Can software help you get accredited?

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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.

Planned downtime Saturday, February 20th

We're gonna be taking Populi down for about 30 minutes late Saturday night at 10 PM Pacific to update our SSL (security) certificates. If you try logging in around that time, you won't get very far (your browser will say something about an invalid security certificate). If you have any trouble immediately after the downtime, try closing your browser and restarting it.

Over the weekend: A few new features!

Our development guys put in extra hours Friday night and released some new features. In addition to a round of minor interface tweaks, bugfixes, and some way-behind-the-scenes optimization, here's what's new:

Navigation: Billing was just going to get too cluttered. So we updated Populi's overall navigation and broke out the College Management and Financial functions into what we're calling "apps". It's the same basic idea as before, but this way we can further enhance our Financial features without stuffing the screen too full of links and buttons.

So, what was once the Billing tab is now the Financial app, and within Financial you'll find tabs for Billing, Accounting, and Financial Aid. With the new tabs, we've re-jiggered the organization of the various views so that they appear only within the proper tab.

Also, as you can see, you no longer click your "logged in as" name to get to your profile—you'll just click the more intuitive My Profile link to get there.

Payment Plans: Now you can create payment plans with unique payment schedules and apply them to individual students or invoices.

Deposits: We've built in a new workflow that lets you create, accept, and apply tuition deposits.

Degree Audits: Now you can require a certain GPA of individual course groups, as well as add exceptions for individual students.

Even Better Passwords: Want to make your password even stronger? Now you can use special characters—!@#$%^&*()+, etc.—in addition to upper- and lower-case letters and numbers.

Behind-the-scenes Optimization: "Optimization" means that we've improved some of the background processes that power many common tasks in Populi.

A full accounting of our new features and other improvements that went up with this release are available for our users in the Populi help system (just click help up by the search bar and you'll go straight there).

A good quote from Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright is a consultant with Procullux Ventures and an advocate of "cloud computing" and the "Software as a Service" (SaaS) model. We appreciate his (sometimes pugilistic) declamations on cloud computing, but we came across a paragraph of his this morning that we thought was worth quoting (with some emphasis added).

Yet despite our understandable caution, it is far better to trust the cloud, where security and performance are continuously open to public scrutiny, where costs can be predictably mapped to actual value delivered and where the technology is constantly kept up-to-date for no extra cost or disruption to the customer. Provided the buyer makes proper due diligence and precautions, there is in my view no alternative form of computing that is more trustworthy.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year From Populi

Merry Christmas From Populi

As 2009 draws to a close, all of us here at Populi want to extend to all of our customers and users our sincerest thanks for your business— and your comments, questions, and requests. We built Populi to make your life easier, and your feedback has honed every part of our company so that we can more faithfully fulfill our vision. We really are grateful.

From December 24th through January 1st, we'll all be working from home, keeping an eye out for support requests or anything else that comes along. On Monday, January 4th, we'll be back in the office, digging in to the work we have ahead of us in 2010.

Again, thank you for choosing Populi, and all of us here sincerely wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

New accounting features in Billing

Our Billing and Financial Aid users have probably noticed by now that we've re-jiggered Populi Billing a little bit. Here's a rundown of the new features.

  1. The new Chart of Accounts lets you define and manage all of your accounts directly, improving on our previous use of "external accounts" which reconciled Populi with your main accounting package.
  2. Piggybacking on that, by entering all your bank accounts as Asset accounts, you can record exactly where each student payment should be deposited.
  3. For deposit reconciliation, Populi's new General Ledger report lets you choose a custom timeframe and see the total debits and credits for that period. Assuming that payments have been recorded in the appropriate accounts, you can verify the amount of tuition/fees you're taking to the bank.
  4. Financial Aid awards are now linked to Liability accounts, allowing you to more accurately trace the flow of Financial Aid money from the source to the student.

Other, numerous improvements to Billing mean that Populi, used in concert with a good fund-based accounting package, will more fully manage your General Fund—in particular, your Accounts Receivable. And with the automation between Academics and Billing going even further, hopefully your day will be that much easier.