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Student Information Systems for Higher Education: Improving Admission and Retention Rates

Colleges are currently fighting a war on two fronts: admissions, which have steadily been declining over the past two decades, and retention rates. These two challenges are making it harder for higher education facilities to maintain revenue and is, therefore, forcing them to reevaluate how they operate.

One way that colleges can help combat these challenges is by addressing a third challenge they currently face: upgrading their outdated legacy systems. The digitalization of the education sector has been slowly gaining steam, and modern student information systems (SIS) allow higher education institutions to address these problems by improving the student experience.

A Pressing Need

Before we discuss the digitalization of the education sector, let's explore the dilemma faced by higher education institutions:   

  • According to Pew Research, approximately 45% of colleges surveyed experienced a 10% drop in admissions at a minimum between 2002 and 2017.
  • Pew Research has also noted that, while overall admissions are generally down, the number of applications has nearly doubled between 2002 and 2017.
  • A third of students that enroll in a university will actually graduate, according to a joint study by the New York Times and the Urban Institute’s Center on Education Data and Policy.
  • For the 2019-2020 school year, the average tuition in the United States increased by nearly 4%, continuing the trend of increasing costs to students, according to US News.
  • According to the Cappex College Admissions Counseling Survey, the average acceptance rate in the US is 56%, meaning students have options when it comes to where they enroll.

As admissions decrease and competition increases, colleges are forced to find new ways to attract and retain students. While these initiatives take a variety of forms, most come down to improving the student experience. Fortunately, advances in SIS for higher education make it easier to both improve and monitor the employee experience.

Digitalization in the Education Sector

While the problem of improving student admissions and retention is an institution-wide problem, IT has a key role in addressing these challenges, a fact that most in the IT space are keenly aware of. EDUCAUSE’s top 10 IT Issues for 2020 listed “Student retention and completion” at #6 and “Improved Enrollment” at #7.

Technology plays a big role in defining the student experience. Many potential students’ first interaction with a college is with the website and, subsequently, with the online application process. Even after they have enrolled, a student’s digital experience colors how they see a university.

Transforming the Student Experience

A modern SIS improves the student experience by:

  • Creating a better user experience when interacting with a college digitally. Students’ expectations when it comes to technology have changed. They expect a digital interaction to be like the seamless, intuitive experience they have using apps. They also expect to be able to access their data, submit documents, and view their application status directly on their phone.
  • Speeding up admissions and other processes. Modern SIS tools allow higher education institutions to set up sophisticated rule hierarchies for admissions as well as other features that allow admissions counselors to better filter out poor applicants, approve or deny applications in groups, and speed up overall review time. The result is that students get responses faster.
  • Providing more opportunities for students and applicants to self-service. With a modern SIS solution, applicants can easily see if they are missing any items and submit those items. This type of self-service empowers applicants and students while reducing the time staff spends on fielding student inquiries.  
  • Making the admissions process less stressful. Applying to colleges is a stress-inducing process for most applicants, so making the admission process as frictionless as possible needs to be a priority.

Tracking Student Success at Scale

Digitalization in the education sector doesn’t just change how a student interacts with higher education institutions; it drastically changes how those institutions monitor their students and gauge success. Modern SIS for higher education provide a wealth of analytic data, such as enrollment trend reports and academic planning reports, allowing administrators the ability to identify opportunities for improving both admissions and student retention.

Moving data from legacy SIS, where it is often siloed, into a cloud-based system allows it to be centralized and standardized, making it more readily available and always up to date. Ultimately, this will lead to better decision-making across the institution.

Here’s an example: after implementing a new SIS, a university can use historical data to identify the different qualities and factors that best fit the university. It is then possible to take this into account when setting up enrollment rules and thus home in on better applicants.  

Adopting Modern Student Information Systems for Higher Education

While sticking with a legacy system may seem more cost-effective, the long-term benefits of adopting a new, cloud-based solution can justify the expense. By delivering a better student experience, a modern SIS can find and attract the best-fitting students for a university, which ensures a consistent revenue stream while reducing overhead at the same time.

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