If you're a career college administrator or leader who wants a better understanding of Student Information System (SIS) software, you've come to the right place. This article covers the essentials of what an SIS is, what it does, and how it can help your postsecondary career school.
You'll learn the primary functions of an SIS and see how this class of software can improve your institution's operational effectiveness. If you're evaluating SIS solutions, this article will help you make an informed purchasing decision.
A Student Information System (SIS) is a software application that enables a career college or postsecondary school to
- Track and manage all student data, information, and progress
- Run its teaching and financial operations
Also referred to as a Student Records System (SRS), Student Management System (SMS), or Student Information Management System (SIMS), an SIS is a database that maintains a complete record of student activities, as the person moves from interested individual, applicant, and student, to a graduate who has been placed in a job/career, and eventually joins the alumni ranks.
From curriculum development, class scheduling, accounting and financial administration, to integration with other educational technologies, and compliance and reporting, an SIS offers tools to help college staff operate their "business."
A college management system is used by multiple stakeholders including: students, teachers, administrators, office staff, parents, alumni, integration partners, and vendors.
Think of a bike wheel with the student management system as the hub in the middle, each spoke represents a separate function like: admissions, application, enrollment, class scheduling, grades, accounting, reporting and more.
An SIS provides comprehensive services to students from their initial interest in a school, all the way through graduation and job placement. It helps teachers, college staff, and management perform their duties, manage the organization's finances, meet compliance requirements, and report on various activities.
Because it stores sensitive, personal information, college management software must incorporate security and access control to ensure safe access by different parties. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects student privacy, similar to the way the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects medical info. The SIS should be FERPA compliant.
An SIS aggregates and organizes data so that stakeholders can easily search and quickly find information. Sharing data and integrating with 3rd party technologies should be supported.
The best student information systems enable self-service and facilitate better communications among users. They flexibly adapt to an institution's unique workflows. They allow data collection in a user-friendly way and don't disrupt normal staff routines.
The primary functional blocks of an SIS include:
All postsecondary career colleges compete for qualified applicants. Their university management system should support recruiting efforts by: making it easy to communicate with prospective students, logging those communications, and guiding applicants along the path to enrollment. Some functions an SIS should offer include:
Curriculum deployment is an essential function of a postsecondary college.
An SIS helps deploy your curriculum, deliver it to students, and track their learning progress. Critical processes that should be supported include:
An important function of your SIS is how it tracks student progress against certificate/degree credentials. All systems track Credit Hours. More advanced solutions support Clock Hour format and can tie this measure back to financial aid.
After the education plan and class scheduling are set, delivery is the next step. When different workflow processes can be tailored to users, it's easier for instructors to deliver the curriculum, and for students to follow it. Student progress must be continually tracked. Success metrics include:
It's rare to find one company delivering best-in-class solutions for every educational requirement. Therefore, a system that supports third-party plug-ins and integrations offers more flexibility.
Colleges also want teachers to spend their time teaching and not managing technology. An SIS with an open platform and features like Single Sign On (SSO) and Application Programming (API)/Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) integration, help accomplish this goal.
As students matriculate, easy, push-button production of transcripts is valuable. The school will need to continue communications with graduates, bestow credentials, track placement, and produce reporting data required by federal/state accreditation agencies--ACCSC, ACCET, ABHES, NACCAS, COE, CAPPS, and IPEDS. The SIS should also support tracking student success on the job.
The main mission of an educational institution is to provide opportunities for students to learn, grow, and improve. Performing rigorous financial management is a key element in accomplishing this mission.
Students incur expenses after they enroll. A user-friendly SIS alleviates the administrative overhead of charging fees and tuition, crediting payments, and tracking payment plans.
An SIS should automate routine processes, accommodate exceptions, and proactively bring attention to upcoming tasks. It should maintain student ledgers, and track receivables and collections for different programs, fees, and payment plans. It should offer a payment portal tied to student ledgers.
Students pay for college in many ways: loans, scholarships, and third party funding from federal, state, and Veterans Administration (VA) sources. Accurate payment source tracking can prevent revenue loss and potential legal liabilities.
The desire to track and allocate expenses by educational program is an advanced function desired by larger institutions. General accounting principles drive revenue recognition and program-oriented accounting activities. When incorporated with student financial accounting, executives will be able to use analytics to measure results. The SIS should offer configurable GL code tools across programs, classes, and fees which synchronize with the general ledger.
A modern SIS will collect all the data necessary to successfully operate a college. Older systems, however, struggle to deliver the reporting and analytical tools needed for executive management and regulatory oversight.
Most systems can produce the requisite reports tracking student progress for grades, attendance, payments and transcripts. Advanced systems have programable elements that "Push" alerts to monitor SAP and other indicators when students may be experiencing problems.
Compliance reports are fairly static and easy to create. A best-in-class SIS delivers tools and automation to monitor progress against compliance metrics, making it easier to generate and submit needed reports on-demand.
An often-cited need by senior administrators is an executive dashboard that highlights workflows requiring attention. Legacy systems force management to scour "pulled" reports and review them manually to identify potential issues.
The executive dashboard should be easily configurable for different roles and responsibilities.
Software engineers prefer that executives clearly spell out the data and information they need, before they write code and reports. The reality is that as soon as an executive sees one report, it likely generates new questions and the need for additional reports.
If the SIS supports ad-hoc programing, the engineering team will be able to turn around new reports quickly and efficiently. Reporting that enables drill down capabilities is preferred.
New analytics tools and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are being developed that will provide valuable capabilities to those SIS solutions that can support them.
The ability for an SIS to integrate with multiple vendor solutions enables schools to use their existing applications and add best-of-their-category products in the future. It also protects your software investment from early obsolescence.Some interoperability considerations include:
Cloud-based systems have evolved rapidly. As an example, the US Federal Government has actively embraced Amazon and Microsoft web service and data solutions because they are safe and reliable. When evaluating cloud-based systems, consider the following:
Configuring role-based security settings for staff is important because different employees require different access to student attendance, progress, and other personal information.
Many SIS solutions use unique portal address assignments on shared server platforms. Your site’s access should be totally controlled by your administrators. All system access and actions should be logged providing a complete audit trail.
Remote hosting sites should have fully redundant: power, Internet access, and failover data management contingency plans. Servers should have RAID (triple redundant read/write) hard drives so if any one drive fails, data checks ensure that information is accurate on the other two drives.
Business continuity planning includes an off-site data backup plan and retention policy with daily/weekly/monthly encrypted backups that can be restored at any time.
Defining a failover recovery plan is important in the event that your primary site suffers a catastrophic failure.
The benefits of college management software are numerous and shared by multiple user groups. By automating and simplifying routine processes, students and staff can focus more time on learning and teaching. Some benefits of a student information system for higher education include:
Initially, you may not have known much about Student Information Systems. Hopefully now, you recognize they're powerful software tools for enabling students to create their own schedules, leverage different learning technologies, track progress, and monitor their educational expenses. An SIS helps college teachers organize their classes, track grades, and efficiently manage back office affairs.
An SIS should be designed and deployed using a "Hub" model.
A full-featured SIS helps postsecondary learning institutions run their admissions offices, manage their finances, communicate efficiently with stakeholders, and meet compliance requirements. Not only will it help you operate your college more efficiently, it will help your students achieve better learning outcomes.
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