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.

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).

Announcing New Pricing Plans

Announcing our new pricing plans!

We're offering three "sizes": Small, Medium, and Large. Each plan gets you everything we offer: access for unlimited faculty, staff, and students; customer support; training; implementation—the whole works. They elaborate on our core pricing principles: to keep Populi affordable and keep the price transparent. So what's the difference? Just some of the math. We priced the plans so Populi would make even better fiscal sense for colleges in the 400-students-and-above range.

So, the specifics:

  • Small, which we recommend for colleges with fewer than 360 students, is $199 a month, plus $7 per student per month. This is basically our previous price minus $1 a month.
  • Medium, which we recommend for colleges with between 360 and 840 students, is $499 a month, plus $6 per student per month.
  • Large, which we recommend for colleges with more than 840 students, is $1199 a month, plus $5 per student per month.

We based the plans—and our recommendations—on the annual cost for a college based on a typical school year: 10 months, give or take, of full enrollment, with two summer months of low or no enrollment. If you have 520 students, Medium makes the most sense; if you have 114 students, Small gets you the best deal... and so on. Picking a plan doesn't lock you in to anything long-term, and you're free to change it at any time.

If you're wondering which plan makes the most sense for your college, we'd be happy to talk about it with you.

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.