Resource Constraints? Student System Modernization Is Still Possible

Rebekah Russell |

Tambellini Analyst

Top of Mind: Resource Constraints? Student System Modernization Is Still Possible
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Now, more than ever, institutions are aware of the potential shortcomings in aging student systems. While some institutions made moves to modernize before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last few years have been focused on adjusting to new demands as the situation evolves. As higher education continues to recover from the pandemic impacts, institutions recognize now is the time to embrace change and move their core student system to the cloud.

The Student System Landscape

Students expect a seamless experience at their institution. As I’ve written before, students anticipate access to information anytime, from any device. If students must navigate multiple systems and logins to complete tasks or find information, they likely won’t. A truly integrated experience for both prospective and currently enrolled students is essential. Students also expect in-person, digital, and hybrid options when it comes to accessing campus business offices such as financial aid, advising, or academic planning. Parents and families are more active on campus than ever before, making parent portals extremely important. Unfortunately, the status quo of legacy student systems at most institutions can’t provide this level of experience and functionality.

Despite the known problems (and anticipated benefits of modernization), most institutions continue to use legacy student systems. In 2020, Tambellini research found that 72 percent of institutions in the US are still running on-premise student systems that are at least 20 years old. While modern student system selections are picking up in 2021, student technology selections still lag behind HCM and finance modernization.

Why the Student System Lag?

CIOs and campus leadership know that moving to a cloud-based student system is the way forward. So, why aren’t more institutions embarking on this journey? The reality is that many institutions—especially small to midsize institutions (500 to 2,500 enrolled students)—believe they lack the resources to make this kind of change possible. Modernizing your student system not only takes FTE resources but a sizeable strategic investment of dollars as well.

On the surface, this seems to leave a portion of institutions between a rock and a hard place. CIOs know change is needed to meet their campus’s needs, but the most well-known student options come with price tags they cannot sustain. They could look to on-campus programming resources to cobble together integrations and interfaces, but those options are merely short-term solutions to long-term needs.

Alternative Options Are Stronger Than Ever

There is much to gain for institutions that look beyond the marquee student system options. While these systems undoubtedly serve small to midsize institutions, many schools can achieve their modernization goals without breaking the bank with just as strong alternatives.

Most campuses benefit from implementing a single modern cloud system across all functions of finance, HCM, and student. This approach certainly has significant merits, including unifying costs and the ease of training and onboarding users. However, as the adage goes, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” If institutions can’t unify their ERP due to resource constraints and therefore remain in a state of inaction, the consequences are far-reaching.

The great news for institutions in this situation is that robust alternatives will meet their needs with a lower resource and budget impact. In the last year alone, several market leaders in this space have released new standard features and enhanced product offerings.

Finding the Best Institutional Fit

There are a few considerations CIOs should keep top of mind if their institution is considering an alternative student system.

Modular Offerings

Many solutions in this category offer product modules, and most institutions decide to implement a set of core modules, including

  • Academic structure management
  • Admissions and enrollment management
  • Student financial aid records
  • Student data record management
  • Course management
  • Grade management
  • Transcript management

Beyond these core functions, institutions may select other functions a la carte to meet specific campus needs. CIOs should work with institutional leadership to decide what additional operational needs are present and configure the solution to meet those needs.

Unique Institutional Needs

As CIOs work with their campus to assess a potential modern student system, they should brainstorm as many use cases as possible. This is especially important regarding unique institutional operations, such as management of rolling admissions, multiple/advanced degree programs, or support for non-credit programs. Not every solution will fit these use cases, so CIOs should discuss these unique needs with any potential vendor.

Alignment to Other Administrative Platforms

Any selected student system must integrate seamlessly with other campus solutions. Preparing for this will not only simplify implementation but also help future-proof the institution’s systems. Common system integrations to consider include

  • Advancement platforms
  • Career services solutions
  • Data warehouses
  • Finance and HCM platforms
  • Student engagement platforms

Now is the time for institutions to invest in student system modernization. Historically, FTE requirements and budget impact have left many small to midsize institutions feeling out of options. However, now more than ever, it is possible to move your campus forward to the next era of student solutions. By taking a practical approach and identifying core institutional needs, campus CIOs can lead the charge of change.

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Rebekah Russell |

Tambellini Analyst

Rebekah Russell
As Research Director, Rebekah Russell researches and publishes in the student and CRM technology space, concentrating on platforms that focus on recruitment and admissions, student retention and engagement, advising, financial aid, and student management. Coming to Tambellini from Western Kentucky University, she has served in various roles at the university, including student engagement and retention, parent and alumni programming, information technology administration, and most recently, as Assistant Vice President for Budget, Financial Planning and Analytics.

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