Stop Trying to Squeeze CE into Main Campus Systems

Stop Trying to Squeeze CE into Main Campus Systems


Your phone links with your car, your speakers, and maybe even your fridge. Same with your Gmail account, same with your Spotify, same with your Facebook. Seamless simplicity is our new normal.

The reason for this is that things work better when they’re working together. If your phone and car link up when you turn the key in the ignition, you don’t need fidget with cables and in-car dashboards before you get going. The work has been automated, consolidated and seamlessly integrated to make sure you spend your time doing only what you came to.

In higher education, the first attempt at this kind of integration was the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. The ERP system came onto the scene about 20 years ago to simplify operational management for main campuses. At the time, there were only two options: ERP or best-of-breed, where institutions would have to manage several—sometimes dozens—of independent tools that did one specific thing very well. While it’s up for debate how well ERP systems have worked for main campuses, they’ve really slowed innovation and growth for CE divisions.

ERP Systems Don’t Work for Continuing Education

Rob Lowden, Associate Vice President of Enterprise Systems at Indiana University at the time of writing, told The EvoLLLution that ERPs pledged to numb the headache of managing each system in its own siloed way.

“The promise of ERP was seamless integration of multiple functions into one streamlined system that would ultimately lead to efficiency, accuracy and related advantages,” Lowden said.

It’s a promise that wasn’t kept. Instead, according to Lowden, ERPs left divisions picking up the pieces with countless shadow systems that barely cover the cracks for staff and students alike.

Tailor-made SLM systems can be tailored to suit CE’s needs by consolidating your school’s numerous processes and mapping cleanly onto main campus systems.

“The unfulfilled promise of ERP has resulted in complex integrations over time. Shadow systems emerged to atone for the sins of initial ERP implementations. Over time, the shadow systems created substantial integration complexity and a dismal user experience,” Lowden said.

Non-traditional divisions can’t be treated like main campus divisions. Their needs are different, their goals are different and the way they conduct business bears little resemblance to traditional education.

Student Lifecycle Management (SLM) software is a common means of addressing the divisional disparities caused by poor integration. Tailor-made SLM systems can be tailored to suit CE’s needs by consolidating your school’s numerous processes and mapping cleanly onto main campus systems. Deep integrations into main campus systems also ensure that CE units can do the unique work they’re designed to do, while still maintaining a single version of truth in main campus ERP or SIS tools.

Here are four ways main campus systems work against CE divisions, and four ways to make them start working for you.

They’re Too Rigid

The main campus journey is often a straight line. Degrees and other credit-bearing programs are built on the semester schedule. They have firm deadlines, start dates and endpoints that are easy for traditional divisions and ERP systems to track and make sense of.

Non-traditional divisions, conversely, aren’t so traditional. Non-degree, non-semestered programs require a system that lends itself to the flexibility that CE students demand.

Sandi Pershing, Assistant Vice President of Outreach and Engagement and Dean of Continuing Education at the University of Utah, told The EvoLLLution that this procedural stiffness hurts a division’s ability to develop and deliver programming.

“You might try to run a class within continuing education that’s outside normal semester timelines, so it doesn’t work with the traditional campus database,” Pershing said. “In situations like this, you have to build outside systems to work around the traditional system, which can be cumbersome.”

Non-traditional divisions, conversely, aren’t so traditional. Non-degree, non-semestered programs require a system that lends itself to the flexibility that CE students demand.

Rather than building new systems to paper over the old ones, divisions should prioritize methodologies that acknowledge CE’s non-traditional needs. SLM systems can answer the call when they’re built to compliment Continuing Education divisions, letting them set their own timelines and work at their own pace.

They Aren’t "On-Brand"

It’s fine that Facebook doesn’t look like your banking app. They’re two different programs, with nothing to do with one another. But if you experienced a totally different color scheme when shifting from your Facebook feed to your messages, it would absolutely be confusing!

Having a single institution convey multiple systems with multiple personalities and multiple brandings creates an inconsistent experience for students—one that’s as disorganized as it is visually confusing. It can be hard for students to adjust to their digital surroundings when they change with every click.

Paige Francis, Associate Chief Information Officer at the University of Arkansas, says schools should focus instead on bringing all your elements together to give the institution a “face”.

“Integration of systems allows for a seamless user experience,” Francis said. “Regardless of the number of wildly sporadic systems, when tied together, the ‘face’ of the business is empowered to look and feel consistent across the entire environment.”

Consolidate your school’s many systems by putting them all under one tent. When students know what your institution “looks” like, it makes them more comfortable navigating its digital halls.

They’re Outdated

Like a lot of legacy systems, many main campus systems have created redundancies that obstruct workflows and prevent them from focusing on the student experience.

It’s common for schools to host dozens of systems from multiple vendors, each doing essentially the same thing. Kristy Davis, Associate Director for Academic Support Resources-IT at UMN, says it creates a culture of complexity that’s off-putting to students and stressful for staff.

“It created a number of redundancies and the impact was felt in the complexity of our environment, the inconsistency of the student experience and the challenges faced by staff in managing their offerings,” Davis said.

Systems like these have outstayed their welcome. Staff don’t have time to develop their divisions when they’re fumbling with inefficiencies of this scale.

When systems don’t mesh, staff bear the burden. At University of Utah, Pershing said her division has had to prop up outdated processes with shadow systems and manual processes that feel “seamless” to students—but require constant work on the back-end.

“We’ve had to create a shadow system that works behind the scenes to process these sorts of classes,” Pershing said. “We should provide a seamless experience, even if we’re working within a system that would not otherwise feel seamless. It creates extra work for us, certainly, but we want the student to feel that their enrollment process is as easy as buying a book off of Amazon.”

The catch-all for problems like these is to start cutting. Prioritize processes that make information accessible the moment it’s needed: Lose redundant applications, shadow systems and other processes that complicate simple tasks. Not only will it spare administrators a hassle, but it can save tens of thousands in merchant account costs, monthly fees and other administration activities.

They’re Unsafe

Higher education institutions are gold mines for hackers. Schools can host tens of thousands of students, each with credit card information that’s there for the taking when systems have been poorly integrated.

“We collect social security numbers, passport data, credit card numbers and a host of other personal information, all of which is just what hackers want,” wrote Joel Rosenblatt, Director of Computer and Network Security at Columbia University.

Best-of-breed systems that have been cobbled together by ERPs leave multiple entry points for hackers. Not every system has airtight security, and the more access points you leave for cybercriminals, the more likely they’ll find a hole in your fence.

Just like a real-world fortress, the solution is one point of entry. Anyone who comes in, be they student, staff or spy, has to come through the front door. SLM systems are the safest bet for this, erecting and monitoring a single 50-foot gate that provides easy access to the people that need it, and a face full of wall for anybody else.

Integrate CE with Main Campus Systems

A well-integrated CE division fulfills the promises ERP systems couldn’t keep. They allow the greater institution to use its main campus system to keep doing their thing as the “system of record,” but give non-traditional divisions the ability to operate with the flexibility they need to stay agile and accommodating in a shifting market.

At the University of Minnesota, Kristy Davis and her team made an investment in the Destiny One SLM system to reduce their reliance on shadow systems. Not only did they cut costs across the board, but she said they also improved the experience they were delivering on the front and back ends.

“Before the consolidation, non-credit units and programs across the University of Minnesota used numerous registration systems, and consolidating into one system has increased efficiencies around registrations and the overall administration of non-credit courses and conferences being offered by divisions across the university,” Davis told the EvoLLLution, adding that personalized service is one of many benefits that students experience on the front end.

“Where once learners would be hoping to speak with a particular staff member who knew their story, Destiny One keeps all that information available so that staff members can immediately know a student’s background and serve them accordingly, without forcing them to tell their tale from the start over and over again,” Davis wrote. “That means divisions aren’t losing constituent data that may otherwise have been lost to staff turnover.”


Student Lifecycle Management Scaling Non-Degree Education Integrations and Security

Last updated: February 1, 2021


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