A student information system (SIS), student management system, school administration software or student administration system is a management information system for education establishments to manage student data. Student information systems provide capabilities for registering students in courses; documenting grading, transcripts, results of student tests and other assessment scores; building student schedules; tracking student attendance; and managing many other student-related data needs in a school. A SIS should not be confused with a learning management system or virtual learning environment, where course materials, assignments and assessment tests can be published electronically.
The SIS can include features that can be considered as an enterprise resource planning or ERP system for a corporate customer. As such, many of the issues with ERP system selection methodology, implementation, and operation of an ERP system apply too.
These systems vary in size, scope and capability, from packages that are implemented in relatively small organizations to cover student records alone, to enterprise-wide solutions such as SAFSMS which aim to cover most aspects of running large multi-campus organizations and their online schools with significant local responsibility. Many systems can be scaled to different levels of functionality by purchasing add-on "modules" and can typically be configured by their home institutions to meet local needs.
Since the millennium, and partly owing to "Y2K", which concerned birth dates and other data core to any ERP, the majority of SIS vendors took the opportunity to design into their products new features for not only classrooms and housing, but automating or simplifying processes in relation to a student's lifecycle. From application and Financial Aid, to career services and online education, some of the dominant SIS vendors may include in their products:
Larger or more complex institutions typically require custom configuration or coding of the SIS, to fit their specific business processes, student services model or academic policies. Often, these customizations can involve scholarships, grants and other forms of Student financial aid. Where national or government systems exist for student finance or statistical return purposes, student information systems often provide functionality that caters to this, by way of built-in processes that are updated by SIS vendors to help meet regulatory and policy changes. Examples are the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) process in the United States, the United Kingdom's Student Loans Company processes (SSAR, SSAC and ATFEE file processing), the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) in the United Kingdom, or the HESA and HESES student statistical returns in the United Kingdom. In the United States, governmental bodies and accreditors have challenged some institutions to be increasingly accountable for a student's financial as well as academic outcomes, commonly termed, gainful employment.
In the past, universities and large school districts in particular have created their own bespoke student record systems. One such example is the Repository of Student Information (ROSI) system at University of Toronto. With growing complexity in the business of educational establishments, most organizations now choose to buy customizable software, and increasing numbers are buying software as a service (SAAS). Most student information systems in use today are server-based, with the application residing on a central computer server, and being accessed by client applications at various places within and even outside the school. But student information systems have been moving to the web since the late 1990s and that trend is accelerating as institutions replace or upgrade older systems.
As more and more colleges, universities and schools look for cloud-based SIS options, information security has risen to a surface as a concern. Universities house an array of sensitive personal information, making them potentially attractive targets for security breaches, such as those experienced by retail corporations or healthcare providers. Education-technology software vendors must be acutely aware of best practices in securing student information (including social insurance information, financial information, etc.) and institutions have a responsibility to seek out vendors who employ best-in-class security measures.
That said, the predominant issues in today's postsecondary education sector center upon enrollment management, student services and retention, and student academic outcomes. Selecting a SIS usually involves committees or a wide range of staff and faculty, to assess and help model how the SIS will enable the most efficient achievement of their institution's vision for educational delivery.
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Unlike an upgrade to a web browser or a word processor, changes and upgrades to these systems tend to have a significant impact on day-to-day operations, affecting all constituents across an institution. These systems typically touch every aspect of school operations even when only the base modules are used. For these reasons, campus leaders weigh in the balance the pros and cons of investments and disruptions that will be inevitable whether doing an upgrade, adding significant customizations or replacing the SIS altogether:
Like with an ERP system, schools should consider processes similar to the ERP System Selection Methodology when selecting a SIS system. Such a process, while it may be tedious, ensures that a cross-section of future end-users of the system can suggest more efficient ways to handle data, enhance services to students and reduce or eliminate bottlenecks of creating silos of data due to the limitations of a current SIS or business process.
In a study involving districts known for strong data use, 48% of teachers had difficulty posing questions prompted by data, 36% did not comprehend given data, and 52% incorrectly interpreted data. To combat this, some SISs present data to educators in an over-the-counter data format (embedding labels, supplemental documentation, and help system and making key package/display and content decisions) to improve the success of educators' data analyses when using an SIS.
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