Populi: The Software, The Service, The Company

Just now hearing about Populi? Here's an introduction to what we do and how we do it.

First released in 2007, Populi is web-based software that can handle nearly everything a small college needs. At its heart, it's a student information system that manages all your academic records and student transcripts. But it does a lot more than that! It's a complete learning management system that lets your faculty deliver online courses or keep track of what's happening in the classroom—everything from grading assignments to gated lessons to guided discussions. It's an admissions CRM that helps you shepherd students all the way through the application process. It's a complete student billing solution that handles tuition, fees, payments, and anything else that affects your accounts receivable. It's a financial aid servicer that connects with the DoED, packages aid awards, handles disbursements and refunds, and generates forms like 1098-Ts.

Oh, and it also handles reporting, donations, your library, the school bookstore, communications, scheduling, dorm rooms, and lots of other things besides. And if you have other software, Populi has loads of integrations—Canvas, Google, to name a couple—as well as SSO, Active Directory support, and a terrific API.

All of it works together as one, single, unified system. Nothing demonstrates this better than a person's profile, which shows everything they've done, what they're doing now, and what they plan to do next. You first create a profile for a prospective student to manage her inquiries and applications. When she's accepted, the application info feeds right into her academic record. You start packaging her financial aid awards. When she enrolls in courses, tuition charges automatically trigger. Financial aid disburses right to her account, and she pays the rest using Populi's online payments. Her courses, built by your faculty right in Populi, let her submit assignments, take tests, participate in discussions, and work her way through lessons. At the end of the term, her course grades flow right into her transcript and updates her degree progress. And this repeats, term after term, until finally you confer a degree and she graduates. After that you keep in touch with her and start recording her monthly recurring donation. Everything you know about her, applicant to alum, all in one place, all in Populi.

Everyone at your school can use Populi to do their part. High-level administrators, students, faculty, advisors, financial staff, librarians, and so on—whoever they are at your school, Populi gives them access to the tools and information they need, from any computer or mobile device. That's because Populi is (and always has been!) 100% web-based. There's no need to download software or maintain anything on your own servers. What's more, that lets us handle security, keeping your data safe through a combination of advanced hardware, daily data backups, encrypted connections, keen-eyed developers, and our unswerving dedication to keeping your data secure and private.

Behind all of this is the company, an employee-owned outfit in Moscow, Idaho, staffed by folks who've been working together for a long time, who are in this for the long-haul. We do all development in-house and nearly everyone here gets involved in customer support. We're all experienced and knowledgeable about how to make Populi do the most for your school. Populi is inconceivable without timely, helpful, and friendly support, and that's why it's included for every customer for free.

Finally, pricing. $199 a month, plus $7 per student per month. Populi includes the software, all maintenance and updates, implementation, migration of core academic and financial data, and customer support. Our business model is that of Software as a Service (SaaS), which means we own the software and you pay us monthly to use it. You, that is, you, own your data and you can take it and leave at any time. Our agreement includes no length of term, no cancellation fees, no hidden stuff, no nonsense. All of our hundreds of clients are on this same pricing model and any one of them could leave next month. This puts a healthy pressure on us to serve you well. We only get to see you next month if we take care of you this month.

That's Populi. To learn more, have a look at our features, what your people can do with it, and how other schools have benefited from our approach... or for the most in-depth look, get a demo!

Tips For Writing Support Requests

People really like Populi’s customer support, and it seems that we really like to provide it. At some point or other, close to 100% of the people who work here have interacted with a user in need of help—whether it’s a technical issue caused by a software bug, a new feature that requires some training, a question about how a Populi workflow supports your school’s process, or anything else. Support is baked in to everything we do here; this company is unthinkable without it.

Support’s job is to make sure Populi’s working for your school. If something’s getting in the way of that, that’s where you come in: you get to describe the problem to us so we know what to fix. Accordingly, here are some pointers on how to write support requests that help us help you—swiftly and knowledgeably.

Details, Details

When explaining your issue to us, give us as many specific details about the problem as you can. For example, if you tell us that “The course button isn’t working,” we’ll need to pepper you with questions. “Which button?” “Which course?” “What were you trying to do?” But if you write in with, “I tried clicking the Add Course button on Academic Term > Courses, but I got a red error message saying that this isn’t permitted. I clicked this button yesterday with no trouble.” Using that information, we could instantly surmise that the update that we pushed at the end of the day yesterday inadvertently created a permissions error; your detailed message told us right where the problem is—and how to fix it. We know not every issue is as cut-and-dried as this example, but you get the idea: the right details from you help us take action quickly.

(Details we never need: Social Security Numbers and passwords! Never include those in your request, whether in the message, an attached file, or a screenshot. They definitely won't help us solve your issue, but sending them could expose them to eyeballs with no right to view them!)

Include URLs

URL, of course, stands for Uniform Resource Locator, which is nerd-ese for “web page address”. If you’re having trouble on a particular page or with a particular student’s profile, for example, including a URL helps us zoom in on the issue more accurately. If you tell us that you’re “having trouble with student charges”, we’ll have to ask for examples. But write in with “This student was overcharged, and for the wrong fees, to boot,” we have a specific instance of your problem to dig into.

Pictures Tell a Thousand Words

Lots of times, we can’t see what you can—that’s the nature of how Populi and its user permissions work. Screenshots can provide us with important details about your issue, showing us exactly what you’re seeing. Depending on your device, you should have the ability to take screenshots and attach them to your support requests. Look up the instructions for taking screenshots on Windows or Mac, memorize them, or make a cheat sheet. To that end, this website may come in handy.

Tone Matters

As they say, you catch more flies with honey. In this idiom, “flies” are “helpful support responses” and “honey” is the sweet disposition of your request. What a terrible metaphor! But I’m on a deadline, so I’m sticking with it.

We understand: you’re just trying to do your job, and you click “Add Student” and the whole page turns upside down on you—no student has been added, but a headache has been added to your temples. Now you gotta write support and tell us that the dumb button isn’t working, and you can’t finish the day’s work until the dumb button works again. The temptation is to write in, both fists banging on the keyboard, something about “Your dumb button doesn’t work because you guys are dumb, too!!!!”

Now how do you think that makes us feel? We’re not AI chatbots. We are humans and we need to be loved.

Kidding aside, professional courtesies do matter. If you’re looking for help, it’s easier to get it when your message is friendly rather than condescending or angry. Remember, we have no fondness for that “Add Course” bug, either!

Don’t Agonize

All that said, don’t worry about getting it perfect. “Perfect is the enemy of the good enough,” goes another proverb—if it’s a choice between letting us know about your issue or holding off until you have all the pertinent details and URLs and screenshots you think we’ll need, we’ll take the first each and every time! Just send in the request and the ball will start rolling. If we need more from you, we’ll ask.

This is our Pleasure

Whatever the condition or completeness of your request, we’re in the problem-solving business and we delight in helping you solve yours. That’s our demeanor towards all your requests, so approach us in that confidence that we really are happy to hear from you.

Populi’s integration with Turnitin

We’re pleased to announce Populi’s new integration with Turnitin, which lets faculty check student assignment submissions for plagiarism.

Some four years ago, Populi added an integration with Unicheck, another plagiarism-checking service that has since been acquired by Turnitin. Our integration with Turnitin arrives as it begins to migrate Unicheck’s software and customers over to its own services. If you’re already signed up for Unicheck and using it with Populi, that integration will continue to work (for the time being). If you want to add plagiarism-checking to your school’s Populi courses, you’ll now start by contacting Turnitin.

Setup

Here’s how to set up the Turnitin integration in Populi—it’s just a few simple steps.

First, you’ll set up a Scope and Key in Turnitin. Doing this creates the credentials that will let Populi and Turnitin communicate. After creating that, you’ll grab the API Secret.

Setting up Turnitin in Populi Integrations

Next, your Populi account administrator will tote that Turnitin API Secret over to Account > Integrations. After plugging that and a few other items into Populi, all your faculty will have the option to check plagiarism in File and Essay-type assignments (as well as the peer-review versions of those) and essay questions in online tests. You can also check individual discussion posts or replies.

Readying assignments for plagiarism-checking

Setting up an assignment to check for plagiarism

When creating an assignment, select one of the assignment types mentioned above and the dialog will show you your plagiarism options: do you want to automatically check student work as soon as it’s submitted? (If you don’t check the box, you can run manual plagiarism checks as-needed.) And do you wish to make the reports visible to students? For graded discussions, you won’t see these options when you create the assignment; you’ll be able to check individual posts as you see fit. If you need to change anything you’ve set up here, you can always adjust the plagiarism settings on the assignment page’s Info panel.

Checking for plagiarism

Here’s how the plagiarism checks work.

The check for plagiarism button on an assignment

A student submits an assignment—let’s say it’s a File-type assignment. If you’ve set it to automatically check for plagiarism, Turnitin starts crunching through the file as soon as Populi has processed the student’s upload. If you’re not automatically checking, you’ll go to the student’s submission and click the plagiarism-check symbol. While Turnitin runs the check, you’ll see a spinner icon twirling around. As soon as the check is completed, the spinner turns into a symbol with a percentage, which is derived from Turnitin’s Similarity score. Click the symbol to see the full Similarity report.

Similarity scores on the assignment grading page

You can also get a look at the Similarity report by looking over the assignment’s grading page, where each student’s score is presented alongside rubrics and grades.

Checking a test essay question for plagiarism

To check test essay questions, go to the test’s page and click the History view. Click the start time for the student’s test. If you’ve set the test assignment to automatically check for plagiarism, it will start running the check on essay answers as soon as you open the student’s test attempt. If not, you’ll click the icon to run the check manually.

Checking a discussion post for plagiarism

For graded discussions, go to the post you’d like to check. Click the ellipsis symbol and select Check For Plagiarism and so cajole Turnitin to start doing what it does.

Want to learn more?

And there it is: plagiarism-checking in Populi with Turnitin (and if you already have it set up, Unicheck, for now). As always, the Knowledge Base has all the details, and if you need further assistance, Populi Support would love to hear from you.

1098-Ts in Populi

Tax season will soon be upon us, and it won’t be long before you’ll want to release 1098-Ts to your students. Here’s a look at what you’ll need to know about the 2021 forms and how Populi can help you get the job done.

First, a quick overview of the process before we dig into the details:

  1. On the first day of the year, Populi automatically generates 1098-Ts for all students who were charged or enrolled sometime in the previous year. The forms are populated by information from the students' records.
  2. Once that happens, the 1098-T report updates for the new calendar year. Starting there, your team checks amounts, deals with any error notifications, and makes any necessary adjustments.
  3. You release the 1098-Ts to your students.
  4. Finally, you use the export options to send out the released forms and even generate a file to use with the IRS' e-File system.

Deadlines and requirements

2021’s 1098-Ts need to be released to your students by January 31, 2022. You’ll need to file these forms with the IRS by February 28. As for reporting requirements (which sometimes change from one year to the next), there are no new changes: you’re still reporting any qualified expenses—tuition, fees, and any required enrollment expenses—paid for a student in the 2021 tax year... which Populi has already compiled for you!

Of course, if you have any questions about the official IRS instructions, you can find them at ye olde I-R-S-dot-GOV website.

Using the 1098-T report

Populi 1098-T Report

The report in Financial Aid > Reporting > 1098-T gives you all the tools you need to review, revise, release, and export the forms. It shows you what Populi has automatically calculated for the 1098-T's various boxes based on the Student Billing and Financial Aid information you’ve been entering throughout the previous year. For a detailed look at the numbers we crunched for each box, click the magnifying glass to see how Populi used the figures from all relevant invoices, payments, and awards.

Adjusting values for a student 1098-T

Should you find numbers that need revision—maybe your school started with Populi partway through the year and some of the information is tied up in another system—click the pencil to adjust any of the values for that student’s form. After you save your revisions, a plus sign will appear next to the student's name. And if you see an orange triangle, you’ll need to go to that student’s Profile and enter their Social Security Number. Without that, the form can’t be submitted to the IRS!

(If you find yourself in that incomplete 1098-T data boat, this Support article describes how to import that information from another system into Populi.)

To see how the numbers will appear on the IRS form, click the eye to preview the student's 1098-T.

Releasing and exporting

Release 1098-Ts

Once the numbers look good, you can release them to your students—all at once or just a few at a time. Check next to the students’ names, click Actions, and select Release. Review the information in the dialog: the College EIN and phone number are drawn from Financial Aid > Settings, and the checkbox certifies that you’ve done your darndest to make sure these forms are as accurate and complete as possible. Finally, click Release to Students. Once you do that, the students will be able to find and download their forms on their Profile > Financial > Dashboards (and be notified by email).

Export 1098-Ts

After release, you can make use of the Export actions to generate the forms in various formats: Excel, CSV, or PDFs (in case you need to mail them to students). You can also generate a TXT file that you can upload to the IRS e-File system.

Thus, 1098-Ts in Populi. They take a huge burden off your staff and their ease and simplicity are not unknown to bring grown men to tears. Of course, if you need further pointers, Populi Support would love to hear from you.

A Look Back at 2021

2021 has been a big year for Populi!

Because our primary focus day-to-day is improving the functionality of Populi, most of what we’re highlighting here are improvements we’ve made to the tool. But there are a few other tidbits mixed in as well.

Student View

Our first feature of 2021 allowed instructors to see the course as a student would:

  • They can see what a student’s general POV on a course is—how assignments look, tests, lessons, etc.
  • They can also do basic troubleshooting on student complaints; determine whether or not a student should be able to see or access a given assignment, and so on.

Export Helper Improvements

These improvements make getting reports out of Populi even easier with:

  • Some slick new icons to distinguish between types of fields
  • The ability to save regularly-used field sets and share them with your work buddies

Duplicate Assignments

Instructors’ lives were made even better by:

  • Following the quick and easy process of copying previously-created assignments
  • Not spending time doing this manually

People Merger

Copies aren’t always good, though—we added the People Merger to help consolidate any profiles with duplicates into a singular profile.

New Website

Let’s take a quick break from features to talk about the fact that we redesigned our website this year!

The new site possesses a cleaner feel and more personality. You’re on the blog on the new site now, but click over to populi.co to have a look around—we particularly enjoy the Customers page where a bunch of the amazing people from the institutions we work with say nice things about us. It’s not conceited, it’s just… validating.

Login Approvals Update

We updated the way our Login Approvals work.

  • 2FA changed from text messaging to using authenticator apps - a better solution for login security.
  • This helps us sleep at night knowing that we’re doing everything we can to keep your data safe.

Percent-Based Awards

This year, institutions gained the ability to offer percent-based Financial Aid awards.

Rather than a specific amount, percent-based awards auto-calculate awards based on a students cost of attendance, or their invoiced term amounts.

Financial Auditor Role

  • Read-only access to all financial information
  • Able to see everything to do with finances but unable to make any changes—look, but don’t touch

Forms Beta

This is a big one and, even though it’s not officially released, we’re excited about it. This feature lets you design custom forms to collect data from students seamlessly within Populi.

The beta of the feature went live this year. We’re working out some bugs here and there before we push it live to everyone, but if you’d like to be part of the beta, reach out to and we’ll get you set up.

We anticipate that Forms will be available to everyone in early 2022.

Infrastructure Improvements

Without getting into the technical details, our development team did some amazing work strengthening Populi’s infrastructure. It’s one of those things that’s incredibly important, but at the same time, it’s not very visible. Trust us, though—they’ve done great work to enable Populi to continue to add more users while maintaining reliability.

Live Events

  • We’ve done a couple of live events and thought they were great. Here’s a link to a past one.
  • We’re planning to do more.
  • Click here to enter your email so you’ll receive updates about upcoming Livestream events!

Christmas & New Year’s Hours

Finally, a bit of housekeeping—our offices will be closed for the holidays starting on Thursday, Dec. 23 and we’ll be back in the office Monday, Jan. 3. You can still send support requests during that time through Populi Support or by emailing .

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Populi!

Feature spotlight: Percentage-based financial aid awards

We recently added percentage-based aid awards to Financial Aid. These awards cover a certain percentage of a student's charges (as opposed to a set amount) and automatically calculate the appropriate amount for each student who receives that award. For example, you offer an award that covers 10% of tuition for full- and part-time grad students. One of your full-time students is invoiced $14,320 in tuition and a part-timer is charged $5,660. The award automatically calculates $1,432 for the first student and $566 for the second.

Specific instructions are, of course, readily at hand in the Knowledge Base article; but here's an overview of how to set up, offer, and disburse these awards...

The storyline

  1. You start an aid application for a student. The aid classification in the app includes COA categories.
  2. You offer a student the percentage-based award. Populi calculates an amount based on the COA categories.
  3. After the student accepts the award, the disbursements are calculated based on the offered amount and are then scheduled.
  4. The student enrolls and charges are invoiced. The award auto-calculates the final offered amount—and the disbursements—based on the invoiced amount.

Setup

Beyond setting up a percentage-based aid award type, most of the setup for these awards happens on the aid application side. You can either set up new items or modify existing ones to make sure they accommodate these awards.

  • COA Categories: You can direct an award to apply only to certain kinds of charges or let it cover a portion of all types of charges. For example, an award might be used to pay part of a student's tuition and fees. Use COA Categories to define the parts of an overall COA.
  • Aid Classifications: Include the relevant COA Categories and then enter the amounts. The figures here will be used to calculate the award's amount when you offer it to the student.
  • Award Types: Naturally, you'll want to set up a percentage-based award type. When adding the new award, check next to Percentage-based and then indicate the charge types (your COA Categories!) and the percentage this award will cover. (You can also set up an Aid Year Schedule for this award type while you're at it.)

The aid application process

Although it's not likely, you may end up modifying COA for individual students in their aid applications. Percentage awards are pegged to the amounts entered in an individual student's application, whether they were put in manually or inherited from an aid classification.

Packaging aid

When you offer a percentage-based award to a student, you'll do so just as you do for any other award type. If you've followed all the setup steps, Populi will automatically calculate an amount based on the numbers in the student's application. If you haven't set up all the items covered above, you can still offer an award, but you'll need to calculate the amount yourself.

In either case, the amount in an offered award is essentially a placeholder: the actual award amount will be based on what the student is invoiced. If you're including the award in an aid award letter, you should consider mentioning this.

Disbursing

Percentage-based awards are disbursed like any other award: via a disbursement batch. Although no special steps are necessary during the disbursement phase, you will want to pay attention to a few things before running the batch:

  • The disbursement amount will be calculated when term charges are invoiced.
  • Typical practice is to disburse aid after charges are invoiced. However, these steps may need to be reversed under certain circumstances. If you disburse a percentage-based award before charges are invoiced:
    • The amount will be based on what was offered, which you'll remember came from COA categories.
    • Should the invoiced amount ultimately differ from the offered amount, Populi will automatically generate either an additional disbursement (in case invoices exceed COA) or a refund-to-source (in case COA exceeds invoices). You'll have to run an additional batch to apply these to the student's account.
  • If need be, you can always manually-recalculate these awards on the Awards report or on Profile > Financial Aid.

Thus, percentage-based awards. If you have further questions about them, don't forget the Knowledge Base article; we're also happy to field your support requests.