probably one of the oldest systems on your campus, meaning a digital downgrade for students, faculty and staff compared to the technology experience they have in the rest of their lives.

While higher education has evolved massively over the last 10 years, there simply hasn’t been a lot of innovation in back-office systems, especially SIS. To keep pace, most institutions have invested in expensive customizations and connected an array of third-party bolt-on applications to keep their student information systems’ features as current as possible.

Today's modern, cloud systems for Higher Education are being designed to support growth strategies across the entire institution. These modern systems extend beyond the capabilities of traditional enterprise solutions and provide way more flexibility that enables a culture of forward-looking innovation and change readiness, in addition to the functionality required to run the business of institutional operations.

The richer the big data you have on student interactions, the better your ability to improve student experience, retention, and success. Improved institutional collaboration also results from departments all having access to the same system and data. This shared engagement also breaks down divisive silos of information that often exist. System flexibility and easy-to-configure processes empower your people to design their work the way that works best for them, automate repetitive administration, and encourage more creativity, innovation and focus on students.

2. Does it have built-in analytics?

Your SIS should help you improve productivity and performance across the campus and support strategic initiatives with actionable data. It should deliver advanced analytics capability that comes standard, just like the transactional aspects of the system, rather than being an afterthought or add-on. This means that institutions benefit from, for example, being able to see real-time analytics on institutional goals at the same time they are entering and processing data. You should be able to collect and present information in easy-to- use visual user dashboards with drill-down and data slicing capabilities. As well as supporting what-if scenarios analysis and tracking student data trends, you should be able to quickly get insights and demonstrate progress on key institutional metrics.

Institutions should also look for interfaces that address all level of user roles and needs for standard reports, ad hoc queries, and dynamic data visualization, centered around the needs of higher education today.

3. Does it meet the needs of your kind of learners?

Higher Education institutions today are serving a much broader definition of learners to be able to grow their institutions. Student systems that provide unlimited course enrollment flexibility mean that institutions can easily build, test and deploy new curriculum offerings and delivery models that aren’t limited to traditional term-driven enrollment processes and can serve diverse, always-changing student requirements.

Most existing SIS solutions were built in a different era, when typical academic models were term based and delivery was on campus. Now we have significant growth in diverse academic offerings that are tailored to the needs of the student (e.g. adult learning, corporate training, continuing education, lifelong learning) and delivery modes (e.g. online, hybrid, self-paced, MOOCs, competency based, etc). Traditional systems cannot support the requirements of these new models or require that users purchase a separate solution to manage “non-traditional” offerings, which is really the new normal.

4. Does it help you manage communications?

A registrar needs a rich set of tools to manage communications and tasks just as someone in the billing office or financial aid does. Admissions staff should be able to set up personalized, yet automated communication tracks based on individual prospect behavior, plus automate the application and admissions process. By managing the entire recruitment process from the prospect stage all the way through admissions in one system, your people can spend more time with prospects and students, and less time on administrative tasks.

In addition, any user of your SIS should be able to benefit from role-based permissions and access to one source of truth, using interactive communication tools to connect with students regarding their academic progress, administrative issues like billing and financial aid, and student support services. With a true 360- degree view of an individual as they progress through the student lifecycle, everyone has the information they need to support student success.

5. Is it flexible to adapt to your current and future needs?

Today’s systems should not date like the old legacy systems that have hampered institutions for the last 10+ years. The reality is that most institutions are moving away from the mindset that they are totally unique and have a desire to adopt industry best practices. But also they need a flexible and agile student system that will allow them to maximize the business processes that do help them differentiate and provide that unique student experience, as well as helping them insure against change, as higher education academic and delivery models evolve.

Systems should be easily adaptable to specific processes from the user interface, no longer needing heavy customization by expensive external consultants, slow and cumbersome integrations, or complex workarounds.

Your people need to be able to configure and extend the application without fear of customizations that will break the system when updates occur.

6. Does it have actionable retention solutions inside the framework?

Student success is the key objective for all institutions. The right SIS solutions must improve student success initiatives by helping identify and intervene with at-risk students. By tracking student characteristics and behavior over time, our modern solutions make it possible to automate risk-factor triggers to alert advisers and enable intervention while there’s still time to turn things around using collaborative interaction plans.

Students who are at risk of dropping out usually exhibit red flags, long before they make the final decision to leave your institution. Early intervention with these students gives them the resources they need to succeed in school, all the way to completion. Big data technology can look at many student metrics to identify red flags far faster than a manual review could. Some indicators of at-risk students could include GPAs that won’t qualify for graduation, decreased class attendance, an inability to afford off-campus or dorm housing fees, or an undeclared major. Once the system identifies these students, you can reach out to them and find out the challenges they face, and then determine solutions to help.

By providing students with a clear understanding of what they need to do to progress towards graduation with a degree audit tool, they can be empowered to stay on track. Students require a full understanding of the steps needed to complete their degree. Consider implementing a technological solution that offers students clarity into their degree path, and the ability to explore other options with degree shopping tools.

7. Does it have an integrated ERP?

An integrated enterprise suite, including SIS and ERP on the same cloud platform, can provide significant institutional benefits with fully aligned campus management across finance, HR, payroll, projects and procurement, etc. Increased financial transparency and aligned HCM can help institutions reduce costs through improved workflow processes and productivity-enhancing self-service tools.

The beauty of this approach is that you can see the true cost of delivery of education and optimize your back-office so that you can spend more institutional resources on serving students better.

8. Is it true cloud architecture?

A true cloud architecture will help you create the experience that students and staff demand, while future proofing institutional infrastructure and systems. It eliminates the unnecessary expenses and worries of operating an on-premise IT infrastructure. You should no longer need to worry about mundane IT maintenance concerns, or the trouble of recruiting and retaining people with those skills.

9. Does it provide a mobile and consumer-grade experience for students and staff?

Students and staff alike expect a truly mobile experience in their interactions with your institution, so look for solutions developed with a mobile design philosophy so it’s simple to navigate.

Impress your students with a student portal where they can manage all their academic affairs in one place, which is built with responsive design standards geared towards today’s tech-savvy mobile user. And, customize it to match the look and feel of your institutional branding. Plus, digital assistant technology now offers conversational ways for students and staff to interact with many common administrative tasks on the go. This ability to significantly upgrade the student experience is a game changer.

10. Does it offer a rich API layer?

Change is the only constant, and with evolving student demographics and expectations, statutory reporting requirements, and many changes yet to come, there will be times when you need to share data with other applications. For those times, any system you choose must offer flexible micro-services and API connections that you can easily configure according to your needs.

What can Unit4 do for you?

To discover more about our own student information system visit our product page here.

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