Some astonishing numbers

This one's interesting to us because Washington State University is only about ten miles away from the Populi office... and because the numbers are so huge. According to this story in WSU's Daily Evergreen (the campus newspaper), the University is about to embark on a two-year, $15 million project to upgrade the "core information systems" to make things like the course catalog and student accounts accessible to students. One Michael Corwin, formerly of the University of Texas, will pull down $140,000 a year overseeing the project. Previously, the University had requested $1 million to "study their options".

We looked at our pricing page and roughed out some numbers for the 25,000+ student University. Figuring they'd go for the "Large" pricing plan, WSU could have Populi for about $1.3 million a year, and in 11 years, they would have spent what they're spending just to get their new system set up.

Now, we're not exactly aiming Populi at the State University market, but we did want to share our "same-planet-different-worlds" moment with y'all... especially that request for a million bucks just to study the options. We're sure Mr. Corwin's gonna earn his salary, and we're willing to admit that $15 million will get you some software... but 1,000,000 clams just to see what's out there? Astonishing.

Quick new update: Attendance Reporting

This one didn't quite make it in with our most recent release, but here it is now: we just released Attendance Reporting! Now you can view summaries of attendance stats for all your courses in a given term. Go to Academics, and under Term, click Attendance. Drawing on the attendance records taken in individual courses, the table shows you each student and how many presents, tardies, absents, etc. they've accumulated that term.  Filter the table down to see students who fit particular criteria (over a certain number of absences, for instance), and export them to a spreadsheet or email them all with one click. We've found that a lot of schools needed this sort of tool, and we're pleased to get it out there to them.

New Features: Bookstore and Credit Card Processing!

We're pleased to announce the release of a whole new section of Populi: the Bookstore. And hand-in-hand with Bookstore: Credit Card Processing!

Bookstore gives you all the tools to run your college bookstore, online and at the counter. Anyone can shop at your online storefront;
students can also link to it from their course reading lists. Promote your featured items and generate Buy Now links that you can integrate with your other websites. On the back-end side of things, you can customize  your categories, manage inventory, process orders, and check sales reports. The incredibly simple Point of Sale interface can run off a USB barcode scanner and credit card reader. All your sales get plugged right in to Populi Financial, with the ability to split out sales, shipping, and tax among your different accounts. And students can charge their Bookstore purchases to their regular Populi Financial accounts.

Before you can use your Bookstore, you'll need to take care of the settings (we walk you through those in the help desk). To get started on that, go to https://yourcollegename.
and click on Admin. Once it's all set up, all of your users will be able to navigate to it directly just by clicking the Bookstore link.

Meanwhile, you can get a feel for the working product with the Demo Bookstore. This shows you what the customer sees; if you have a login to the Demo site, you can poke around the Admin features and Point of Sale.

Of course, Bookstore wouldn't go very far without credit card processing. Populi directly integrates with Chase Paymentech merchant accounts, so your students can pay tuition and fees online and your Bookstore customers can pay by plastic. The revenue gets directly plugged in to your chart of accounts. Set up a merchant account, give us the info, and you're good to go. We've got a pretty great deal set up with Chase Paymentech: it skirts the setup fees and other junk you hate (we sure hate that kind of stuff) and qualifies your college for much better pricing than you could get on your own. Contact Brendan O'Donnell for more details.

If you already have a merchant account with another provider, we also integrate with payment gateway accounts. can link up with just about any merchant account out there, and it can bridge between your merchant account and Populi.

Additionally, we've released the usual round of minor tweaks, interface polish, security enhancements, bugfixes, and so on. Our users can read all about it in the Release Notes in the help desk.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves

Here's an article from Infoworld that outlines the top 5 reasons "Why businesses still hate enterprise software". What are they? According to the Infoworld survey: High cost of ownership, difficult upgrades, poor cross-functional processes, unmet business requirements, and inflexibility. The article's links are worth following... if only to see what a nightmare giant, jargon-choked ERP software deployments can be.

This article brings to our minds 37signals' advice to software providers that want to do things differently—have an enemy. If we have an enemy here at Populi, it's the academic version of the bloated ERP so castigated in the survey. Massive and labor-intensive—and way too expensive for small colleges—it gives us our raison d'etre. As we see it, our job is to keep our customers happy so you'll have better things to say about us than the Infoworld respondents did about their ERP's.

Populi on the road: ABHE and CCCU

Nick Holloway and Joseph Schoolland are at the Association for Biblical Higher Education's 63rd Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida. If you're there, too, drop by Booth 705 in the Exhibitor's Hall. Say hello, grab some fliers (including this bit on Accreditation), and maybe drop off a business card for a shot at an iTunes gift card.

After that, they'll be tooling around in the Southeastern U.S., visiting friends and colleges, and finally making their way back to Atlanta, Georgia for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities' International Forum on Christian Higher Education. The International Forum meets every four years; this one's called Critical Breakthroughs. You'll find Nick and Joseph (and some more iTunes cards) in the Exhibitor's Hall in Booth 200.

Can software help you get accredited?

Download a PDF of this article.

In the most important senses, No. No software package can stand in for the substantial stuff—a faithful vision and mission, sound educational method, faculty and staff who care for your students and love the material, dedicated governance, institutional and financial stability.

Then again, in many important senses, Yes. The initial accreditation process, while rightly focused on the matters of substance, also looks at how your college uses technology to help you accomplish the important things. And even afterwards, the process is, as the Philosophy of ABHE Accreditation says, “designed to foster ongoing systematic self-study with the goal of continuous institutional improvement.” Software can’t stand in for the substance, but it can facilitate it; accreditation focuses on the substance, but requires accurate collection, presentation, and analysis of information to do so.

Where will good software benefit you?

Accreditation keeps the whole institution in view; here are some of the particular areas where your software can help or hinder the process:

Institutional Effectiveness & Planning: How well does your college execute its mission and vision? This depends in part on the fluidity and effectiveness of your day-to-day operations. Your software plays a big day-to-day role, and should make it easy to “show your work” in this part of the accreditation study.

Institutional Resources: Do you have the facilities, personnel, and finances to support your mission? Good software helps manage these things and make them more useful to everyone at your college.

Learning Resources: Do you have adequate tools to fulfill your educational mission, philosophy, and method? The right software works in concert with your other resources to make them more accessible to your students.

Enrollment Management: What are your recruitment, financial aid, and retention plans? How do you assess them? Well-rounded software doesn’t just track this data—it provides tools for reporting and analysis.

Student Services: Can you adequately serve your students—regardless of location or instructional system? As online and distance learning become more important to higher education, good software will be indispensable to your student services.

Administrative/Academic Patterns & Procedures: How do you guide your students through their education? How accurate and secure is your record-keeping? The heart of college software is precise, useful, and private academic information. Your software simply rises or falls based on how it handles student records.

Not all software is created equal. Information problems often plague small colleges, and these problems, more often than not, stem from inadequate software. Transcripts stored in word documents. Grades stored on spreadsheets. Student information in homemade databases. Historical data in dozens of formats. If this is what you have to work with when you’re working through accreditation—well, suffice it to say, it’s a lot of work with a lot of chances to make substantial errors.

If you’re pursuing accreditation, consider how Populi can help. Populi is a web-based college management system that handles academics, admissions, billing, and a lot more. It combines SIS and LMS in one package. It’s secure, useable, affordable—with free implementation and support. So, while we can’t handle the truly important stuff, we do a great job with the “merely-very-important” stuff—your information, how it’s handled, and how it helps your college do the things that matter.