Big improvements for Payment Plans

We’re soon to release a big update to payment plans. The improvements include new types of payment schedules, editable deadlines, a more flexible and reliable structure, new reporting tools, and a lot more. Here’s a look at what’s just ’round the bend.

The big picture

First, why the update? We had several goals—and several problems we wanted to solve—with this release.

  • Payment plans required a bit too much babysitting from users to make sure the right charges got on the plan, not to mention getting the payment deadlines to handle unusual situations. Payment plans needed to be more of a set it and forget it deal, one that could roll with whatever punches you threw at it.
  • Payment plans didn’t work with recurring payments.
  • Information about student payment schedules was hard to come by, to put it mildly.
  • Payment plans didn’t behave the way one might expect them to—if you wanted a student to pay $400 a month until he was paid off, there wasn’t a way to make that happen in Populi.

The new payment plans address all of these areas. Here’s how they’ll work:

  1. You set up a payment plan—see below for some of your new options.
  2. You then apply it however you see fit:
    • Set it at the student level (on Profile > Financial > Dashboard), and it will automatically pick up all of the student’s plan-eligible invoices.
    • Set it on the term level (Profile > Financial > By Term), and it will only pick up the plan-eligible invoices for that term.
    • You can also apply it to individual invoices.
    • You can add it to students one-at-a-time, or to a group of students by using the Data Slicer.
  3. As soon as it’s applied, you’ll see the payment schedule on the student’s profile; you can find all payment schedules on the new Payment Deadlines report in Billing.
  4. Time passes, and students pay. Along the way, you might need to adjust a deadline or an amount. Or you might need to add new invoices or remove one from the plan. Or you might need to recalculate the payments. All these actions are now super-simple to do, leaving you more time to work on your novel or refinish the teak decks on your yacht.
New options

The update includes a number of new options to help you create a payment plan that works for your school:

  • Fees: Payment plan fees can be either flat-rate or a percentage of the charges on the plan. Late payment fees can be flat-rate or a percentage of the amount due, can be capped at a maximum amount, and be applied after a grace period.
  • Rounding: If you wish, plans can automatically round regular payments to the nearest whole-dollar amount (any stray cents will be thrown in with the Balance Due amount).
  • Online: If your school uses Stripe and has enabled recurring payments, you can let students choose a payment plan when they’re on the Pay Now screen. They’ll then be charged according to the plan’s payment deadlines.

You get new, improved payment schedule options:

  • Four types: You can base payment schedules on specific calendar dates, the number of days into the term, the number of days after the plan is applied, or regular recurring payments of a set amount.
  • Calendar dates: The year selector lets you choose specific years for payment due dates, or you can select Automatic to let Populi figure it out.
  • Recurring payments: Set up a specific amount to charge payers at whatever interval (every month, every four months, every year, etc.) you choose. Payments will be scheduled for every month in which the student has a balance. If you need to change a specific payment date or amount, you can do that as-needed (see below).
  • All of these schedules work with plans you make available for students to choose online.
  • The old based-on-invoice-date option is gone (but we don’t think anyone’s gonna miss it!).
Flexible and accommodating

After adding a payment plan to a student, you’ll find lots of ways to customize the plan to deal with special circumstances:

  • You can move individual invoices on or off the payment plan as-needed. When you do, the plan will automatically recalculate the payment schedule.
  • Any time you need, you can edit the payment schedule: change deadline dates, amounts, add new payments, or even delete payments.
  • If you need to reset everything, just recalculate the payments to return the student to the plan’s basic payment schedule. Or you can remove the plan altogether.

We added a new report, updated an existing one, and suped-up the summary on Profile > Financial > Dashboard.

  • The new Billing > Current > Payment Deadlines report shows you every payment due date, including those generated by payment plans and those from individual invoice due dates.
  • The Recurring Payments report and the Data Slicer have a number of new columns and filter conditions to help you get at plan-related information.
  • Student financial summaries now include exhaustive detail on all the deadlines, unapplied payments, and unapplied credits affecting the student’s balance and Pay Now amounts.

What to expect

The new payment plans will be available to all of our customers soon. In addition to all the new features, your existing payment plans will continue to work as before. Get acquainted with the new features by having a look at the Populi Knowledge Base:

Coming soon: improvements to course registration

Course registration is about to get a big upgrade. Here's a look at what's coming...

But first, let’s have a quick look at the current registration screen and some of the problems we wanted to solve.

It shows a dense list of available courses together with some salient details: schedule, faculty, number of openings, and so forth. Courses available for enrollment are intermixed with those for auditing; courses for which students cannot register are just as prominent as the ones for which they can. Finally, there’s no way to get on a course waitlist, nor is there any way to indicate courses the student would like to drop in case a spot opens up.

The new features improve the registration process on all these points.

There are two sections: Offered Courses and Selected Courses. Offered defaults to show only Available courses without conflicts—that is, courses in which the student may enroll. It excludes courses from other programs, those with conflicts (schedule, prerequisites, term enrollment limits), and those not offered on the student’s campuses. Students can also look at Available courses (which may have conflicts) and All courses (which may include courses in which they cannot enroll).

Each course offering has more information—whether the student has already passed it, how many openings (enrolled and auditing), and what conflicts exist.

The screen lets registrants toggle between courses for enrollment and auditing.

To register, the student clicks the green plus sign. This creates an enrollment request that, when confirmed, appears under Selected Courses. As Selected fills up, Offered instantly updates to show what’s still available that works with the student’s schedule and other constraints. Once the student has selected all the courses she’s after, she’ll Save to submit the requests.

Finally, the new “Waitlist Over-enrollment” feature will take a huge load off your waitlist workload. Once enabled in Academics > Settings, students can click the clock to request the next spot on that course’s waiting list. When she saves, Populi will check to see whether the waitlisted course conflicts with a term enrollment limit or the student’s schedule. If that’s the case, she’ll be able to choose which courses she’s willing to drop if a spot opens up. Should that happen, Populi will automatically drop as many of the chosen courses as necessary to move her off the waitlist and onto the rolls.

Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise, we’re planning to have the new registration features out to all our customers the third week of October.


There’s a big new feature in your Populi courses today: Rubrics!

Rubrics are standard guides for evaluating and grading assignments. They contain evaluative criteria and scoring levels the instructor uses to rate student coursework. You can use them to grade most types of assignments, as well as incorporate them into your grading of peer review files/essays and graded discussions.

Here’s a look at what they do and how they work...

The basics

Rubrics exist at two levels. Global rubrics are set up in Academics > Settings and are available for use in any course at your school. Course rubrics are set up by faculty for use in their own courses. Rubrics and criteria can be duplicated and modified to fit your school’s needs in any number of ways.

Criteria are the meat-and-potatoes of rubrics. Each criterion contains multiple evaluative levels that let you score the student’s performance in that area. For example, you might have a criterion for “Writing Style” that has four levels—Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor—each of which is worth a certain percentage of the assignment points the criterion covers.

Rubrics can contain as many criteria as you see fit; each criterion is worth a portion of the total rubric score. Say you had a “Research Paper” rubric with criteria for Writing Style, Citations, and Formatting: you might weight the Style criterion 80% and the other two 10% each.

Using a rubric

Rubrics can be attached to assignments, peer review files and essays, and graded discussions.

When it’s time to grade the assignment, you click the rubric symbol and score the student’s work. You can even let students use rubrics when scoring one another’s submissions in peer review assignments. The rubric scores feed directly into the assignment grade; for peer review and discussions, they’re factored in to the overall grade calculation you’ve set up for those assignments.

When students view their grades, they’ll see how they fared according to the rubric.

Learn more

We’re excited to get rubrics out to our users (just in time for the new school year for many of you!). Together with the new course navigation layout, they’re helping set the stage for even more improvements to Populi courses.

Read more about rubrics in the Populi Knowledge Base.

Coming soon: An update to course navigation

We’re soon to release an update to the navigation in Populi courses. The long and the short of it is that the navigation views are moving from the top to the left side of the screen. We’re not changing where you’ll find anything—assignments will still be found in Assignments, discussions will still dwell in Discussions, and so on. But if your muscle memory sends you to the top of the screen, you’ll need to retrain your wrists and index fingers to swing leftward.

Why the change? In a word: room! We have been adding to the number of things in courses over time, and there just wasn’t enough room for more navigation along the top of the screen anymore.

Thus, the sidebar: it gives us more room to add new stuff* to courses and gives the whole layout a bit more breathing room. (Oh, and now there’s room for a course picture...) Otherwise, your courses will look and feel much as they always have.

We’re planning to release the navigation update in the next few weeks.

* See if you can spot one of the new things we’re working on in the screenshot...

Populi updates for the GDPR

About a month ago we described how Populi was preparing for the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Today we’d like to tell you about the updates we’ve made to accommodate the GDPR and help you comply with the burdens it puts on you.

New tools

We’ve added a few new tools to Populi that let you track “lawful basis for processing” and comply with the data portability requirements of the GDPR.

To help you keep track of lawful basis for data processing, we’ve given you two new tools:

  • The new GDPR report in Admin helps identify people who may be EU citizens but for whom a lawful basis for data processing has not been recorded. It lists people who have EU citizenship, whose primary address is in an EU country, or whose home country is in the EU. You can then decide whether to start tracking lawful basis on a person-by-person basis.
  • On Profile > Info, you can track lawful basis for a person under Other Info. If you set a person’s Citizenship field to an EU member nation, you’ll then have the option to add a data processing basis to her; Populi can also automatically track lawful basis by looking at certain events—for example, the person is given a user account.

We’ve also built a data export tool. The GDPR requires that you provide a way for a “data subject” (EU bureaucratese for human being) to retrieve a copy of all of the data you are storing about her. Your school’s Populi Account Administrator can send a data archive for any person in the system. Active users can also download their own personal data archives.

You can read all about these tools and how to use them in this article.

Data deletion policy

We’ve fine-tuned our data deletion policy to harmonize our legitimate need to retain certain kinds of data with the GDPR’s stipulations. Our “legitimate need” includes things like customer requests to restore deleted data and our use of anonymized statistics in developing Populi. Here’s how we now handle deleted data:

  • When a customer deletes a person or other entity containing personally-identifiable information (an admissions inquiry, for example), it will be immediately inaccessible to the customer. We will retain the data for a period of time to make sure we can restore it if the customer so requests. After that time, the data will be permanently purged from our backups.
  • When a customer deletes a person with an academic or financial record, it will be immediately inaccessible to the customer. However, we will retain the data in our backups in order to preserve the integrity of our database.
  • Some data, rather than being deleted or purged, will be anonymized. For example, we need to retain records of logins. So, if you delete a person who has ever logged in, we will delete anything that can be used to identify that person—but we will retain the anonymous login stats that person generated.
  • If a customer leaves Populi, we will delete and permanently purge their data after a period of time, except for certain kinds of anonymized data as described above.
Legal stuff

Even without the European Union breathing down our necks, we’ve always put a premium on privacy, security, and your ownership of your data. Those things are foundational to Populi—in everything from our legal agreements to our internal policies to the services we provide. We’ve always viewed Populi as a lockbox you put your stuff in; if you ever want to leave, you give us back the box and you take your stuff wherever you want.

Nevertheless, so you have it from us in so many words: we added Section 4.6 to our Privacy Policy to describe our commitment to comply (and help you comply) with the GDPR.


The GDPR is a far-reaching bit of regulation. It’s a dragnet meant to rein in the questionable practices of companies like Google and Facebook (to say nothing of numerous other shady operators) that also snags clean-nosed companies like Populi and organizations like our customers. The reaction to the GDPR in the web services industry has been uneven and confused; as evidence, have a look at your inbox and the torrent of GDPR-related emails you’ve received in the past two weeks. And if the industry is confused, we’re not surprised if you are, too.

If you have questions about GDPR and Populi, get in touch. We’ll be happy to help.

Populi Turns 10

Ten years ago today the first user logged in to Populi. Here are some “since-then” stats to mark the occasion.

  • 200,000 users have logged in over 45 million times
  • 9 million student enrollments in over 1.4 million courses
  • 31 million questions answered on 420,000 tests
  • 4.2 million comments on 483,000 discussions
  • 15.5 million grades on 2.3 million assignments
  • 100,000 applications accepted
  • 199,000 degrees granted
  • 1.2 million to-dos completed
  • 7.7 million files uploaded
  • 1.7 million library resources
  • 600,000 bookstore orders

Thanks to all of you for an awesome first Ten years!