Alliance 2023 Wrap-up

The Higher Education User Group's annual conference wrapped up this Wednesday. It was incredible to catch up with old friends, discuss challenges and trends faced by small and large institutions, and discuss how they are adapting to the changing world inherent in the industry. Here are some of my reactions and observations.

If I were to sum up the two prevailing topics I observed, they would be the following:

  1. Addressing challenges related to decreasing enrollment at either the institutional level or with enrollment of special populations of students.
  2. Addressing challenges related to integrating with technologies to support their admissions / enrollment goals.

This is a difference from prior years, where the focus had generally been to learn how to get more ROI out of their systems.  Historically, this would generally encompass the following:

  • Tips for deploying new functionality in systems
  • Understanding how other schools are using those systems
  • Understanding product roadmaps to allow them to prepare to adopt that functionality. 

Instead of letting their SIS vendor provide leadership in how to meet their goals, institutions seem to be looking for ways to meet those goals themselves with a mix of techniques and technologies outside of the student information system.

Student Enrollment Topics

One of the most significant trends I observed is the increased focus on finding and engaging different pockets of students to meet enrollment goals.  In the past, much of the focus of recruiting, admissions, and enrollment sessions were related to how to reduce the cost and effort to admit traditional students.  Today, there were a number of sessions specifically dedicated to specialized populations:

  • Re-admitting students who left the institution (with a special focus on those who left during the COVID pandemic)
  • Engaging with students earlier in their academic career through dual-enrollment options
  • Focusing on the student experience during the admissions process for all student types while balancing the needs for compliance, diversity, and inclusion.

Here are a few sessions that I found extremely powerful in this area:

9972 - Miami Dade College presents:  Not your traditional admissions application

This session described the journey MDC followed to create an application for admissions that was simple, streamlined, and available on mobile as well as desktop browsers.  The process that they followed, was to put the focus on the student, who he/she is, and his/her goals.

Here are few points that I found extremely interesting:

  • The experience was guided by a series of questions that helped the candidate determine who he/she is and his/her goals.  The experience afterwards was driven by the answers to these questions.
  • MDC built this solution outside of their PeopleSoft Student information system, with a focus on using real-time integration back to PeopleSoft via PeopleSoft's web services and some additional integration points using web services.
  • There was a robust discussion in the Q&A about how to balance the need to have a streamlined experience while meeting a number of thorny compliance requirements. One particular item of interest to me was the specific rules related to determining Florida residency.  I was fortunate enough to chat with the presenters at the lobby bar to delve into more detail (since we're solving the same problem for other Florida institutions with our application for admissions product).

Here is a link to the session details

9574 - Stop hassling your returning student with a long admission application!

This session was presented by Enoch Woo from the California State University's Chancellor's office. CSU has a system-wide initiative to re-engage students who left member institutions within the last few years.  The goal was to eliminate as much data entry as possible by the candidate, but also fit within the admissions processes already in place.

Because the CSU system has its own common application, there were some unique challenges in addressing them.  Instead of trying to create a new application in either their CSU common app framework or another framework, they had a very innovative approach: build a bolt-on into PeopleSoft linked into the student center.

There are a few things that needed to be done to allow this to happen:

  • Students need to have an active login with the IDM and PeopleSoft.  This means the the policy for deactivating accounts would need to change to allow unenrolled students access.
  • To adhere to their internal admissions process, a new application would be generated in the PeopleSoft tables. This is done via SQL.
  • Because the UI isn't re-creating all of the options in the original application for admissions, anything that isn't available in the bolt-on UI must be locked down and not allowed to be changed. For example: Degree and Program cannot be modified, but bio/demo data can.

What makes this very interesting is that CSU is able to provide this with minimal development and integration impact.

Here is a link to the session details

9788 - Inclusion, diversity and compliance -- keeping sane while reacting to new admissions requirements

In this session, Rose State College described how they adapted to initiatives and requirements that affected their admissions process and application for admissions on short notice.  Their guiding principles were to protect their recent gains in enrollment and application processing efficiency, to minimize the impact to IT and the organization of implementing these changes, and to allow them to continue to follow their ongoing continuous process improvement policy.

Key topics are as follows:

  • An overview of the solution (our application for admissions product) and benefits reaped in improved engagement, increased application volume, improved yield, and reduced application processing effort.
  • Changes that were driven by recent Oklahoma laws that needed to be implemented with little or no warning.  The most significant of these are related to residency.
  • Changes that were driven by initiatives from the President's office.  These include:
    • Increasing enrollment by making it easier for former students to be re-admitted
    • Improving dual enrollment engagement and support through better engagement with parents with email and documentation management automation
    • Additional highly selective education programs and their questions
    • Simplifying the degree audit by capturing additional data in the admissions process
  • Changes that were driven by technology initiatives including a PeopleSoft upgrade and email migration.
  • Improving ADA compliance.

The key difference in approach between Rose State College and the other institutions addressing similar challenges is that RSC is using a packaged application for admissions software product instead of developing it themselves.

Here's a link to the session details.

Admission Integration Topics

From an admissions integration perspective, a number of sessions had topics related to integrating integrating between a CRM, Student Information System, and the application for admissions.  Because institutions are using a variety of products in these areas, the discussion topics were very diverse.

9621 - Admissions CRM integration on the cheap - how to use delivered processes and creativity to integrate

University of Louisville and University of Michigan gave an excellent presentation putting structure around the approach for being successful with integrating your SIS and CRM together.  Although there was a wide variety of tools and techniques discussed in terms of the technology considerations for doing this, I found the topic of the overall methodology the most compelling part.

The topic I'm describing is one where each school had to determine what the system of record was for applicants and each stage of the admissions process, and how that affects the direction of integration and the timing of when that integration needs to run.  Considerations that they discussed were as follows:

  • How do you handle prospects versus applications?
  • How do you handle person data versus application data?
  • How do you handle updates made to applications?
  • How do you handle residency?
  • How do you handle non-standard application data?

I was also fascinated by the University of Louisville's explanation about how they reversed the direction of flow in their integration at go-live -- and how that affected the sequence of events at their go-live.

Here's a link to the session details.

Roundtables, Birds of a Feather, and Other 

Instead of breaking out the other integration topics by session, I wanted to finish up by describing some of the other integration topics / discussions in roundtables, birds of a feather, and other sessions.

  • A number of sessions described various tools that were used to reformat data for flat file integrations.  These included file parser, ETL tools such as informatica, and development tools such as python.
  • Another key topic of conversation was how to invoke processing of integrations.  Generally these were discussed in the context of flat file integrations that institutions were performing.  One of the most common feature discussed was the process scheduler capability of triggering processing based on a file or a condition in the system called pop select (it used to be called deamon processing back when it was originally implemented).
  • Both Miami Dade and Rose State College discussed how they utilized a combination of AAWS (Admissions Application Web Services) and integration broker to integrate application and person data for real-time processing.
  • Finally, the CSU Chancellor's office described how they were able to utilize SQL to integrate historical student data with re-admit applications.

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