The Problem: Tangled Like Spaghetti
A time always comes when a school outgrows homemade spreadsheets and ol’ Mrs. Johnson’s unique filing system. If you do not yet have an education management system, consider whether the following crazy situation sound a little like your school:
Since the associate dean is preparing the online annual report for the accrediting agency, she asks the librarian for various statistics. Being a new librarian, she does not know how to use your antiquated software yet. At the same time, you are trying to get student numbers, but a flurry of late admissions has the registrar too swamped to answer your email.
This is nothing compared to the financial records. They’re on paper and locked in a drawer. Of course, the CFO is on vacation and took the key. Best yet, the donor records are on a spreadsheet… you think. No one knows because the disgruntled former employee may have deleted them.
Is it getting hard to locate information when you need it? Hunting may be fun for a beagle, but how long can your registrar keep stalling the student standing at the desk who is waiting for a hopelessly lost file? At this point, you’re trying to decide between aspirin and ice cream.
Is your school reaching the point where you need more effective ways to track student attendance, finance, student progress, and class availability?
Might it be nice if a magic solution also processed payments, integrated with the library, helped with outcomes assessment, offered a platform for online classes, and even gave you access to pre-designed courses and potential faculty members?
Such a solution might also give students a way to track their grades within each course and a way for students and professors to communicate with each other.
If this sounds like something your staff and faculty could benefit from, it may be time to upgrade to professionally designed educational management software (EMS).
The Solution: Find the Right Education Management System
Choosing the right company to supply you with the right education management solution will take well-invested time since it must meet the data access needs of everyone involved: instructors, students, IT, finance staff, donors, etc.
Start by selecting a committee that has cross-institutional representation. Sometimes an instructor may also work in the administrative department and can, therefore, represent both groups. IT personnel will be needed to ensure privacy and security issues as well as to address concerns about integration with any existing software and hardware. Technical support, staffing, and finance are also a few departments that should be on the committee. Finally, keep in mind the students needs.
Before contacting any companies for demonstrations, the committee should prepare the following information.
- What do you want from your EMS and how will it fit into the overall teaching and learning structure?
- Who will view demonstrations?
- Make two lists: the must-have features and dream features (those that would be nice but are not necessary). Keep in mind that you will want a scalable solution. This is especially important if this is your first EMS. A small but growing school may not need a full-featured system right away, but it may certainly grow along with your institution’s more complex needs.
- Determine a tentative budget.
- Develop a tentative timeline for demonstrations, purchases, and implementation.
- Get references and begin listing possible companies.
With this starting point, the committee can begin shopping around and viewing demonstrations.
How to Identify a Good Education Management System
A good Education Management system provides a connected, integrated solution, thus reducing work and cutting costs. Look for a right-sized solution that can accommodate future growth and needs; for instance, there should be the ability to customize features as they are needed.
Ask lots of questions about technical support and training. Technical support should be available during your working hours. What training do they offer? Better companies are always working on new, improved functionality, guaranteeing customers are never stuck with an antiquated software solution. Does the company provide new updates as they become available so that a current customer is never treated less than a new customer?
You want to be able to track all aspects of your school in one database not several spreadsheets that are on different computers belonging to 10 different employees.
The right EMS will be user friendly to faculty, students, parents, and the finance office all while keeping private information private. Each group using your system should have their own login account and specific data access for each. For example, staff should be able to contact students and parents and look at their replies without access to the school’s financial or other student information.
Implementation and training should be provided for all. Custom reporting, if needed, should also be on the list.
After narrowing down the choices to perhaps three EMS solutions, ask for a second demonstration from each that will include a larger group of staff, faculty, and top decision makers.
In making the final decision, keep in mind that a good education management company will understand that schools are not “cookie cutter” in their needs. The company should offer customization.
Jennifer Shaddox is a Solutions Consultant for Orbund, a company that supplies web tools for education management. For a free demo, email Jennifer at [email protected], or call her at either (877) 536-3266 ext 102 or direct at (913) 602-1069. You will find the customization and ongoing improvements that assure your school will never be stuck with an antiquated software solution.