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, Spotify and Facebook account. 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 to 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.

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’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, Senior Business Analyst at the University of Minnesota, 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. When systems don’t mesh, staff bear the burden. The solution is to start cutting. Prioritize processes that make information accessible when needed: Lose redundant applications, shadow systems, and other complicated processes. It saves administrators a hassle and can save thousands in costs.

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 Modern Campus Lifelong Learning 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," she said, "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.” 

One of their first results was the personalized services students received as part of their experience. 

“Where once learners would be hoping to speak with a particular staff member who knew their story, Lifelong Learning 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 said. “That means divisions aren’t losing constituent data that may otherwise have been lost to staff turnover.”


Scaling Non-Degree Education Integrations and Security Student Lifecycle Management

Last updated: February 1, 2021


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